From guided breathwork and meditation to nutritious food, a new well-being-focused resort enclave in the Laguna area of Phuket aims to start guests on their journey to a more balanced lifestyle.
My eyes are closed tight, but my other senses are wide open. I feel the breeze on my cheeks and the squelch of wet lawn under my feet. The air smells of rain and salt and frangipani petals. As I step hesitantly across the grass, mynas whistling in the branches overhead, my ears register the murmurs of a pair of conical-hatted gardeners who’ve been regarding my progress with bemusement since I began this blind and barefoot walk. Henba Laishram, the Indian naturopath who is guiding me through the exercise, explains that its purpose is to harness the earth’s energy and “raise your sensory awareness to develop a new appreciation for the natural environment.” And as long as he keeps me from walking headlong into a tree, I’m all for it.
Henba is one of a small cadre of wellness practitioners on staff at Banyan Tree Veya Phuket, a resort within a resort that opened on the grounds of the sprawling Banyan Tree Phuket this past March. Conceived during the pandemic, it aims to empower guests with sustainable well-being and mindful eating practices that can be easily woven (veya means “to weave” in Sanskrit) into their daily lives back home.
Unlike wellness heavy hitters elsewhere in Thailand such as Chiva-Som or Kamalaya, Veya is designed to be more welcoming and accessible. “We’re not here to judge,” says Kim Weller, Banyan Tree’s Australian head of spa and well-being. “And if you just want to be on holiday, that’s fine too. Our goal is simply to help those who are looking for a mental or physical reset to start that journey with us.” For anyone still suffering from Covid-induced despondency, time here — the minimum stay is two nights — is well spent.
Shortly after being escorted to my villa (of which there are just 23 at Veya, all with their own swimming pools and heated jet pools, plush sleep-inducing beds, essential-oil diffusers, yoga mats, stretch bands, and healing sound bowls), I am joined by a colleague of Henba’s, Kerala-born yoga master Rajesh Thazhe Thatathil, for an assessment. Referencing my pre-arrival questionnaire, Rajesh quizzes me about my stress levels, stamina, exercise routine, mental acuity, et cetera, before assigning me an itinerary based on how I score with Veya’s eight pillars of well-being. I’m not surprised to learn that my pillars are out of balance, and that I need to work on my physical vitality and sleep habits. The result is a customized itinerary of activities (included in the stay), spa treatments, and dietary suggestions for me to follow over the course of the next two days, plus lifestyle advice like keeping a gratitude diary and drinking a glass of warm turmeric milk before going to bed each night.
I begin early the next morning with pranayama nose breathing exercises on nearby Bang Tao Beach, inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils. It’s harder than I expect. After ending the session with a deep “Om,” I hit the alfresco Veya restaurant for breakfast. While I could (and do) dine at Banyan Tree Phuket’s other outlets, which include Saffron for Thai food and the lagoon-side Watercourt for pretty much everything else, Veya is its new flexitarian eatery, with a “Mediterr-Asian” menu that emphasizes clean eating. The dishes, co-created by British chef and longtime Thai resident James Noble, whose 80-hectare organic farm in Chiang Mai supplies much of the kitchen’s produce, aim for a 30:50:20 ratio of protein, vegetables, and carbs. But don’t let the math put you off: everything I eat is delicious, from the salt-baked beetroot carpaccio and turmeric-seasoned cauliflower steak to the smoked tuna mille feuille with pumpkin-seed pesto. My only gripe? The restaurant is set beside the main resort’s swimming pool, which on a busy day can be anything but serene.
In between meals and beach visits, my days are filled with activities like basic yoga, spinal stretching classes, and sleep meditation, which takes place in a soundproofed, all-white room at Banyan Tree Veya’s Wellbeing Centre. But it’s not just about tuning out. Twice I join one of the resort’s chefs in an apothecary-themed space for workshops in herbal potpourri making and healthy cooking (in my case, a simple but delicious som tam green papaya salad accessorized with pumpkin and Sichuan pepper–dusted tempeh).
And, of course, there are spa treatments. Rajesh had signed me up for a 90-minute oil massage at the adjacent spa, which leaves me profoundly blissed out, as well as a watsu-like water therapy. The latter is even more transporting. Donning floats, an eye mask, and earphones, I’m swished around a heated pool by a wet-suited therapist named Kiki, who uses all her limbs to press and stretch my body. It feels like being in a sensory deprivation tank with a friendly octopus — and I mean that in the best way possible. The warm, amniotic water soon lulls me into a dream state.
All in all, Banyan Tree Veya Phuket is just what I need: a gently restorative experience that’s never, even for a moment, preachy or regimented. And while it might not fit perfectly into the freewheeling vibe of the larger resort that surrounds it, as a template for future standalone Veyas — next year should see the brand opening in the Maldives, Mexico, and Mozambique — it’s hard to fault.
It remains to be seen what lessons from Veya I will weave into my regular life, though the home practice guide emailed to me (with links to a series of exercise and sleep-enhancement videos) should help bolster my resolve. But for now, my “monkey brain,” as Henba calls it, is stiller, and anything feels possible.
veya.banyantree.com; minimum two-night stays from US$430 per night, doubles, including breakfast, a private consultation, unlimited well-being activities, and a THB5,000 (about US$135) resort credit per night for spa treatments or meals.
This article originally appeared in the December 2022/February 2023 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“A Clean Getaway”).