Moxibustion and Muay Thai: we try Amanpuri Phuket's holistic wellness retreats

Phuket's famed Amanpuri resort has launched holistic wellness experiences that combine medical services, massage therapy, nutritious food and movement sessions

5 Bedroom Villa
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The smell of burning mugwort fills the air. Tiny bundles of the spongy, earthy herb, used for thousands of years to facilitate healing in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), have been attached to the acupuncture needles protruding from my stomach. Subtle pinpricks of heat weave their way under my skin as I breathe in the pungent scent. The distant patter of rain forms an impromptu soundtrack as a tropical shower sweeps through the jungle canopy directly outside my treatment room.

A holistic approach to wellness

This is my first experience of moxibustion – an ancient acupuncture technique used to warm the meridians, with the aim of smoothing the flow of both blood and "chi". I am four days in to a Wellness Immersion programme at Amanpuri, and much is being done to address sluggishness and imbalance in my body.


Aman ­Resorts' flagship property opened in Phuket, Thailand, in 1988, setting the bar for its signature brand of intimate luxury, now found in 21 destinations around the world. Last year, Amanpuri also became the first of Aman's properties to launch integrative medical services, supplementing its already expansive wellness offering with a dedicated medical centre. It's exactly the kind of multilayered, 360-degree approach that today's affluent, holistic, health-conscious travellers have come to expect.


Amanpuri, which is Sanskrit for "place of peace", is located on a private headland on the west coast of Phuket, with sweeping vistas of the Andaman Sea and Bangtao Beach. The resort was recently extended and enhanced, and is home to 40 Thai-style pavilions and 40 private villas. I am staying in one of the latter – a villa that artfully combines traditional Thai design features with a contemporary minimalist aesthetic, set across three floors and engulfed in dense tropical vegetation, with dedicated staff and a dark-tiled infinity pool offering views across an expansive white-sanded bay.

6 Bedroom Villa

Sobering truths

I am greeted on my first day at the property's new Holistic Wellness Centre by the beaming, baby-faced Ms Pimchanok, who, I learn, has a master's in movement and exercise science, and a gentle way of breaking less than savoury news. Our first stop is the 3D scanning machine, which serves up photorealistic images highlighting the consequences of my largely sedentary, office-bound, ­exercise-poor lifestyle. It is a searing dissection of every contour of my anatomy – hip, waist, thigh, bust and bicep measurements; waist-to-hip and trunk-to-leg volume ratios; a body shape rating that measures the relationship between my shape and cardiovascular-related risk factors; and a detailed assessment of my posture that determines everything from the tilt of my head to how my weight is distributed when I stand. It is a sobering read, softened slightly by Pimchanok's cheery delivery.

Next up is a consultation with a doctor, who recommends a bout of physiotherapy when I mention a recurring issue with lower back pain, and then a lengthy discussion with the centre's TCM specialists, Kimberly Rose, Amanapuri's immersion manager, and Shinichi Kiyose, the resort's spa and wellness director. There is a confessional air to the experience, as I answer intimate questions about my sleeping habits, stress levels and attitudes towards food. Both Rose and Kiyose examine my tongue and perform a pulse diagnosis – an age-old technique that involves taking the pulse at three points on the wrist. The quality of the pulse at specific points offers up information about the status of particular organs in the body, and Rose and Kiyose ascertain that there is an "imbalance" in my spleen and stomach, as well as "blockages" in my liver and gallbladder. I head off to lunch as all of this information is pored over and used to create an entirely personalised schedule of treatments for me.


Healthy meals

A daily wellness menu forms part of the experience, serving up a choice of healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Nutritious morning dishes include white quinoa porridge with almond milk, cinnamon and walnuts; a mango-colada smoothie bowl; or acai, beet and nut power smoothie bowl – to be eaten in the privacy of your villa or overlooking the resort's 27-metre infinity pool. Lunch and dinner consist of soups, salads and mains – highlights include a zingy Tom yam soup with tofu and vegetables, a seaweed and kale salad with an orange miso dressing, and courgette fettuccine al a fungi. It's all tasty, fresh and filling, although, given the constant temptation of the property's Japanese, Italian and Thai restaurants, the choices on the wellness menu can sometimes feel limited. Luckily, healthy snacks are placed in my room every evening, including a moreish salted dark chocolate concoction, to keep late-night cravings at bay.

5 Bedroom Villa

Amanpuri's Wellness Immersions offer four "pathways": weight management, detox and cleansing, mindfulness and stress management, and life reset. Medical services range from chemical peels to physiotherapy, while TCM therapies include cupping, four-­handed Abhyanga oil massages and Acu-Laser therapy. The immersions can vary in duration and generally include a combination of spa treatments, medical sessions and private or group movement classes, including yoga and Muay Thai.


A personalised wellness plan

My treatment plan starts with a Grounding Massage – a signature treatment designed to address fatigue and jet lag. Earthy essential oils lull me into a meditative state, counterbalancing the deep pressure of the massage, which is meant to provide relief from physical pain. Also on my schedule is Chi Ne Tsang, a deep abdominal massage that is meant to rebalance and enhance digestion and energy levels, and clear out blockages. My therapist, Khun Maam, kneads away, eliminating toxins, before sending me off with a series of dietary suggestions, recommending that I consume more ginger, pepper, milk thistle, dandelion tea and turmeric.  


Treatments are interspersed by visits to the resort's hydrotherapy facilities – trying to withstand 30-second stints in the sub-Arctic cold plunge pool and then defrosting my extremities in the hot pool, steam rooms and infrared sauna. The days are marked by intermittent tropical showers, best enjoyed in the spa's open-sided relaxation areas, where I lie on a lounger reading my book as the rain falls in dramatic sheets all around me. Place of peace is right.

Programme lengths and packages vary; an Intensive Wellness Immersion starts from $1,840 (Dh6,757) per night, based on single occupancy