Although this is my first weight-loss and wellness retreat, I imagine that it’s pretty unusual not to be weighed, either on arrival, throughout, or on departure.
Not only that, but every lunch and dinner starts with home-made sourdough bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So far, so beautifully unexpected. This is going to be a piece of cake.
But after four nights at RAKxa, on a riverside in verdant south Bangkok – which feels a million miles from the city’s bustling Sukhumvit area – all will become abundantly clear. I am here not just to lose some of my robust food writer’s frame; I am to unlearn almost five decades of bad habits – and also learn some good ones.
Things didn’t start well. Walking past Burger King in Bangkok airport, I contemplated popping in to stock up on a couple of emergency Whoppers. As I was whisked through the Thai capital in the retreat’s black Mercedes S class, smoky roadside stalls beckoned with their gloriously charred and sticky things on sticks.
RAKxa is hidden away on Bang Krachao, an artificial island formed by a bend in the Chao Phraya river where life feels decidedly laid back. There’s not even a sign from the quiet laneway that leads you to spacious, manicured grounds dotted with elegant villas and wellness facilities.
Most guests – an urbane, well-heeled set representing a global spread of nationalities – stay for at least a week, but RAKxa will take you for anything from three nights. Its 10 health programmes are tailored to the guest according to an extensive pre-arrival questionnaire and consultations with doctors and other practitioners on arrival.
Destress, Immunity Booster and Weight Management are some of the options, as is Gut Health. “Gut” is a word with awkward associations for a food writer.
Likewise “weight” and “management”. I’ve been known to wait for a bowl of very good ramen, given a long line, but I know that is not what they are referring to.
“Rakxa” in Thai means both “to preserve” and “to heal”, reflecting the aim of the 60-villa resort, which opened in 2020 in partnership with Bumrungrad International Hospital’s VitalLife Scientific Wellness Clinic.
Check-in ends with me being whisked in a golf buggy to my private Garden Villa, the sort of accommodation that makes me wish I had studied economics instead of French literature and could afford these kind of digs on a regular basis.
After lunch, I meet the first of a series of doctors and therapists, who work across multiple disciplines. I do a live blood analysis, the distribution of blood cells shown using a dark-field microscope.
The doctor explains how the retreat’s approach mixes wellness, physiotherapy and aesthetics: “We focus on the root cause.” I resist mentioning that my own root cause is probably a weakness for dairy produce.
My obsession with doing at least 13,000 steps a day – I’ve been known to do lengths of an aircraft mid-flight to reach my goal – is mildly applauded, but I am then shown how walking affects my posture, flexibility and causes tightness in my back. Head-to-toe stretching, regular deep-tissue massages and less time on a computer are all prescribed.
It’s where I receive life-changingly good and hugely beneficial massages, and meet a traditional Thai medicine doctor who reveals that my key element is “wind”. Not only that, but the wind element is prominent in my gut. I fail to stifle a laugh.
Talking of food, again, dinner brings tom yum soup with mushrooms followed by grouper with red curry sauce and chocolate ice cream for dessert. Seriously. And still no one has asked me to weigh myself.
But here’s the thing. After four nights, I have still lost more than a pound (half a kilogram) in weight a night, seemingly with very little effort. But it quickly becomes clear that those numbers are almost irrelevant.
I’ve learned to understand, appreciate and respect my body more than ever before. That in itself is priceless. As the RAKxa staff polo shirts declare: “Health is wealth.”
The author was hosted for free by the RAKxa Wellness and Medical Retreat.