Going on a holiday? Feeling torpid, exhausted, lethargic or just plain lazy? If you’re heading to Ko Samui, the doctor would definitely prescribe a half-day treatment at Tamarind Springs, a boutique day herbal steam and massage spa.
They’ll provide everything from your sarongs to your thongs; all you need to do is present your weary, drooping body to the reception sala – after booking well in advance to get in, judging by the number of people being turned away while I was there around New Year.
Open now for nearly 18 months, the peaceful open-air spa is a beautifully-designed oasis within the oasis of Samui itself. It’s located off the main ring road leading from Lamai to Chaweng, and although you can’t see the ocean while you’re relaxing in the cool dipping pool or unwinding under your masseuse’s powerful fingers, the gently swaying coconut palms will undoubtedly convince you that you’re still on a tropical island.
The basic treatment is simply the herbal steam itself, which is reputed to improve circulation, expel bodily toxins, clear respiratory passages and assist digestion. It also soothes muscles and can act as a skin tonic.
Built snugly between two boulders on the slope of a hill, the steam room at Tamarind Springs is naturally lit by sunlight filtering through windows placed at one end, giving a sense of openness and airiness unusual in such rooms. The temperature is kept between 35 and 45 degrees, a little cooler than dry saunas, which allows you to stay inside for that little bit longer.
After your skin and your sinuses have imbibed enough of the rejuvenating mixture – which includes lemon grass, tamarind leaves, lime leaves, prai (a ginger-like root), beach morning glory and turmeric – head to the dipping pool just outside the door. A plunge in the pool seems to shock each and every pore, leaving you zapped with energy. Use the phone to order a yoghurt fruit shake, juice, beer or herbal tea from the restaurant and take it easy by the pool.
While the upright plastic chairs on offer don’t exactly encourage lounging around, the majority of clients seem to steam, dip and head for a treatment immediately afterwards anyway – a shame really, as the small area outside the steam room and by the pool would be a pleasant spot to laze for a bit.
The treatment area is located in another wooden sala , a little further up the hill. As only around a dozen people can be worked on at any one time, the space is never in any danger of losing its distinct secluded calm. Superimposed upon the relaxation music, the occasional rhythmic slapping of flesh and the odd bird call simply add to the overall ambience.
Various individual or combination treatments are on offer. I lusted after the four-hour Divine Decadence Bt1700 package – a herbal steam, 90 minute relaxation massage – which is a little less strenuous than Thai massage and places special emphasis on the neck, shoulders, and back – a khamin and prai facial, and a wild mint foot massage. Alas, I didn’t book in time and had to settle (it was tough!) for a 1200Bt Sheer Indulgence set instead – a steam, one-hour relaxation massage, and a half hour additional massage (of the face or feet). Another option is the Traditional Thai pack, with a steam and two hour traditional Thai massage.
All of the options are individually priced, so you can design your own treatment if you wish. The basic steam is priced at Bt450.
One of the biggest decisions you will be required to make should you choose a package with a relaxation massage, is which aromatic oil to use. The delicious options may leave you pondering for some time: there’s nutmeg, which is particularly good for a deep tissue massage, or perhaps relaxing ylang ylang, or prai, which is prized for its skin-conditioning qualities. Or there’s stimulating tangerine (my favourite!), invigorating wild mint or lastly, lemongrass, which is good for improving the breathing.
Certainly, the prices are not cheap when compared to your typical beach masseuse, or even some of the other spas that are springing up over the island. My foot massage was not necessarily better than others I have had, but my relaxation massage was a revelation, and the superb surroundings – the gardens, the immaculate salas, the stylish locker rooms – are worth paying extra to enjoy.
And it’s the small touches such as the friendly, helpful staff and the complimentary Tamarind Springs’ shampoos and conditioners in the showers that will keep people coming back.
After your session, you can retire to the restaurant space in the upstairs section of the reception sala, decorated with some really lovely pieces of furniture. At the moment, the restaurant offers only drinks and light snacks such as carrot cake and fruit salad.
One comment in the guestbook says it all: ‘This is not Koh Samui. I have been transported to heaven.’
Tamarind Springs is open 11am to 8pm, bookings highly recommended. Phone (077) 424 436 or 230 571. Tamarind Hill Retreat’s website is at http://www.tamarindretreat.com/