Health and Wellness Tourism

Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Southeast Asia's wellness culture.

Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Southeast Asia’s wellness culture.

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Wellness, or health, tourism is a booming industry, which is ever growing in popularity. In a world where peoples’ lives are often characterised by the hustle and bustle of work and family, there are an increasing number of people who look to spend their time off regaining a sense of calm and balance.

Meditation, yoga, detoxes, spa treatments and health kicks are all ways that people try to restore their physical and mental wellbeing. And what better place to do this than a sunny beach in Southeast Asia?

The retreat is a growing phenomenon; no matter where you’re headed you are almost bound to come across at least one. There are so many, in fact, that it can be hard to know where to go, what to do, which treatments to try. Some of the most popular places are Ubud, Bali and Chiang Mai, Thailand, but these places are the tip of the iceberg that is Southeast Asia’s health resorts. Below we examine some of the emerging trends in this industry.

The Yoga/Detox Retreat

The rise of the retreat is unavoidable – throughout the world people are spending more and more time and money on looking after themselves. The most popular spots are the yoga and detox retreats, and although Indonesia and Thailand are fast becoming havens for those seeking to unwind and rejuvenate, these courses can be found everywhere, from India to the United Kingdom! These retreats differ greatly from place to place, some offer the inclusion of spa treatments, or contain a healthy cooking component, others offer colon detoxes, some have strict raw food diets, some last a few days, others can be joined for months. But before you can really consider where you want to go, first you must understand, what is the yoga/detox retreat?

A retreat is, by definition, a place where one withdraws from the world, a place of seclusion, and also a place for meditation and spiritual worship. In today’s world, the retreat is a term also used to describe a space in which one lives-in, and immerses oneself entirely in the practises therein, generally focused on finding one’s inner balance, getting healthier and restoring a sense of inner calm that can often be set awry by everyday life.

In Thailand and Indonesia the yoga/detox retreat is by far the most popular. These focus on intensive yoga schedules, and a detox from all toxins (a flushing out, as it were, of all the impure foods and drinks that most people consume on a regular basis). These retreats also often have a spa element, particularly massage, but also saunas, steam rooms, facials, and some even offer counselling sessions, nature walks, herbal medicines and acupuncture. Massage is key to Indonesian and Thai health and wellness tourism, and below we examine two of the major branches of massage in these areas.

Thai Yoga Massage

Thai Yoga massage is a form of massage in which one is essentially put through the postures and routine of yoga by the masseuse, making it arguably more invigorating than other forms of massage, whilst retaining the relaxing and rejuvenating effects. Rather than rubbing muscles, there is a lot more body contact between the masseuse and the receiver: the body is pulled, compressed, rocked, stretched and generally put through a yoga-style routine, without the receiver actively doing anything themselves. This type of massage is particularly good for improving posture, flexibility and breathing, although a whole host of other benefits can be attributed to it also.

Ashtanga Yoga: Indonesia

Ashtanga Yoga is a quite athletic form of yoga that combines ancient Indian yoga philosophies and modern day gymnastic exercises, working with the steady movement from one posture to the next in pre-determined sequences. It focuses on eight branches, or principles, that include posture, self-purification and study, and moral codes. There is a clear focus of the mind in the principles of Ashtanga yoga, for example breathing is key as a way of steadying oneself physically and controlling ones movements and postures, however it is also used to enhance the elements of deep meditation and concentration (which are another two of the eight branches). This form of yoga is very popular, in Bali alone there are multiple retreats offering guests Ashtanga yoga classes.

Wellness in Bali

In Bali we see a prominence of yoga, detox retreats, healers, and also good healthy food and juice bars. So it is no wonder that Bali is one of the capitals of the Southeast Asian wellness map. There are countless retreats on this island and (with a little thanks to the high profile book/film Eat, Pray, Love) it sees vast numbers of tourists looking for an escape from their everyday life with a chance to reinvigorate their bodies and minds. This is partly thanks to the spiritual culture here, Bali is keenly in touch with its religious and spiritual roots, which certainly has an effect on the wellness culture that has developed here. This is a very spiritual place, and that can be seen in the prominence of yoga and wellness, people are in touch with their inner selves and promote emotional, physical and spiritual balance.

This can also be seen in the practises of healing: Bali is home to many spiritual healers, and it is quite common for those visiting to pay a visit to a healer during their stay. Healers, or ‘Balians’, come from the rich Balinese Hindu culture, and are believed to be imbued with special healing powers, and are highly revered by the local population. These are not to be confused with many imposters who set up to take advantage of tourists. Authentic healers study for many years and focus on individual aspects of the physical or mental, and dedicate themselves to helping cure people with ailments in these areas.

Wellness in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is considered by many to be the culture capital of Northern Thailand, in existence for almost 1,000 years. Situated in the country’s highest mountains, this city is rich in religious sites, ancient relics, and so much more. However, it is also a top spot for many tourists looking to regain some inner balance and put a focus on rejuvenating themselves. In terms of wellness, Chiang Mai is such a hotspot for a number of reasons: there is an abundance of healthy eating establishments, spas, fitness clubs, gyms, yoga courses, pilates courses and retreats. The choice here is astounding! No matter whether you’re looking to do your yoga teacher training, have some massage therapy, or to try your hand at meditations, there is something here for you!

Some Recommendations

Below are a few specific recommendations from us, to help get you started on planning your journey towards rejuvenation.

  • If you’re in Chiang Mai, you simply must check out Cheeva Spa, they offer fantastic services at a fair price, particularly their Thai massage with hot compress will leave you feeling entirely renewed. Check out their website for full treatment details :
  • The Ubud Yoga House, is the place to try out yoga in Bali, particularly if you’re lacking in experience, with fantastic views overlooking the surrounding rice paddies, open studio spaces, and great teachers. Visit their website for more details :
  • If you’ve never been to a retreat before, then check out the Amaravati Ayurveda Resort, in Chiang Mai, who offer a 5 day Tantra Yoga and Detox retreat that will leave you feeling like a new person. With a focus on emotional and physical healing as well as detox and purification, the course includes yoga and meditation sessions, as well as lectures on how to lead a balanced lifestyle, allowing you to pick up techniques and ideas that you can take home.
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