Behold the future of health-conscious, soul-seeking travel
As a yogi connected to an ashram at the foot of the Himalayas, John Stewart and his cohorts spent seven years hauling rocks to build plots of land for vegetable gardens and fruit orchards on reclaimed riverbed. All the work was done by hand. His guru and taskmaster, Babaji, said, “We don’t wait for miracles. We create them.”
Those experiences in India, where John also met his wife and business partner Karina Stewart, provided much of the heft behind the Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary & Holistic Spa on Koh Samui. Set among the boulders and palm trees of the sparsely inhabited southeast corner of the island, Kamalaya’s construction was a Herculean undertaking that dwarfed even Stewart’s previous endeavours at the ashram.
The result illustrates the founders’ desire to create a nature retreat with upmarket designer smarts. In my villa, an enormous boulder crouched behind the bed and merged with the wall. In the semi-al fresco bathroom, hemmed in by brick walls like the skeletons of Thai temple ruins, the shower nozzle gushed from inside a tree trunk while flowers and fronds sprouted from below. The alcoves look like a hybrid of a temple roof and a silhouetted tree. This motif—partly earthy, partly otherworldly—is repeated throughout the property.
Even the tiniest details at the sanctuary—the menus made from mulberry bark, the light-bearing fish traps that illuminate the restaurant at night—have been rendered in earth tones for visitors who not only want to reconnect with nature but, what Steve Jobs would call, their “core values.” Guests can do that by choosing from a plethora of programs, grouped together under such categories as Healthy Lifestyle, Detox, Yoga, and Stress & Burnout, or Tailor-made Programs that you can design yourself.
For Amy Grossman, the owner of a real estate agency in Denver, Colorado, her Kamalaya stay was revelatory because, “We live in such a fast-paced world it’s difficult to take time out for yourself. I can’t believe that I could actually take a week like this away from my business and husband and kids to focus on such a personal and emotional experience.”
Anecdotes like that are commonplace around the “community table” in the wooden restaurant, perched at the height of a hornbill’s nest in the middle of the jungle. Here guests form an ad hoc support group every night and, believe it or not, nobody fiddles with their phones. (The rules are not rigidly enforced but guests are discouraged from using their cellphones and laptops in the public areas. Frankly, most visitors find this to be a great relief and stress remover.) In this way, Kamalaya allows you the pleasurable opportunity to reconnect with other people, which is highly unusual in this digital day and computer age.
Since around 70 percent of the clientele are women, I found it entertaining to feign listening to the boys talk about their hedge funds and ab workouts while pricking up an ear in the direction of the female posse as they related their beach hammock fantasies of erotic encounters with celebrity Casanovas. The sanctuary may strive for purity in its organic menu and programs, but the atmosphere is far from strict or puritanical.
Overall, the Kamalaya concept is so vast and far-reaching, combining all the different programs with all sorts of other activities—from the age-old disciplines of tai chi and meditation, to new-age esoterica like Tibetan singing bowls and mandala art—juxtaposed against all the latest breakthroughs in science, nutrition, and bio impedance analysis, that it defies any attempts to sum it up it in slogan-sized summaries or full-length features.
Far easier to grasp is that the retreat has few peers in the world of wellness and seems destined to become a prototype for the future of health-conscious, soul-seeking travel. It’s the kind of place that lives up to the vision of its founders by giving you means to create, if not miracles, then at least a few personal revelations that can create a fuller, healthier and more satisfying life.