Inside 4 Elite Thai Fitness And Wellness Centres, And The Figures Who Run Them
Keeping body and mind healthy has never been more relevant in modern times. While the world continues to advance in ways our ancestors would have never thought possible, this progress has come at a cost. The effects of environmental pollution and the sheer pressures of daily life take a serious physical and mental toll on us. With a long history of traditional therapies, Thailand has become associated the world over with physical wellbeing and its establishments—from full-scale health resorts to specialised exercise studios—continue to enhance this reputation. The masterminds behind a number of these establishments are society figures who practise what they preach when it comes to getting in shape and staying that way.
Opened in 1995 by Boonchu Rojanastien, who sought to create a splendid sanctuary of tranquillity removed from buzzing Bangkok, Chiva-Som Hua Hin has grown to become globally recognised for offering a path to wellness. Since its establishment, the resort has been a seaside favourite for Thais and foreigners alike. The famous spa’s name means ‘haven of life’ and wellness is what it excels at, offering a variety of retreats and meticulously created programmes that range from fitness and stress management therapies to accelerated body shaping, chakra balancing and craniosacral solutions among others. Committed to providing world-class facilities, unparalleled skills and depth of knowledge, everything at Chiva-Som promises the utmost diligence and care complemented by the location’s serene setting.
Today the spa is run by the late Boonchu’s son Krip Rojanastien, who says, “We have always been committed to evidence-based holistic wellness, which we approach in a comprehensive manner. Even our logo, which represents the body, mind and spirit, encapsulates this.” While quick fixes were once a popular go-to, people are becoming increasingly aware of the need for enduring solutions and in line with these changing trends Chiva-Som focuses on sustainable long-term answers. “We need to address the root causes of physical and mental fatigue and be sensitive to individual needs, which is why our treatments and programmes are highly personalised,” says Krip. “We don’t believe in simply adapting to changing trends and demands, our aim is to anticipate and pre-empt them.”
As Chiva-Som continues to excel so too the industry as a whole in Thailand has boomed. “I think the growth of the wellness sector here is a great thing,” chairman Krip says, adding, “We probably have the world’s best therapists and this type of business leverages an innate skill in Thai people. But it is important that we set high standards for ourselves. We should be aiming to exceed expectations.” For Krip that means looking beyond the spa itself. With a keen understanding of the ecological impact of tourism, he is adamant that the business does its part to preserve the local area.
"You cannot expect to have personal wellbeing without environmental wellness. In the last couple of years we have been authorised to manage a plot of 12 rai [over 4.5 acres] of land attached to Wat Krailas, a temple less than three kilometres from Chiva-Som,” he explains. “We decided to plant over 5,000 trees on the site and turn it into a green area for people to enjoy. The top of the hill where the temple is located offers fantastic views and we have plans to take our guests up there to meditate and walk in the forest to truly get a taste of Thai culture and the tenets of Buddhism.”
Although youngsters under the age of 16 are not allowed at Chiva-Som, the award-winning health resort is aiming to raise awareness of healthy lifestyle choices among children. “Our challenge is to bring wellness and sustainability to the local community and the world,” says Krip. “We have a duty to spread the wellness message among children. We need to make an impression on future generations and the earlier you start the better. This is also why we adhere to the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals.”
This year marks Chiva-Som’s 25th anniversary and the chairman hopes to reinforce its formidable reputation with expansion to Qatar with the management of Zulal Wellness Resort, the country’s largest, and the region’s first, full-immersion spa.
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Another award-winning Thai wellness establishment is The Barai, which opened at the Hyatt Regency in Hua Hin in 2007. According to Vansamorn Wannamethee, CEO of Chai Talay Property, owner of the facility, it took years to put the project together. Although it has garnered a reputation as a premier luxury spa, Vansamorn stresses that The Barai is more than that. “We offer a journey for the mind, body and spirit,” she says. Designed by Thai architect and National Artist Lek Bunnag, the spa has a unique setting that uses the architecture as a tool to not only foster a sense of inner peace but also to stimulate emotions and curiosity of the mind. “The minute our customers enter the property we want them to feel relaxed—to feel as if they have left all their stress behind them,” Vansamorn says. “Art as architecture is a key concept here in creating the right atmosphere. Even before guests indulge in our therapies, just walking around the property takes them on a journey of the emotions.”
The Barai offers a wide range of treatments that take inspiration from traditional Thai methods but also infuse innovative Western therapies. In addition, it recently introduced what it calls its lifestyle collection packages that Vansamorn says “were carefully created to instil lasting healthy lifestyle changes based around three pillars—relaxation, exercise and nutrition.” This holistic approach to wellness includes the use of technology and science. “For example, our consultations feature specially calibrated machines to measure muscle mass and so forth,” the CEO adds. “Our qualified trainers and therapists are well versed in scientific and non-invasive ways to get you fitter and healthier without damaging your body.”
Running any kind of business in an environmentally friendly manner is crucial today and Vansamorn and her team are committed to ensuring the use of organic products, decreasing the use of plastic, recycling the spa’s water and more besides. “We are also very careful in terms of where and from whom we source our ingredients for products,” she says. “We try to make everything that we do here as natural, organic and sustainable as possible.”
While The Barai has been successful over the years, earning many accolades, Vansamorn is looking to up the spa’s game. “To be honest, having only eight suites when demand is so high has been quite limiting, so we are looking to expand in the future. We have a plot of land next door and we are working on expansion concepts now.”
Vansamorn hopes to see Thailand reinforce its position as a top wellness hub in the world. “We have already made a name for ourselves but I think Thailand has yet to reach its full potential. Thai people have so much to offer. Instead of our therapists going to work abroad the focus should be here. We want to draw people to our beautiful country. As for The Barai, we will continue to build on what we have,” she says. “I think we have been able to show the world that when you truly strive for excellence you can achieve it.”
209 Aesthetic and Wellness Studio
The number of spa and wellness establishments in Thailand has boomed in recent years and while the allure of the more lavish and well-appointed spas and wellness centres is attractive, there is also a certain charm and appeal in the smaller scale, more laid-back venues. Take 209 Aesthetic and Wellness Studio in Rama IX Road, for example, which came to existence just over a year ago as a result of two mothers—MR Chantaraladda Yukol, known as Yingair and Orawan Setabandhu, or Yui—who wanted to provide a cosy facility for women, particularly pregnant women and new mums, to pamper themselves and get back in shape. “Many new mothers, myself included, want to get back into shape as soon as possible after having a child, but pregnancy and childbirth change you physically, so it isn’t always easy,” says Yingair. “We wanted to help mothers feel good in their skins, feel pretty and get fit again.”
Located in a detached house with a small garden area, 209 Aesthetic and Wellness Studio is a full-service spa that combines traditional therapies with advanced modern techniques in personalised treatments. Its post-pregnancy programmes entail toning and slimming massages, among other things, and are coupled with the use of a variety of specially formulated toning creams and oils, as well as cellulite-targeting machines.
“What is clear for us is that we do not want to get into the more medical and invasive side of things,” she says. “I think people these days are too willing to be prodded by needles for beauty. This is why here at 209, we focus on different types of massages and traditional knowhow and the overall experience of being pampered. You might see slower results but it is effective. We embrace the use of touch combined with organic products.”
The convenient thing about 209 is that customers can indulge in aromatherapy, slimming massages, facial massage and other regimens, all for a reasonable price. “The problem with so many of the spas and wellness centres out there these days is that they are extremely overpriced,” Yingair says. “I understand that this might be the case perhaps because of the very advanced technologies they use but we wanted to make 209 accessible to everyone. Yes it is a business, but we are doing this from the heart based on what we are passionate about and we want to be able to share that passion with others.”
A year into the business, Yingair says they are not quite at the stage of expanding into additional branches just yet. For now, it is about perfecting what they are doing and continuing to offer a sanctuary where people can feel at home and relaxed. “We are, however, considering selling our high-quality products online,” the entrepreneurial mum explains, adding, “I come into the spa every week to make sure everything runs smoothly. We have a great team who have helped to build a loyal clientele.”
Although there is a growing interest for working out and getting fit, the gym is not necessarily for everyone. Luckily for those in search of fun way to stay healthy, there’s Tribe Bangkok, a boutique fitness studio on Ploenchit Road in the heart of the city. While the emphasis is on spinning classes, the studio also offers barre classes and boxing as ways to build stamina and achieve all-round fitness. What is also unique is that all classes are conducted to a specifically designed, tempo-driven play-list and led by energetic instructors who motivate participants.
Tribe is the brainchild of Pasu Liptapanlop and co-founders Ploy Bhinsaeng and Natapa Sriyuksiri. “I used to live in Singapore where I got to experience spinning for the first time,” says the son of politician Suwat Liptapanlop explaining how Tribe came about. “I really enjoyed it but when I returned to Bangkok I couldn’t find a place offering spinning classes, so my friends and I thought to open a place where people could try it as an enjoyable form of exercise. From the start our focus has been on community, which is a key factor that drives Tribe. We wanted to create an interactive space where like-minded people could burn off energy and leave in a good mood. Our classes are made to generate positive vibes and good energy.”
In fact, at Tribe everything is meticulously created to ensure a sense of enjoyment. “Exercise becomes a chore when it is boring,” Pasu laughs. “Hence our use of music. People really open up and feel more engaged when they are surrounded by music, following the beat. It sets the tone of the classes and really helps you get in the zone.”
Kitted out with top-notch equipment, Tribe is the city’s first venue to use high-quality aqua punching bags, known to enhance the boxing experience. “We make no compromises with our equipment. And because we are a boutique studio—as opposed to being part of a big chain—we can afford to take our time and really fine-tune things to get our classes right,” says Pasu. “We allow our instructors to set their own rules in terms of how they want to conduct their classes, which enables them to form close teacher-student relationships with their customers,” he adds.
The indoor cycling experience at Tribe is a full workout that burns calories while improving cardiovascular health and building strength and endurance. The benefits of spinning classes are undeniable and Tribe’s way of offering a fun and dynamic means to stay fit has become a popular choice for people of all ages. “We have clients ranging from teenagers to people in their 60s. Working out here is also a communal thing with friends and family signing up for classes as groups,” Pasu says. “It’s about teamwork and how you combine positive energy together. Currently, people are more concerned about health and work-life balance and it’s not just about exercising but how you service both body and mind. I think our classes answer both.”
Looking ahead, Pasu and his team intend to continue improving and create new products. “We have to make sure that our ideas are executed in the best way possible and we want to keep rolling out new classes and enhancing the experience for our customers before looking to expand. It is important people truly understand what we stand for.”
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