The Thai wellness retreat offering an unexpected sanctuary on the outskirts of Bangkok

RAKxa combines holistic therapies with functional medicine, healthy eating and a focus on movement

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There are flames dancing across my stomach.

Heat seeps through the thick herbal paste smeared over my abdomen, gently warming my skin. The effect is at once soothing and slightly disconcerting. But the traditional Thai Ya-Pao Detoxification treatment, which is designed to release abdominal tension, increase blood flow and enhance the lymphatic system, is just one of many surprising elements that form part of my five-day stay at RAKxa, a wellness retreat on the outskirts of Bangkok.

With its bustling waterways, congested roads and population of 10 million, the Thai capital may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of relaxation. But nestled amid the lush vegetation of Bang Krachao island on the outskirts of the city, in what is commonly referred to as Bangkok’s green lung, RAKxa offers an unexpected sanctuary.

The traditional Thai Ya-Pao Detoxification treatment is designed to release abdominal tension, increase blood flow and enhance the lymphatic system. Photo: RAKxa

From the heat of the flames in the Ya-Pao treatment to the iciness of the plunge pool in the retreat’s expansive hydrotherapy facility; from the softness of my breath during a Pranayama lesson to the hardness of a traditional Thai massage; and from the discomfort of cupping to the bliss of a singing bowl healing session, my detox experience covers a gamut of sensations and emotions.

A direct Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi, followed by a smooth one-hour drive in a sleek luxury sedan, leaves me at RAKxa’s understated gates. My stay starts with a Covid-19 rapid test and a singing bowls ceremony, which feels entirely befitting of a retreat that artfully blends the best of modern medicine with ancient Asian healing techniques.

RAKxa sits quietly between a man-made lake and a bend in Bangkok’s mighty Chao Phraya River. The city’s skyline can sometimes be seen looming in the distance but, held at bay by stretches of water and strips of verdant green, it feels a world away. There are 62 villas, each with its own private garden, sitting within a landscape of palm, neem and oak trees and plants with evocative-sounding names such as parrot flower, creeping burhead and crape ginger. The retreat is a car-free zone, easily traversable by the bicycles parked outside each villa.

The retreat has 62 villas. Photo: RAKxa

At the heart of this picture-perfect community are the three pillars of RAKxa’s offering. RAKxa Jai is the holistic wellness centre, where myriad treatments draw from ancient disciplines such as Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and Thai wellness practices. RAKxa Gaya is a medical gym with a swimming pool and state-of-the-art equipment, staffed by a team of movement specialists, physiotherapists and expert trainers. I spend time here undergoing a physical movement assessment, a series of exercises that analyse my strength, mobility, balance and co-ordination.

The third component is the VitalLife Scientific Wellness Clinic, an extension of Thailand’s renowned Bumrungrad International Hospital, which has spent the past two decades specialising in preventive medicine and anti-ageing treatments (in the longevity rather than purely aesthetic sense). The distinctly non-clinical setting – I take a metabolism-boosting IV infusion in a plush armchair overlooking vibrant gardens – offers cutting-edge equipment and treatments, including whole body light, cryo sauna and hyperbaric chamber therapy, cool sculpting, colon cleansing and, for those who are so inclined, Botox and fillers.

RAKxa sits quietly between a man-made lake and a bend in Bangkok’s mighty Chao Phraya River. Photo: RAKxa

What sets RAKxa apart is how closely these various elements work together. This is a results-driven, one-stop, cure-all destination, with more than 200 treatments on offer. Time-proven alternative therapies are interwoven with advanced functional medicine and fitness techniques, and then combined with healthy eating regimes to craft a range of personalised programmes of varying lengths, addressing everything from weight loss and detoxification to sleep and mobility issues and even the effects of long Covid.

The retreat opened in the midst of the pandemic when Thailand’s borders were closed. But while the pandemic affected RAKxa’s initial ability to attract international visitors, it also caused a shift in thinking that has ultimately been to its benefit.

“People’s perceptions have changed since the pandemic,” says KH Dusadee Tancharoen, RAKxa’s managing director. “They understand that they need to take better care of themselves, and they are more open to the various treatments and therapies that can help them. Prevention has become more important than cure.”

My own detox programme is constantly evolving. Aum, my health and wellness adviser, checks in with me regularly and tweaks my schedule based on how I am feeling and the feedback she’s receiving from RAKxa’s team of practitioners.

Well-being is approached with strategy and precision in these parts. Aum identifies early on that my metabolism and digestive system need attention and uses this as a starting point for a schedule that includes chi nei tsang, a deep but gentle abdominal massage; acupuncture and electrostimulation, where needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses to enhance their effects; the traditional Chinese practice of cupping, which helps with pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and well-being; singing bowl healing, where the vibrational sounds from Tibetan bowls are used to reduce stress and promote deep relaxation; as well as manual lymphatic drainage, plus Thai and foot massages. Treatments are interspersed by regular trips to the hydrotherapy centre, where I dart between the fragrant herbal steam room, infrared sauna and vitality pool.

The hydrotherapy centre. Photo: RAKxa

My treatments are complemented by a vegetarian detox diet, which includes one day of only liquids. A selection of tasty soups comes with healthy drinks, including an earthy mix of beetroot, carrot and ginger, and the aloe coco, which combines coconut meat, coconut juice and aloe vera. More substantial servings include a mix of miso tofu and chickpeas on grilled eggplant, and vegetables in turmeric and lime broth.

Speciality teas become something of a treat. Each day, a pocket of time is set aside for me to stop and enjoy the blends served at RAKxa Cha, many of which are brewed using herbs from the retreat’s organic garden – from Sleeping Beauty, a mix of sweet basil, lavender and red apple; and Say Good Night, which combines spearmint, chamomile blossoms and safflower; to Balance Body, which features liquorice root, ginger, green apple and spearmint.

Thai hospitality is famous, but at RAKxa, it is taken to new heights. Even without the treatments, the constant flow of positive energy emanating from staff would be enough to elevate the spirits. Nurses handle their patients with infinite care; therapists clearly take joy in sharing their gifts; and serving staff at Unam restaurant, aware of my limited calorie intake, constantly ask how I’m doing.

On one of the final nights of my stay, I am invited to join staff for a full moon ceremony. I am soothed by melodic chanting and cleansed when enveloped in a cloud of burning sage. Towards the end, I am invited to join the rest of the group walking around a table piled high with crystals and other offerings. We stop and face the moon, and while I do not understand the words being spoken or the intricacies of the ritual, it is a powerful reminder that sometimes well-being can be as simple as slowing down and looking up.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 8:16 AM