You may start with a 30-minute run, or a group barre class. It’s boring and/or excruciating, but after a week, you’re hooked — the pain is nothing when compared to the glow of self-congratulations after the fact. I AM AWESOME, you think, so you do it again. After a while, like a drug, that hour-long class seems like old hat; it’s new heights of boredom and pain that you now seek. Some find that backbreaking solace in Crossfit, or marathons, or iron man competitions. Others take a different route: meditation, a cleanse, or detox.
It’s easy to say “I’m detoxing for 30 days, don’t feed me anything good”, and then eat soup and be mean to your husband all month long. But if you really want to do it, and to be held accountable, you go to something like Samahita Retreat in Samui, where detox, yoga, and, yes, weight-loss programs are available for anywhere between 7 to 14 days.
Samahita’s slogan is “Breathe into a new life”, but my friend Trude would say a more honest one would be “Luxury fat farm”. Open since 2003, Samahita means “centered” and its default setting is its “yoga/core/cycle” program, which every guest automatically gets once they book into the retreat. This basic default mode means that you aren’t required to stay the minimum of 7 days that it takes for the detox or weight loss programs to take effect. So naturally, this is what Trude, Fiona and I chose. It was not until I arrived on the premises that I discovered that “yoga/core/cycle” means yoga, core, and cycling classes because duh (I thought it meant some sort of yoga like “sun cycle”, only “core cycle”. Whatever ok?)
The “yoga/core/cycle” program involves up to 5 hours of classes, including morning meditation and breath work, yoga flow, core class in the afternoon, spinning, and then a gentler, “restorative” yoga. In the evening, you get another hour of meditation if you want. There is a morning banana and coffee and tea from 6.45 on, and a “hot” breakfast available from 9.30 while you are already in yoga class, but the bulk of the eating is done from 11am to 8 at night, when the dinner buffet closes down. In the afternoon lull at 3pm, you get a “snack” that is invariably a fruit that skinny girls always seem to eat, like papaya, watermelon or dragonfruit. I am detailing this as clearly as I can because 1. I am a pig and 2. this is ultimately what Samahita is all about.
In other words, besides being “centered” and working the crap out of you with its fitness and yoga classes, Samahita is mainly about (excuse my French) “le poop.” If you have problems in this area, Samahita is there to fix it with its smoothies, its juices, its poop-y fruity snacks, its all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner fiber buffets. I can attest (again TMI) to going to the bathroom twice a day; my companions, three. In any other setting, this would be cause for alarm and a trip to the pharmacist. Here, it was merely a byproduct, evidence of our detox.
And the food? The food. The food is a portal through which any culinary pathology can pass and thrive, uninhibited. Gluten-intolerant? Lactose-free? Vegan? Wary of garlic and onions? Every food phobia you can think of is acknowledged, cosseted, tended to like the weary feet of a tourist at an upscale Thai spa. There is even a handy food index:
Not surprisingly for a place that must denote its Thai food dishes, the clientele is overwhelmingly Western, with a smattering of Singaporean and Japanese guests. Many, if not most, of the guests knew Thailand solely through their experience at Samahita. This might explain why the food caters to a crowd that prizes purity first and taste second: the buffet changes daily but always features a salad, steamed veggies, a dip with crudités and a “green power soup” that I strongly suspect are the pureed steamed green vegetables from the night before. The focus is on freedom from meat, from sugar, with the occasional nod to dairy, wheat, eggs and even fish. Things that hint at “sweet” are simply nods at those things, security blankets that don’t mean anything. This comes into focus most clearly in things like the “chia chocolate pudding”, which Fiona calls “the most anorexic pudding ever” and tasting as if “a chocolate bar had been waved over it during assembly”.
Perhaps this is why much of the Thai staff, when confronted with an actual Thai and a Thai-speaking farang like Trude, did not really take us to heart. Even Fiona noticed, telling us, in case there was any doubt, that “Yeah, they really don’t like you guys.” I think the underlying assumption (because it couldn’t possibly really be us!) was that farang whose only experience of Thailand would be this retreat would be expected to indulge in crazy things like vegan food and 5 hours of fitness classes a day. Why on earth would other people who really know Thailand do it though? To opt for a garlic-free mash of grilled green peppers instead of nam prik num, to content oneself with flat rice noodles in a vegetable-and-arrowroot gravy instead of real guaythiew lard na? In their eyes, what were we thinking?
What we were thinking was that it was nice, for once, to feel so exercised, healthy and self-righteous. All the same, three days was enough. So enough, that we plan to do it again, later this year. I will bring athletic shoes this time, so I can go spinning. It won’t be any longer than three days, of course.
On the way home, I bought a wildly overpriced bag of Doritos (extra Nacho flavor) and ate them outside, in a courtyard of the cray-cray Samui airport built to resemble a suburban US shopping plaza. It was the best Doritos I’d ever had, everything I’d been missing: satisfyingly crunchy, aggressively umami, yo-yo flavors both salty and sharp. That alone seemed worth the trip.