Wherever I travel, I try to visit a spa both to unwind and to gather insight into the region’s culture, whether it’s a Turkish bathhouse in İstanbul, a hot springs resort in Japan or a wellness retreat in Costa Rica. And so, on a recent trip to Thailand, I headed to the Phulay Bay Spa, part of a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property in the southern town of Krabi, where I set down my anchor for several days.
This luxurious resort lies less than two hours by plane from Bangkok and sits on the Andaman Sea overlooking hundreds of islands, surrounded by soaring limestone cliffs and lush jungles. Opened in 2010, it was the first of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties, designed as one-of-a-kind escapes highlighting the local culture. To wit, Phulay Bay offers 54 villas nestled on 50 acres of landscaped gardens, ponds and a white coral beachfront. Thai architect Lek Bunnag designed the resort, whose exteriors feature a pleasing blend of teak, stone and painted stucco in hues of apricot and royal purple. The interior of each temple-like villa offers a contemporary mix of cream terrazzo, wood and glass, along with Lanna-style Thai art. Oversized beds, soaking tubs and expansive patio lounge beds give the rooms a sense of lavishness and comfort while ocean views, private pools and hidden outdoor baths and showers connect guests with nature — but in a highly private way.
The Phulay Bay Spa follows the same design principles, blending modern aesthetics with the outdoors. Polished teak walkways lead past flower-filled pools into the split-level aubergine building, comprising three traditional Thai pavilions housing 11 treatment rooms. For my first visit, I booked the exotic-sounding four-handed massage, figuring that if two hands are sumptuous, four hands must be mind-blowing. Having arrived early, I lounged in the outdoor vitality pool overlooking a verdant lagoon before bypassing the sauna and steam room to read in the relaxation salon until the attendant called my name.
Most of the spa’s treatment rooms soothe the senses with a delicate palette of beige and dark brown. Dim lights, soft music and private showers enhance the experience. My session began with a foot wash, followed by both attendants exfoliating my skin with a salt scrub, one woman working on the right side of my body in tandem with the other on my left. After I showered, the masseuses simultaneously began kneading my skin, choreographing their strokes in perfect unison. The non-stop fluttering of hands was so outrageously pleasurable, I willed myself to stay awake to savor every moment. Two hours later, I staggered out of the room feeling almost drunk I was so relaxed.
A few days later I returned for a two-hour Thai Herbal Infusion Ritual, the perfect antidote to a rigorous jungle hike the day before. In addition to body products from the British company ESPA and Thai-based DIVANA, the spa uses botanicals from the resort’s organic garden. Fresh lemongrass stalks, for example, add a fragrant touch to the Phulay Bay Scrub and help exfoliate the skin and stimulate blood circulation. Local fruits, plants and herbs known for their rejuvenating and healing properties enrich other treatments, including my Thai Herbal Infusion Ritual, which incorporates ginger, kefir lime, lemongrass, mint, cloves, tamarind leaves and turmeric to invigorate the skin and muscles and restore energy flow.
As with my previous treatment, the ritual began with a foot wash followed by a body scrub and shower. Then came the massage, providing glorious relief to my extremely sore muscles. Locally grown herbs filled the hot poultices which the attendant placed on my shoulders and back to ease tension. She then gave me a mini facial followed by a scalp massage using oil infused with prai, a rhizome from the ginger family that has been used for centuries in Thailand to condition skin.
Out in the spa garden sipping hot tea with local honey, I marveled at the power of the resort’s home-grown botanicals. To think that ingredients like lemongrass, ginger and mint not only create scrumptious cocktails and curries, they also give a luscious radiance to the skin!
Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
111 Moo 3 Nongthalay, Muang
Krabi 81000 Thailand
tel 66 75 628 111
I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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