Can a spiritual retreat in Koh Samui change my life twice?

Grazia Middle East Editor-in-Chief Alison Tay’s first visit to Kamalaya altered the course of her future. Now she's back, will it work its wonders again?
Can a spiritual retreat in Koh Samui change my life twice?
Kamalaya Wellness Retreat and Holistic Spa in Koh Samui is set on a steep hillside, physically forcing you to move your body, and shift your energy - a precursor of what's to come

Such is the power of Kamalaya that just over a year after my first visit, I’d packed up my life in London and made the move to the Middle East, free from the fears that may have been holding me back from creating the future I wanted.

Six years on, and the healing hideaway on the palm-fringed coast of Koh Samui was calling me back to shake things up once more. Perched on a steep jungle hillside tumbling down onto a rugged shoreline, a serendipitous discovery of the sacred land surrounding the Monks’ Cave served as the catalyst for Kamalaya to fulfil its destiny as a serene space for self-development supported by world-class transformational experts and therapists, or for the those simply wishing to switch off or find time to recalibrate.

Facilities include The Wellness Sanctuary and Spa, a Leisure Pool, a Lap Pool, Steam Rooms and a Fitness Centre

For my return to Kamalaya, I chose the Embracing Change programme, which seeks to release unhelpful patterns and rebuild healthy habits and co-create a better path, because in times of collective global confusion and instability, change is the only certainty. This is just one of the intuitively curated wellness journeys, covering the gamut of life goals which include Detox, Optimal Fitness, Sleep Enhancement, Stress & Burnout – which I did in 2013 – and Yoga, lasting between three and 14 nights.

“But how do you know you need to change?” Caetana Valera, my traditional Chinese medicine doctor – who supermodel Elle Macpherson described as “one of the best I’ve come across globally” after a recent session – repeated ahead of the first of our three acupuncture sessions together. “What’s your body telling you?” This would be the first of many difficult conversations I’d have with my naturopathic doctors, mentors, healers and most of all myself, over the next seven days.

The Wellness Sanctuary is where the magic - and when I say magic, I mean hard work - happens

Embracing Change was devised by Kamalaya Life-Enhancement Mentor Rajesh Ramani to provide support in times of traumas such as loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a sudden switch in circumstances, or to prepare for a change that’s to come. The programme includes: body bioimpedance analysis and a wellness consultation to interpret the results; and one-to-one mentoring sessions, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture; homeopathy leading to the prescription ofa personalised Bach flower remedy; and an exploration of Eastern healing techniques including: Chi Nei Tsang – an ancient Taoist abdominal massage for detoxifying and unblocking suppressed emotion and stagnation in your internal organs; and Shirodhara – a soothing Ayurvedic treatment that sees warm oil poured continuously onto your ‘third eye’ to reduce mental stress and anxiety, awaken intuition, and promote more restful sleep.

To help shape my stay, I had to define the goals I’d set myself for the week, review how any significant life events or crisis situations have impacted my choices, personality, behaviour, and habits; be honest about how well I believe I take care of myself and my emotional needs; and pinpoint the triggers to any difficult emotions. Then I could start refining my game plan with Rajesh, both practically and spiritually, which involved everything from brainstorming worst-case scenarios and how to avoid them, to role-playing and rehearsing uncomfortable conversations while in a relaxed state of meditation.

I opted to add two Reiki treatments to my schedule, and to explore a deeper dimension, a Releasing session with New Zealand-born, Koh Samui-based healer Wayne Walker, who helps to address unresolved issues from childhood and identify mental, emotional and energetic blocks in order to release them. In addition, a group activity schedule that is available to all includes early morning Qi Gong, a choice of Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Sivananda yoga, and evening meditation, while visiting practitioners offer sound therapy and blue light energy healing.

The Yoga Sala is just one of the super-charged public spaces for group and one-on-one practice and meditation

The lush tropical landscape serves as the nurturing environment for positive transformation, and it’s as if all of nature is conspiring to help you heal. The Kamalaya philosophy connects nourishment with physical and emotional wellbeing, and the menus bear out this belief with dishes made from only the freshest ingredients, with organic local fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes used where possible, served close to theirnatural state, by baking, steaming, grilling and sautéing.

Microwaves, processed foods, additives, preservatives, artificial flavouring and colouring, and trans-fats are strictly off the menu, as is dairy, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soy, wheat, corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, aubergine, potatoes, nuts, gluten and sugar, for those detoxing.

Soma is one of two restaurants on the property that serve mindful menus to support your transformation

Standouts from the Kamalaya restaurants Amrita and Soma included chilled beetroot and jicama (Mexican turnip) gazpacho, with coconut meat, lime juice, mint, shallots, and coconut juice; and the gluten-free mung bean pasta made from green vegetable ratatouille, garlic, sweet basil pesto, vegetable stock, tomato-less pasta sauce, which was a feat of taste-bud trickery in itself.

To get my disordered eating back on track, my British-Iranian naturopath Leila Abachi put me on a detox menu and reminded me that the recommended ratio of every meal should be two parts veg, one part protein and one part carbs; and suggested taking five deep breaths before eating my food to activate the body’s natural responses, engage in the activity and awaken the senses – especially during those soul-destroying, deskbound, deadline-day Deliveroo dinners or when multitasking meals can’t be avoided – adding to the new awareness, tools and techniques I can implement when I continue my journey.

Accommodation comprises Hillside Rooms with a garden or sea view; Suites, Villas and Superior Suites with a sea view; and Plunge Pool, Beachfront and Penthouse Pool Villas; to one- or two-bedroom Rock Top Pool Villas

I cried the first time I left Kamalaya because I didn’t want the process to end, but armed with my improved habits and daily affirmations, now I knew better. The process never ends. As potent as its energy is, its true gift is the power you take with you, and the real home you’re seeking is the safe space you create for yourself. 

• Accomodation starts from Dhs845 per person per night, and a five-night Embracing Change programme starts from Dhs13,280, including accommodation and three meals a day. For more info, visit