Medicine, meditation and Muay Thai: Why are celebrities seeking sanctuary at this holistic haven in Phuket?

Teresa Levonian Cole
A-listers such as Beyonce and Jay-Z, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mick Jagger and Kate Moss have sought succour at the flagship Amanpuri resort

Who would have thought that kickboxing could be an aesthetic experience? Yet even the least inclined towards physical exercise would find delight in Amanpuri’s new, professional Muay Thai boxing ring, open to the sounds and smells of nature, where a young blade puts you through the paces of the “Art of Eight Limbs”. 

In such a calm setting, you can almost forget how hard it is to catch your breath while fists, elbows, knees and feet are dragooned into combat, grateful only that they are not on the receiving end of retaliation. Should this seem too violent, the other extreme of activity can be found in the new meditation venue: a glass hall suspended above the jungle. And if meditation is too taxing, just hole up in one of the spa’s 12 tranquil treatment pavilions, which float among thick vegetation. I found the darkly fragrant massage with Thai hot herbal compresses the perfect antidote to my kickboxing aches and pains. 

It could be argued that the setting of Amanpuri is therapy in itself. Already 31 years old and as sexy as ever, Amanpuri (“place of peace” in Sanskrit) saw light of day in 1988 – the first in what would become the celebrated Aman stable of (currently) 34 hotels. Like so many success stories, it came about by chance, when the legendary Adrian Zecha discovered an idyllic beach, fringed by coconut groves, on the west coast of Phuket. Plans to create a private home there soon morphed into the creation of an elite, 40-room hotel with spa, whose architect, Ed Tuttle, would continue his collaboration with the brand over the next three decades. 

Amanpuri rests on a rainforest-covered peninsula on the west coast of Phuket

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Times have changed, but under Vladislav Doronin, CEO of Aman since 2014, the resorts have been going from strength to strength. Rejuvenated and expanded over the years to include 44 privately owned villas available for rental, Amanpuri remains a firm favourite among Aman junkies. Sitting on a high platform above the white sands and turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, its compact central buildings are redolent of the architecture of ancient Ayutthaya – all teak and stone and characteristic multilayered roofs – while pavilions (as the rooms are known) and villas cascade down the peninsula’s hillsides, camouflaged amid tropical vegetation and giant pots of bougainvillea. A brand new retail pavilion, more temple than shop in style, is the latest addition to the resort; its elegant offerings include swimwear and Aman’s exclusive beauty products.

Expanded, also, is Amanpuri’s flagship spa, which reopened last year after a full refurbishment, to pioneer another first for the group. Aman’s renowned holistic treatments, which include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, have been complemented by a new wing dedicated to Western medicine. Along with herbs and potions, there is now sophisticated equipment and tests to measure body composition, liver function and hormone levels, among other things. From colonic hydrotherapy to customised IV infusions, from Botox to cryolipolysis for freezing fat into oblivion, you can choose treatments to cleanse, restore and beautify, inside and out. These can be added to Amanpuri’s original “immersion programmes” of ancient healing, designed to focus on either weight management, detox, mindfulness or a “life reset”, according to the guest’s needs. 

The hotel's villas are redolent of the architecture of ancient Ayutthaya Credit: JOHN W. MCDERMOTT

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My own holistic diagnosis, based on pulse and tongue readings, was of a weak stomach (and “stomach”, you learn, means so much more in Chinese medicine!) along with other imbalances of qi – all entirely unsuspected. It led to a recommended diet plan (to which I was not entirely obedient) and daily herbal brews, breathing and meditation exercises, acupuncture, and deep abdominal massage. The combined effect, after a few days, I can only describe as a glowing lightness of being. On the medical side, an OligoScan (which looks at minerals and toxic metals in living tissues) painlessly detected an excess of heavy metals (possibly due to a taste for large, pelagic fish), while a blood test analysed everything from liver function to hormone levels – the result being a customised IV infusion of vitamins, minerals and other goodies. Most interesting, however, were the several hours the doctor spent explaining every detail, implication and consequence of the comprehensive results – how A has a knock-on effect on B, and the pros and cons of available remedies. His approach tallied perfectly with the holistic approach of the spa. 

In a part of Thailand not known for its points of cultural interest, the spa assumes particular prominence. Sadly, my visit was not in the right season for the wide range of watersports (available November to April), and boat charters to visit neighbouring islands – and there is little else to tempt you beyond the hotel’s enchanted confines. I spent my days ricocheting between the spa and the beach, enhanced by the cocktails and coconuts of the new Straw Hat bar, and the Japanese restaurant Nama, which unfurls its canopy during high season, for sushi and sashimi on the sand. The 27m black-tiled pool is another popular spot, while those residing in the self-contained villas tend to keep themselves to themselves. The villas’ seclusion attracts no shortage of celebrities, their identities guarded by Aman.

The papparazzi-proof villas makes them highly sought after by privacy-seeking celebrities Credit: JOHN W. MCDERMOTT

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It is perhaps a little perverse, for a beachfront hotel, that only nine of the 40 pavilions have full or partial sea view. Of these, the most glorious (and in demand) is room 105, perched on the end of a walkway, right above the waves, and from whose sala you would never wish to move. Six have recently been upgraded with new pools, while all pavilions enjoy a private outdoor area, candlelit at night, and screened from view by lush foliage alive with the song of crickets. Inside, the spacious, airy rooms and huge bathrooms are inspired by elements of Thai design. Made entirely of teak (which is stripped and polished every year) and embellished with an enormous pot of white orchids, the recurring design feature is the use of fixed and sliding screens inset with clear, frosted or mirrored glass, that cloak vertical surfaces and conceal an oversized television from view. This clean minimalism has stood the test of time. 

Negotiating the steep slopes and steps of the resort is thirsty work (buggies are available when you can’t face a 50-yard walk in the heat). While those on the Immersions Wellness Menu might sip an antioxidant smoothie of goji berry, carrot, apple and ginger, Amanpuri’s mixologist addresses the problem with an equally innovative range of cocktails (a Puri Sour accompanied by Mexican snacks, in a breezy spot at the South American lounge, provides zingy refreshment with a fillip of pisco). The barrel-aged Negronis, at Arva, are also recommended. This Italian restaurant specialises in fresh simple dishes – among them, stracciatella with bottarga, an excellent spaghetti alle vongole, and line-caught white snapper. A Thai restaurant serves dishes both familiar and more recherché, whose ingredients, wherever possible, are organic and locally sourced from small farms. The Kapoe crispy soft-shelled crab with green mango salad and betel leaves was, simply, a revelation, while other discoveries included stir-fried melinjo leaves – from an aromatic plant that grows beneath rubber trees. 

For those not inflicted with a detox diet, four restaurants cover most culinary cravings Credit: JOHN W. MCDERMOTT

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All this, of course, is if you are not on a Signature menu designed as part of your Wellness Immersion. But who would have thought that healthy eating could be so deliciously inventive? Or addictive? Raw vegan mushroom soup with thyme and truffle oil, for example, followed by the aptly named Aman Green Goddess Bowl, enjoyed al fresco on a platform above the beach, in a cooling sea breeze, to the sound of the waves…place of peace, indeed.  

Elegant Resorts (01244 897294, elegantresorts.co.uk) offers seven nights at Amanpuri from £2,950 per person, on a bed & breakfast basis, including flights from London Gatwick, private transfers and UK lounge passes.

Read the full review: Amanpuri