Peace, at Pimalai

Take one long beach on a quiet tropical island, add a collection of low-key villas, each decorated with a modern take on Thai design, and mix well among lush, colourful gardens.

What you have is the recipe for an utterly luxurious yet simple holiday; a place to unwind, relax, and recharge. Welcome to Pimalai Spa and Resort, on Krabi’s Ko Lanta Yai.

“Wow. Wow. Wow.” That’s the most common comment given by guests to Pimalai, reckons general manager Franck de Lestapis.

I think he’s telling the truth. If I had to think back to the first three words that sprang to mind on my arrival – between disembarking on the resort’s private boat and being whisked to reception in an electric cart — they wouldn’t be far from those.

Pimalai is designed to harmonise with the surrounding environment – sandy beach and turquoise waters below, thick green national park above. The resort itself is tastefully spread out over 100 acres, with 79 single or two-storey wood- trimmed villas, each a sumptuous tropical haven, nestled in a blend of the original landscape, and semi-manicured gardens. The gardens are young at the moment – the resort opened its doors in November 2001 – but within a year they are likely to be quite fantastic.

The concern for the environment extends to water supply and treatment, often a problem in tourist regions. The resort has built its own reservoir, and installed treatment plants, so wastewater is effectively recycled and used on their own gardens. “I think the resort is a pioneer when it comes to environmental issues. The owners really want to show other people in the industry that preserving the environment is possible,” says Franck.

In the rooms and suites, the emphasis is on simplicity and elegance, rather than ostentatious extravagence. Think teak floors, sleek wooden furniture, bamboo-style curtains and blinds, crisp white bed linen — complete with fluffy quilt, not blankets — and Chiang Mai cottons.

It’s the subtle details at Pimalai that remind you it’s a boutique resort. There’s the handmade “make up room” or “do not disturb” signs, represented respectively by a tiny broom and a person sleeping. Then there’s the little wooden turtles hiding under the shelving in the open-air lobby area, and the showers by the pool and beach, which have square stone shower “heads”. Even the various natural-fibre light fittings – in the public bathrooms, the spa – are monuments to Thai style.

Besides the visual beauty, there’s an abundance of old- fashioned peace and quiet at Pimalai. Take a nap by the pool to a soundtrack of trees swishing in the breeze, melodic bird calls and water gushing in various fountains and human-made falls. A far cry from many Thai beaches, I could have counted on one hand the number of longtail boats I heard pulling into and out of the beach, and even fewer speeedboats passing in the distance.

Although you never actually have to drag yourself away from the beach (there’s a beach restaurant) or your room (there’s room service) to eat, the view over the ocean and the “infinity edge” swimming pool from the elevated main restaurant might tempt you to do so. Franck says the menu seeks to provide simple, fresh food. With the bulk of guests being either busy executives getting away from it all, or honeymooners seeking something romantic but understated, the kitchen wanted to steer away from concepts of fine dining. “We want to offer something fresh, simple and relaxed – just a little bit trendy,” he says.

Being from France – in fact, Bordeaux – Franck is keen to establish a cellar of depth. “We have around 100 different labels at the moment, and we would like to grow,” he says. He’s not francocentric either, which will please New World wine lovers – some 20 Australian labels make the grade.

There’s already a nursery underway, and within a few years Franck hopes they’ll be producing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs. The menu isn’t extensive, but seeks to please everyone. Dishes we particularly enjoyed were the tom kha gai, seafood pizza, and crème brulee.

Herbs are already a feature at the in-house spa, a must for every guest to sample. Start with a Thai herbal scrub, featuring a blend of Thai clay, rice, plai, galanga, tumeric and bergamot, followed perhaps by a traditional Thai massage with a pack of luk pra kob, a blend of aromatic Thai herbs. Complete with a Thai tamarind facial – and you’ll feel better than reborn.

Depending on the package you choose, you’ll head to one of the six or so completely self-contained sala-style bungalows with outdoor shower, or a private area with a public shower, steamroom, and jacuzzi. Either way, the setting is superb, with wooden walkways crossing a huge waterfall running through the centre.

Those with energy to burn might instead head for an elephant trek, a snorkelling or scuba diving trip, or just some windsurfing on the main beach, using equipment provided by the resort. There’s a small fitness room, and mountain bikes for keen explorers.

Or take it easy on your private spacious balcony, and watch the enraptured faces of new arrivals. They might not be saying it out loud, but their faces will quite likely be saying: “Wow.”

Pimalai Resort and Spa 99 Moo 5, Ba Kan Tiang Beach, Ko Lanta Yai Tel: 075 629 054-7 [email protected]

Making the physical personal

When you own a car, you generally get a professional to give it a periodic check once you’ve clocked a certain mileage. But do you do the same for your body?

Praram 9 Hospital, with a new programme called 9-Life, hope to encourage people to do just that. What they’re offering, however, is not your average annual checkup.

It’s a checkup tailor-made for each individual, taking into account that person’s unique background and lifestyle. After all, says Lauranee Sirikasem, senior marketing and communications manager, you don’t give a 4WD and a Benz the same sort of service. “I work in marketing. You’re a reporter,” she says. “We probably live very different lives. Why should a doctor give us each the same checkup?”

Dr Termsak Kusonruksa, executive director at Praram 9 Hospital describes the two-month-old 9-Life as being an effective and efficient way of handling middle-aged patients’ annual checkups. “There used to be a fixed menu of packages doctors followed – if you were 40, 50, or 60, say, you took a set of tests no matter who you were,” Dr Termsak says. “But we [doctors at Praram 9] found that over the years, there were a good number of cases where the standard checkup didn’t screen out a lethal disease – for instance, a cancer could go undetected.”

9-Life is a result of the doctors banding together to develop a way of ensuring such serious slips halted.

The programme involves answering a series of 45 questions on a computer, a process that takes around 15 minutes. The questions relate to a patient’s medical history, family history, lifestyle and general background. Based on the answers, the computer will draw on Thai statistics and other data – such as American Cancer Society recommended guidelines — to decide what diseases someone of that patient’s profile is most at risk of developing.

The computer will then recommend specific tests to be taken. A printed sheet will list what you need to have – and how much it costs. The patient will see an internist to discuss the initial computer-test results and any other concerns, and then where required, specialists will administer your tests and discuss in detail any conditions you might have. It’s frequently possible to have all your tests and get the results in one day. The system will alert hospital staff to remind you when it’s time for your next check-up, too.

The starting price is Bt1,200 — but that’s for someone who’s young and in a low-risk group. I’m 29, not particularly fit and have a family history of several diseases. The computer recommended around 15 tests, at a cost of Bt3,080.

It might seem expensive, but when you look at what the early detection of diseases saves you long-term, avoiding checkups actually becomes a false economy, says Dr Termsak. “In maintaining good health, we have to make a clever investment. Patients will know early about their risks, and have a chance to learn how to modify their behaviour in order to prevent diseasess – and save a lot of money.”

Dr Termsak says that the system behind 9-Life is quite simple. “It’s about using ideas and knowledge, and improving the working system, rather than about money. We have to work smarter with what we have.” The IT system that was implemented, and the increased capacity of the IT system, probably cost less than a million baht.

Yet the system is quite powerful. Your average GP might not be aware that people with a southern Chinese ethnicity are statistically more likely to develop cancer of the nasal pharynx – but the 9-Life system will immediately alert doctors when a patient of this background attends a checkup. Or your regular doctor may have scrawled in his or her notes somewhere (we all know doctors are famous for bad handwriting!) that you have a history of diabetes in your family – but might overlook this when you pop in for a quick checkup.

So what age should you get yourself into 9-Life? Dr Termsak suggests that if you’re in your 20s and 30s, and are generally healthy, there’s no need to see a doctor annually unless you have a particular family history that you should be concerned about. Once you hit your 40s, the risk of developing a serious disease rises, and the risk rises further as you age. Your chances of maintaining excellent health, however, are optimised with regular checkups – especially when they’re tailor-made to fit who you are.

When you think of 9-Life, think of cats, says marketing and communications manager Lauranee. “Cats have nine lives. They have longevity,” she says. 9-Life could be your key to a long and healthy life.

9-Life Hotline: 02 248 8020. Services available from 7am to 3pm daily.