Kamalaya

Na-Muang, Koh Samui, Thailand Book from THB8,500

Reviewed by Hana Borrowman
A beautifully secluded ‘wellness sanctuary’ offering a holistic haven a world apart from its many competitors
Koh Samui is growing up. Its perfect stretches of sand may still rock to the beat of global party-goers, but away from the hotspots the island is reinventing itself as a retreat for world-weary spa-seekers. Detox has replaced drugs; relaxation is the new rock'n'roll. And serenity certainly reigns at Kamalaya, one of the most spectacular additions to Samui’s blossoming spa scene.

Tucked away in the undeveloped southeast of the island, Kamalaya’s architecture blends perfectly into its unspoilt surroundings, trickling alongside lily ponds and bathing pools, down the hillside to a pristine stretch of white sand. Specifically created as a space for healing and rejuvenation, the ambience is a luxuriant blend of ethereal bohemia and clean-lined Asian aesthetics. Stylish suites and vast villas hide amongst the tropical jungle, not to mention steam rooms, rock pools, massage beds, yoga pavilions, tai chi classes and a monk's cave for meditation. But alongside its sincere commitment to an ‘unfolding of the spirit’, Kamalaya is never ashamed of being utterly indulgent.

Highs

  • A magical place of rejuvenation: everything at Kamalaya is geared towards gentle self-discovery and pleasurable improvement, plus the stylish and comfy villas and grounds mean non-participating partners will be quite happy
  • Even the ubiquitous 'Samui detox' is different: delicious, cleansing dishes rather than starvation and clay shakes
  • Excellent staff are on hand throughout, from magical masseurs to unbidden waiters bringing iced water as you emerge from the waves
  • Our 3-day 'Relax & Renew' package was the perfect end to an exhausting trip through southeast Asia: a blissful blur of head massages, kundalini meditation, yoga classes and long lunches in poolside shalas
  • Anyone who has chronic difficulty sleeping should check out their amazing sleep enhancement programme, which we road-tested in 2013

Lows

  • Its spiritually-minded philosophy and close-knit community is not for cynical or private types, and some may find the service over-attentive
  • Mosquitoes, frogs and lizards abound - though bedrooms are well protected and insect coils provided (and lit for you) in bathrooms and balconies
  • The beach looks idyllic, but remains shallow for a long way, plus elsewhere the coast is stony (staff can provide wading booties); swimmers may have to content themselves with the bathing and lap pools
  • The steep hillside makes for some thigh-strengthening strolls up to dinner and down to the beach (though buggies are available for less mobile guests)
  • Kamalaya is ever expanding - a state-of-the-art fitness centre, a 25m lap pool and some new suites were built in 2014. Reports suggest it feels as intimate as ever, though

Best time to go

Kamalaya is open year-round but we think the best time to visit is between May and September, which avoids both the rainy season (not just showers but also mosquitos, frogs and snails) and the heat (stifling in March-April). January and February are also lovely, but can be busy. In any case, the natural environment makes Kamalaya beautiful all year round, and there's plenty to keep you busy indoors if it's wet.

Bear in mind that Thailand has 3 festive peak seasons: western New Year (December-January), Chinese New Year (February; depends on the lunar calendar) and Thai New Year or Songkran in April (also depends on the calendar). They are vibrant times to visit but also busy and expensive.

Our top tips

We tried the 3-day Relax and Renew package, which was wonderful and extremely relaxing - perhaps a day too short, but you'd probably say that even if you stayed the whole fortnight. If we could go again, it would be for 5- or 7-day course. You can also book accommodation only, for as long or as short as you want.

Take loose cotton clothing and exercise garb if you plan to work out - a certain bohemian chic seems to be the order of the day. Everything else is on-hand at the Kamalaya, from the sarongs provided in the spa to yoga mats in every room. Mosquito repellent is of the natural variety in the form of body cream and coils; you may prefer to bring your own containing DEET.

Kamalaya is aimed at an upmarket boho crowd of all ages and backgrounds. It's popular with solo travellers, who outnumber couples for most of the year; many single women comment on how safe and welcome they feel.

Great for...

Beach
Foodie
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Spa Hotel
  • 75
  • Restaurants + bar (open daily)
  • Accepted (but not on Wellness Programmes)
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Private beach
Room:

Rooms

The huge variety of accommodation blends beautifully into the environment. Gorgeously appointed suites and palatial villas give the impression of being open to the elements, with walls of sliding glass doors offering panoramic views onto the beach and beyond. They're minimally chic - not ostentatious in the least - with décor that aims to enhance rather than outshine the surroundings. We loved the earthy tones and incorporated granite boulders. Expect sumptuous soft furnishings, Asian antiques and fabrics, huge beds, cool marble floors, extensive wardrobes, romantic outdoor bathrooms and vast wooden balconies with outdoor daybeds.

The facilities are excellent, but you won't find in-room TVs or alcohol in the minibar. Alternatives are on offer in the form of an easel and watercolours from reception, vegetable juices and non-alcoholic beer in the minibar.

The standard Villas are the least secluded of the villas, but are beautifully designed, with tall pyramidal thatched roofs and a largish balcony looking over the valley towards the sea. Our top pick for couples are the Beachfront Villas which, apart from their privileged position overlooking the sand, offer tonnes of space including a living area, a balcony and a semi-outdoor bathroom. Best for families is the Rocktop Villa which can sleep 4 in a double and a twin bedroom (both ensuite); you also get a choice of indoor and outdoor living areas (both with daybeds). The Pool Villa is filled with the sound of flowing water thanks to a thin strip of private pool, which is bordered by trees and granite outcrops. The largest, most secluded and most luxurious villa is the 1 Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa, surrounded by greenery, with a private pool overlooking the ocean. A 2 Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa can be made by booking the 1 Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa and a Beach Front Villa; they are then connected by a courtyard.

The 10 Suites are slightly smaller and further up the hill, closer to the main buildings. Open-fronted designs provide panoramic views of the sea and surrounding hill. These are popular with couples on a budget. The 24 Hillside Rooms (with varying views) are much smaller and more conventional. They're perfectly comfortable, but it seems a shame to miss out on the inspiring architecture of the suites and villas. These are situated in a row near the restaurant and yoga shalas, they would suit less mobile guests, however.

The most recent additions are the Superior Suites, Garden Pool Suites, and 1 Bedroom Penthouse Pool Suites - all of which are housed in a new building overlooking the sea. We haven’t viewed them yet, but with the highest location in the resort, their views are sure to be stunning.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cd player
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Plunge pool
  • Safe box
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet
  • Yoga mat

Eating

The food at Kamalaya is gloriously healthy without being remotely dull. A menu packed with clever creations offers both continental and oriental, all bursting with freshness and health but never scrimping on flavour or presentation. A vegetarian detox menu is also available, offering a mouth-watering array of dishes from clear Thai broths to water chestnut Maki rolls with spirulina dip, or Mieng Kam (fresh green betel leaves served with dried coconut, pineapple, ginger and shallots). Elsewhere, rack of lamb on goat cheese risotto and chocolate souffle will delight non-detox guests, although you can mix and match from both menus.

Breakfast is a paradise for health freaks, with its huge buffet of tropical fruits, freshly prepared juices, yoghurt, jams, imaginative muesli ingredients and salads that extend to hummus and olives.

Breakfast and dinner are served in the Soma Restaurant atop the hill, while lunch - a fragrant curry, or a healthy a la-carte option - is served in romantic salas by the swimming pools from Amrita Cafe. Lingering over the tasty morsels, and knowing we'd (sort of) earned it, made this one of the most delicious moments of each day.

There's also a bar, The Alchemy Tea Lounge, situated above Soma which serves drinks and snacks, including alcohol and health shakes.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The philosophy at Kamalaya is that guests should participate in as many or as few activities as they want. In reality, the variety of tempting programmes - yoga, tai chi, meditation, massages, fitness classes, not to mention an outdoor lap pool, steam cavern and a modern gym - can leave little time for doing nothing
    > Read our first-hand report of the 3-day Relax and Renew
  • Each course begins with a medical and personal wellness consultation and Body Bio-impedance Analysis (BIA)to assess your needs and prescribe anything from gentle nurturing to fitness motivation. You then dip into a daily programme of ‘holistic activities’ which depend on the course and your inclination, but besides those mentioned above might include nature treks in the surrounding hills, chanting, sound therapy and chi gong. All are focussed on fun and self-exploration, and are complimentary for all guests
  • Most guests come for a wellness package of 3-7 days - See our Rates page for a full list
  • There are also regular retreats, mostly lasting 7-14 days - the 2 most popular are the week-long Essential Detox and Yoga Synergy breaks. Yoga retreats combine physical activity with mental stillness, and offer spa indulgences alongside healthy, beautifully balanced cuisine in exceptionally serene surroundings. Detox retreats provide a gentle internal cleanse using a combination of external therapies, holistic activities and a carefully created detox menu incorporating homeopathic medicines and nutritional supplements
  • The hotel are also able to organise trips and excursions to other parts of the island, if you have time of course!
  • Relax on the beach or by one of the 2 pools (a lap pool and a leisure one!)
  • Try one of the exquisite treatments in the spa; choose from body wraps, Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage, Indian head massages, acupuncture, sound healing or one of the other numerous options

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Sailing
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

Kamalaya accepts children, but its secluded location and contemplative atmosphere means that it is not ideal.

Specifically you should bear in mind that:
• Children below the age of 16 may not participate in any wellness activities or treatments and are not allowed into the wellness centre or its facilities
• For every room booked there must be one adult with a pre-booked wellness program for the duration of their stay
• Maximum 1 child sharing room with their parents is permitted
• Children are not allowed to use the swimming pools between midday and 4pm

Children below the age of 8 can stay free of charge on the sofa bed of a Villa when sharing with their parents. Baby cots for children below the age of 2 are free of charge (upon availability).

Family friendly accommodation:

If you do decide to visit as a family, we'd recommend the 2-Bed Rock Top Villa, which has 2 bedrooms and lots of private living space. You could also book the 2 Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa. Suites, Villas, Beach Front Villa and the Pool Villa can each accommodate an additional guest on either a rollaway bed or a single sofabed.

Babysitting:

Babysitting available by arrangement

Children's meals:

Children below the age of 6 are entitled to 50% discount on all meal rates; children will be served half portions from the regular menus

Kids Activities on site:

Kamalaya's beach is very quiet and the water is shallow and generally sandy. There are also games (chess and backgammon) and a collection of films (not just self improvement but also classics and comedy) to watch on the library's large screen. A TV can be brought to your room or villa on request

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

8/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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