Fast and furious: detox in Thailand

To indulge or detox when on holiday? Try the latter in Thailand

Photographs courtesy of Absolute Sanctuary
I first heard the word ‘detox’ in the early ’90s when I lived in Singapore. Friends would return from Thailand, recharged after restorative treatments that included juice-fasts and daily colonic cleansing. The idea of this treatment disturbed me. But after years as a food editor, eating multiple meals in a single evening, I was ready to clean myself from the inside out. I would go to Thailand – one of my favourite food destinations – and not eat.

On the recommendation of a friend, I went to the aptly named Absolute Sanctuary, a bright yellow Moroccan-styled haven full of colour and good energy on the island of Koh Samui. Normally seen as a paradise for Sybarites who want beaches and perfect sunsets, Samui and its nearby islands are also becoming a destination for detox holidays. The promise of Absolute’s quiet hilltop location, sea views, pool, yoga and spa treatments helped calm my fear when I thought about a limited diet.

On the ‘Ultimate Detox’ regime I had chosen, there would be no solid food for five days – only four daily detox drinks – followed by three days of the same, but eating ‘raw, living’ foods (no dairy, meat or any food cooked over 118°F). All my fellow ‘detoxin’ guests’ (the others were doing yoga teacher-training) aimed to shed some fat. A Dubai man boasted a loss of six kilos in two weeks and said he came each year. But, while weight loss was a common goal, I tried not to focus on it.

Following the schedule, I chose my first detox drink: fresh watermelon juice shaken with psyllium husk (a fibrous seed to help with bowel movements), and a spoonful of silky bentonite clay (to absorb toxins). I chased it down with a glass of reverse osmosis-purified water, the only water consumed on the property and a popular way to purify seawater, plus a pack of vitamin supplements given to take throughout the day.

The first of my daily trips to the yoga studio began with meditation and deep-breathing exercises. I looked around and saw people of all sizes and felt very much in the middle as I centred myself on my mat. This was followed by a yoga session with very physical core stretches.

In need of refreshment after this workout, I dashed for my second detox drink – a green cocktail of cucumber, parsley, mint and lime juice. The parsley’s anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties would help flush my system. Mint soothed the stomach and helped with bloating, while lime stimulated digestion and was loaded with vitamin C.

Then it was time to face what I had been dreading. I’d had colonic hydrotherapy once before but didn’t realise that drinking juice just prior to it was a very bad thing. Petch, the nurse who caringly administered each treatment, helped me settle on an apparatus designed like a lounger. Truthfully, there is nothing wonderful about having a tube inserted in your bum, with a warm flush of saline swelling in. A panic rushed over me, while strange butterflies rippled in violent fits in my abdomen.

I was told to hold the liquid for as long as I could and then expel it. Burning discomfort from the juice in my stomach pushed up against the saline from the other end. When Petch asked if I wanted an abdominal massage, I held up my hand and stopped her short. I couldn’t speak. A second flush of a diluted coffee mix stimulated the liver, and was followed by one made from vinegar, with a final flush of probiotics to replace the natural flora that I’d lost.

A lifetime of bad habits was crusted along the lining of my digestive system. The ‘sludge’, as I’d heard it called, was an impacted breeding ground for bad bacteria, parasites and other undesirables, and the colonics were flushing them out. I developed a merciless headache. They called it a ‘healing crisis’, but I thought it was from breaking up with caffeine. I hoped that the third detox drink – pineapple juice – would inject some sugar into my system and alleviate the pain. But this was a process; it hurt.

On my first day, I was noticeably irritable, especially if the WiFi signal went out or too many people wanted to chat. Random emotions came in waves and I realised there was no prescription for my thoughts or feelings. I called for help, begging to know if painkillers were allowed but knew the answer. I practised meditation in the silence of my room to calm myself and drank my last juice of the day, a blend of carrot and cucumber, before a fitful sleep.

After three days, I fell into a routine. Eventually I found comfort in Petch’s abdominal rubs and, by the end, was even relaxed enough to read during colonic treatment. Best of all were the daily spa treatments, including a series of lymphatic massages. My biggest surprise was that I never felt hunger; I was too busy going to a class or a treatment.

On day five, in the resort’s restaurant (‘The Love Kitchen’), I was overcome by a bout of melancholia as I waited for my first solid meal. A dish of raw zucchini fettuccine with tomato sauce and pesto was creative and vibrant, and I tucked in. I felt full early on, but kept eating, often forgetting to chew 30 times before swallowing, as the retreat’s director had advised. When I did remember, the food tasted different, with more texture, and often there was nothing left by the last five chomps.

With barely enough time to sit by the pool or steam in the sauna during the day, I indulged in these activities at night. The books I brought barely got read and although I socialised a little with the other guests, there was an implicit understanding that each of us needed our space. Towards the end, I realised that I could decide to simply do nothing at all – one of the best treatments for someone like me, who is normally always on the go.

In the end, I lost a little weight and felt energised and alive. I didn’t fool myself that eight days of health could undo a lifetime of damage, but it was a start.

Back in Beijing, I had to resume my work, eating decadent meals day and night, which quickly made me toxic again. My newfound health caved in to a landslide of professional conscience. As a restaurant critic, it seems unfair to the chef to choose healthier options over a creative starter, or to limit the number of dishes. But I have chosen a healthier, conscientious and sustainable lifestyle. I will always love good food but at least I’ll try to chew each bite 30 times before I swallow.

Essential info
- A five-day ‘Ultimate Detox’ package includes six nights accommodation, modified meals (juices, broth, supplements), colonic hydrotherapy, daily yoga, airport transfer, consultation and two massages (from 10,774RMB). For reservations, see www.absolutesanctuary.com.

- Thai Airways return flights from Beijing to Koh Samui via Bangkok cost from around 7,860RMB return. To book, see www.thaiairways.com.

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