Pain and gain go hand in hand at this Bangkok retreat, where timeless treatments and traditional medicine meet cutting-edge therapies.
I bring you sweet pain," jokes my massage therapist, Khun Ae, a veteran practitioner of traditional Thai massage who's soon to be awarded her doctorate in the skill. She's allaying any apprehension that I might have - but actually don't - about traditional massage inevitably making you hurt.
Here amid 30 hectares of tropical gardens bounded by a great river, the concept of pain, sweet or otherwise, is a distant one. This oasis known as RAKxa Wellness & Medical Retreat sits on Bang Krachao "island" in Bangkok's Chao Phraya River. Half a kilometre - if not a whole world - away, the teeming city looks enviously across the water at the sparsely populated wetlands of Bang Krachao.
This semi-protected enclave, endlessly described as the "green lung of Bangkok", is not really an island but part of an oxbow-bend in the looping river.
Self-described as Thailand's "first fully integrative wellness and medical retreat", RAKxa focuses on individual health assessments with matched therapies, plus nutrition and exercise, all accompanied by high-end accommodation and wickedly good, healthy dining.
I'm here for three nights, sampling its myriad treatment options. My regimen begins with a consultation with a Thai medical doctor who, like almost everyone here has excellent English. The Personalised Wellness Program I'm on will cover six treatments selected from a menu of more than 100 holistic options that span traditional Thai and Chinese medicines, Ayurvedic treatments and energy healing practices.
Add physiotherapy, yoga, hormone therapy, acupuncture and even Muay Thai boxing to those categories. I have no pressing health issues to address so the consultant suggests sessions I might sample during my stay.
"RAKxa treatments are non-invasive and non-surgical. We are about wellness, while hospitals are about illness," explains public relations manager Khun Lynn as we tuck into broccoli zucchini soup and a lunch main of red grouper and truffle. Purpose-built RAKxa, established in 2020, isn't a weight-loss retreat, a hospital or cosmetic surgery clinic. However, non-surgical facial and "body contouring" treatments are offered.
My first session happens in a hyperbaric chamber, which resembles a pressurised, aircraft-like capsule, where I breathe increased levels of oxygen. I emerge after 45 minutes, hopefully with my blood oxygen level enhanced but, other than my ears popping, I note no dramatic effects.
More palpable are the Functional Fitness sessions in the bright and airy Gaya gym where my reaction times, balance and co-ordination are clocked.
I intersperse my treatments with cycling around this leafy hideaway, wallowing in the hydrotherapy pool and revelling in my house-sized Garden Villa. Except at meal times I rarely encounter guests.
A bit better than average for my age but still with room for guided exercise improvement. Later in my stay will come classes in something called Fascia Release (of muscular tensions) and the sedentary workout of Chair Stretch.
I intersperse my treatments with cycling around this leafy hideaway, wallowing in the hydrotherapy pool and revelling in my house-sized Garden Villa. Except at meal times in the restaurant I rarely encounter guests from the other 41 villas. They are predominantly from the Middle East and UK, along with Thais. Also present in their villas are guests recuperating here after surgery at the likes of Bumrungrad Hospital, a RAKxa partner.
The Thai term RAKxa connotes "to cherish, heal and conserve". Tranquillity rules here. It strikes me that, as well as visiting for therapy, several days respite at RAKxa would be ideal for Australians travelling to or from Europe (and with a spare penny to splurge on wellness). It's the perfect place for a mid-journey reboot in order to arrive at the destination de-stressed and refreshed.
My most esoteric treatment, Weber Laser Therapy is high-tech to the point of sci-fi. A nurse painlessly inserts a tiny catheter at my elbow and then a sequence of four coloured laser lights illuminates it, apparently "enriching" my passing blood flow in various ways.
"Can you explain how all this works?" I ask. A nursing assistant, whose English is less than perfect (but better than my Thai) misunderstands the question yet answers reassuringly, "It is made in Italy." Indeed, say no more.
RAKxa's segregated hydrotherapy pools are a waterworld of jets and pulses, after which comes a good session of sweating it out in beautifully-tiled saunas and steam rooms. The piece de resistance here, however, is the Caribbean Rain Shower where simulated tropical lightning flashes, piped birdsongs and rattling downpours are about as much fun as you can have in a shower-for-one.
I enjoy a new variety of massage each day, with exotic names like Angel Stones, Marma pressure point, Chi Nei and Tsang gut massage, plus Khun Ae's traditional Thai treatment. Her cheekily promised "sweet pain" of course doesn't arrive. In fact, there's no pain, but still plenty of gain. Targeting my back and shoulders she maintains strong pressure for the full 60-minute duration.
When I add all this intensive-care attention to the detoxed nutrition (no alcohol, caffeine or dairy), a great bed, daily exercise, greenery galore, the river, the villa and no vehicles, plus that rarest Bangkok commodity, deep-breathable air - how could one not feel well here?
Read more on Explore:
Where: RAKxa Wellness & Medical Retreat is located in Bang Krachao, Bangkok. Reservations required in advance; no walk-ins.
Getting there: The retreat is a one-hour drive from both Bangkok airports; limousine transfers available. If coming from Bangkok city, the RAKxa shuttle boat transfers guests from Wat Bangna Nok Pier.
How much: Personalised programs run from one to 14 nights. Prices are per person. A three-night Personalised Wellness Program costs from $4430 (single accommodation) or $3520 (double). Prices may vary with currency fluctuations and are valid to October 31.
Explore more: rakxawellness.com
The writer was a guest of RAKxa Wellness & Medical Retreat.