PHUKET – It is the crack of dawn and my eyes are tightly shut. But instead of being snuggled up in bed, I am attempting – in vain – to walk barefooted in a straight line on a beautifully manicured lawn without sneaking a peek.
Even as I struggle to keep my balance, I quickly notice that my sense of touch has been heightened and I can feel every blade of dewy grass and the grainy texture of the soil beneath my feet.
I am doing “conscious grounding” at Veya Phuket, the new brand extension of Banyan Tree resorts. Launched in March 2022, this 12-villa property is the first wellness-centred resort by the home-grown hospitality group.
While it is situated in a tranquil enclave within the Banyan Tree Phuket resort grounds, guests at Veya have exclusive access to extra facilities including a well-being centre and a traditional herb farm-pharmacy where workshops are conducted.
They also have a separate gym and swimming pool for a more intimate experience.
Post-pandemic, the group itself has been on somewhat of an expansion binge, with two new hotel brands – Garrya, a contemporary well-being-centred concept, and Homm, which aims to evoke the homely, local atmosphere of a residential property.
Garrya has properties in Koh Samui, Huzhou, Kyoto and Xi’an. Homm can be found in Bangkok, Huzhou and Phuket.
There are also upcoming Veya resorts planned in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, and Ilha Caldeira, Mozambique.
Back in Phuket, during my seven-minute grounding walk, I am surprised to discover that my “monkey mind” has stopped drifting with trivial thoughts, at least temporarily. It is one of the sessions that well-being practitioner Henba Laishram had recommended during a personalised consultation.
He explains that the line-up of activities – which include yoga and circuit exercise classes, aromatherapy room spray and massage oil workshops, meditation sessions and nutrition talks – are conducted at an approachable beginner’s level.
In this scenario, guests who are still new to the concept of self-care and well-being can sample an array of healthy practices that they can continue practising even when they check out.
Select activities are complimentary with the stay, while paid sessions cost 1,000 baht (S$39) each.
The concept fills a gap in the burgeoning wellness travel market, where retreats often focus on guests who are more accustomed to well-being practices.
Such retreats generally involve intensive exercise schedules, strict meal plans or “detox cleanses” and even esoteric treatments such as hydrotherapy or intravenous vitamin infusions that may be intimidating to newbies.
At Veya, the softer approach means guests may pick and choose freely from the range of activities so they can be as involved – or relaxed – as they wish.
That is a good thing because you will want to allocate sufficient time to enjoy the newly built Veya villas.
The spacious digs evoke a similar tropical resort vibe that Banyan Tree pioneered in the early 1990s, but in a more contemporary style featuring minimalist furnishing and a colour scheme of light oak and mint green.
Among the highlights are the generously sized private plunge pools and heated tubs in each villa, which are atmospheric for an after-dark soak while moon and star gazing.
What I appreciate most is how the villas are specially designed to foster a good night’s rest with luxuriously soft organic cotton bedlinen, black-out curtains and even a sleep light thoughtfully placed close to the floor to prevent beams from shining directly into one’s eyes.
In a nod to the wellness theme, the villas are equipped with a Tibetan singing bowl, yoga mat and exercise stretch bands for guests. I have every intention to use them on my private deck, but never do because I sleep so well every night and have to hit the snooze button repeatedly each morning.
However, I manage to rouse myself to try various activities, including a solid pilates core exercise class and a circuit-style “fat blast” workout which can be customised to a higher intensity for those so inclined.
My favourite is a soothing sound bath session where a practitioner creates harmonious hums and vibrations by using specially tuned metal bowls that lull me into a state of deep relaxation.
Alternatively, one cannot go wrong with spa sessions, which are conducted in private villas amid a tropical garden – a style popularised by Banyan Tree.
During my Signature Purposeful Massage (5,500 baht for 60 minutes), the brand’s famed therapists work their magic to soothe and rejuvenate my tense muscles.
The on-site all-day Veya eatery makes it easy to eat well without feeling deprived with a plant-forward, seafood-leaning menu.
For instance, breakfast comes with a tower of fresh bakes and salad to encourage a balanced diet, while dishes for lunch and dinner, such as my favourite seared scallops (475 baht), are served with a generous portion of fresh greens.
That said, nobody will be made to feel guilty for indulging – there is organic wine on the menu and guests are free to dine at other eateries, including Banyan Tree’s excellent Thai restaurant, which is a two-minute walk away.
The resort is itself situated within the 300ha Laguna Phuket where the group’s other properties – including Angsana, Cassia and Laguna Holiday Club – are located.
Once an abandoned tin mine, the site was bought by Banyan Tree Holdings founder and executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping in 1984 when he was looking for a place to build a holiday home with his wife Claire Chiang.
The group invested heavily in revitalising the natural environment and, today, the regenerated lagoons are habitats for aquatic flora and fauna.
Tip: To fully enjoy the tranquillity of the lagoons, hop onto a free half-hourly ferry service for a ride around Laguna Phuket, which has stops at various locations, including the beach bar Xana.
At the other end of Laguna Phuket, keep a lookout for the soon-to-launch Ori9in Gourmet Park, which has a farm-to-table picnic cafe, fresh food market as well as a nature trail with a dog run and viewing decks.
Or to venture further afield, the town of Phuket is a 30-minute ride away via a shuttle bus service available at the lobby of Cassia.
In my current state of new-found zen, I decide to make my way to Bang Tao beach instead. This 3km stretch of white sandy shores is barely a 10-minute walk from Veya and is a popular gathering spot for locals and travellers alike.
It used to be lined with small beach shacks but had recently been cleared out by the authorities.
While some old-timers may bemoan the loss of “character”, for sunseekers hankering after some peace and quiet, this is possibly as close to untouched paradise as one might hope to get in these modern times.
That evening, as I gaze at the endless horizon, the setting sun setting the sky on fire, I am pretty sure I finally get a taste of that elusive sense of inner peace that many people have been seeking by signing up for this retreat.
Banyan Tree Veya Phuket
Where: 33, 33/27 Tambo Choeng Thale, Thalang District, Phuket 83110, Thailand
Rooms: 12 villas
Rates: For January and February, rooms for a couple start at 30,500 baht (S$1,180) a night. Guests get a 5,000 baht cash credit for a two-night booking, which can be used for well-being classes, dining and the spa. Rates include breakfast at Veya restaurant.
- A former Straits Times journalist, Karen Tee is now a freelance lifestyle and travel writer. A long-time yoga practitioner, she enjoys visiting wellness resorts as a way to escape the madding crowd.
- Suite Life is a series on destination hotels and their locales.
- This trip was hosted by Banyan Tree Veya Phuket.
This article has been edited for accuracy.