Up a Notch

Writer Stephanie Shiu | January 9, 2018

While the shift towards wellness travel is nothing new, seeing brands once synonymous with indulgence prioritise health, indicates a more sophisticated level of awareness. At Phuket’s Amanpuri, located on the bucolic shores of the Andaman Sea, Wellness Immersions take place from three nights to two weeks, with four programmes that include consultations and assessments, specialist therapy sessions, group movement classes, supported by nutritional and fitness education.

The brand’s original property celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2018, and its traditional Ayutthayan pavilions and villas shrouded by greenery set an ideal scene for a reset. Tucked in the shade of coconut palms, my Garden Pavilion has an outdoor sala for lounging between classes and treatments. And a stay would be incomplete without a dip in its famous black-bottom pool, or frolic at the resort’s idyllic private beach.


I decide on the three-night fitness Wellness Immersion, a collaborative effort by sports medicine, nutrition and therapy experts, featuring classes such as circuit training, Pilates and yoga. First is a consultation with the effervescent Alison Stone, Aman’s knowledgeable regional wellness director, who explains that each experience is tailored to the individual, and flexible depending on what you intend to get out of the experience.

Stone asks questions to gain an overview of my health – physical, mental and emotional – to design the itinerary so I reap the most benefit from time spent here. While initially focused on ramping up fitness, after discussing the pressures that come with hectic city life in Hong Kong, and the type and frequency of my usual workouts, she suggests adding bodywork therapies for a more well-rounded approach to well-being. She offers that less may be more in my case, and we agree to scale back the itinerary for extra breathing space.

Today’s group class, functional gym training with Kam, consists of three sets of each two-exercise circuits including push-ups with pikes, lunges with ball slams, plank commandos, while challenging, are made more manageable with the gym’s distracting beach views. The day ends with a Tension Release Massage, using brisk strokes to boost circulation and lymphatic flow at Aman Spa, which comprises six treatment pavilions, each with private steam room and outdoor meditation sala.


Visiting practitioners are a key draw at Amanpuri, and I am fortunate enough to start the day with a one-on-one with Dr Joo Taebeak, who has a PhD in Sport Medicine, a doctorate in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a degree in Osteopathy and Muscle Chain Massage, not to mention speaks seven languages and counts national sports teams and royalty among his clientele. Specialising in pain management and holistic healing, he developed the Cyriax Method combining Western and Oriental Medicine as a diagnosis technique.

Through this series of tests, Dr Joo pinpoints imbalances in the body. After bending my feet, he can tell I am right-handed based on my shorter left leg (true for 80 per cent of the population), which may explain an uneven pelvis. And more impressively, that I sprained my right ankle even though it happened years ago, which he manipulates to prevent rotation and causing the knee to overcompensate. He uses kinesiology to diagnose mild scoliosis, which he treats with trigger-point massage, shaking and stretching. I leave far more informed about posture and spinal alignment thanks to his subtle yet effective tweaks.

My lucky day continues as New York celebrity trainer Justin Gelband, responsible for getting Victoria’s Secret angels Miranda Kerr and Candice Swanepoel runway ready, happens to be visiting Amanpuri for a week. All his clients receive a 90-minute session in which he analyses posture, form, coordination and lifestyle. He observes how I walk and the way my foot contacts the ground, to get a sense of my mind-body connection and customise a workout specifically for me.

Gelband’s method is unlike intense Crossfit workouts that push physical limits to the extreme. His approach is more sustainable – none of the usual burpees, lunges or push-ups – tough, but in a different way. Movements are slow and controlled, which is the secret to the staggering definition seen in the model bodies he is renowned for shaping, using props like ankle weights and Pilates ring rather than standard gym equipment.

Just as inspiring as Gelband’s approach of creating a personal goal to ensure each client activates exactly the right muscle groups, is his passion for changing the global perception of exercise. Opposed to the idea that results can only be achieved through fast, explosive and potentially injury causing movements, his method incorporates functional movements found in everyday life, for example picking up a box or opening a car door.

The afternoon’s agenda winds down with a Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage, blending Chinese and Thai techniques to detoxify and enhance energy circulation, performed by reiki master practitioner Mae Sams. Her touch is so relaxing I doze off almost immediately, waking to a warm sensation in the belly and a sense of emotional lightness. Finally the 120-minute Amanpuri Awakening treatment combining a Thai massage with a steam, herbal compress and an oil massage is the pinnacle of pampering.

Traditional Ayutthayan pavilions and villas shrouded by greenery set an ideal scene for a reset