A global pioneer in transformative wellness practices, Chiva-Som International Health Resorts has spent the last 27 years helping people get their health back on track in the most elegant of ways. And who better to testify to its amazing benefits than the chairman and CEO himself, Krip Rojanastien, who underwent a lifestyle transformation after losing 20kg and subsequently went on to become a marathon runner.
The former executive vice president in charge of card businesses at Bangkok Bank, Rojanastien took over the resort in 2007 after his father, Boonchu Rojanastien (also a banker and politician), passed away. Till this day, the strapping 72-year-old embraces wellness as his doctrine and lives life according to the guiding principles and mindful health practices of Chiva-Som.
As the head of an award-winning wellness resort, he must always have his finger on the pulse of trends and remain at the forefront of innovation with constant revisions or updates on its wellness offerings. “Balance and innovation are key elements in my approach to the business of wellness. We must seek change and innovation, and at the same time, I try to maintain the balance between Thai traditionalism and evidence-based innovation, premium and sustainability, medical science and holistic treatments,” says Rojanastien in an interview.
As a response to the pandemic, Chiva-Som’s flagship resort in Hua Hin, Thailand — now reopened to overseas guests — has added four wellness packages to support new normal lifestyles. Recognising and proactively addressing guests’ changing needs, the innovative programmes enhance the resort’s already comprehensive retreat offerings, focusing on specific objectives from supporting the immune system and gut health to embracing nature and ageing gracefully.
The “Immune Resilience” retreat incorporates nutrient-rich cuisine, detoxifying treatments and mindful exercise to naturally boost the body’s defence, “Gut Health” consists of a personalised meal programme that places natural ingredients, probiotics and fibre at the forefront to restore the integrity of the gut microbiome, “Nature’s Embrace” emphasises the healing effects of nature, with outdoor activities to rebalance the body and mind, and “Senior Wellness” builds on gentle exercise, a nutritious diet and quality sleep enhancement to increase energy levels, cognitive function, stability and mobility.
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These new additions come just after the 2.7ha property underwent a four-phase overhaul in 2019 to increase the size of the guest rooms, and add a new Bathing Pavilion complete with hydrothermal facilities like a salt-water pool, Watsu pools, floatation chamber, hydrotherapy suite, and more. The gym was also expanded to include a Refunctional Room with new equipment to help with rehabilitation, leg mobility and balance. Adding to that is a range of medi-spa modalities such as colonic hydrotherapy treatments, folate assessment for detox and metabolic health, and LPG Cellu M6 Alliance cellulite treatment.
A world-class retreat that blends Western practices and Eastern philosophies, Chiva-Som has spent the last two years of the pandemic recalibrating its wellness offerings to suit the needs of its locally-based customers, who tend to only stay for the weekend.
Short-stay packages focussing on boosting immunity, rebalancing wellness and managing stress were popular, as well as complimentary activities such as tai chi, yoga and meditation. “The expats here sometimes stay the month during their summer or winter holidays, but local Thais prefer to do quick but frequent weekend visits. Our return rate among locals is around 40%,” he shares.
Despite the low influx of overseas guests during these difficult times, Rojanastien reports that cash flow has been steady and sustainable enough for him not to lay off anyone. The real challenge was educating Thai clientele on the rationale behind Chiva-Som’s premium prices and wellness practices. “Locals know about Chiva-Som but are unfamiliar with our services. So, when they first arrive, it’s important that we share our wellness philosophies with them. With the Thais, you have to ease them in gradually and allow their instincts to take over. Generally, they don’t want any particular activities that they have to pay for outside the package,” he explains. “We also made major adjustments to the food as it needs to please the Thai palate. And in the process, we have improved the menu to make it tastier and more pleasant for all customers.”
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To serve others who are unable to travel to Hua Hin, Rojanastien shares that Chiva-Som also offers online services (launched in 2020) to connect customers with its team of naturopaths, physiotherapists and exercise professionals. These sessions can take the form of anything from nutritional to fertility consultations, neurodynamic exercise or Pilates classes.
Venturing to Qatar
While all this happened in quick succession, Rojanastien also had his hands full with the launch of Chiva-Som’s first international outpost, Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som, located in Khasooma — a tranquil private coastal location in the north of Qatar. The 28ha property — 10 times the size of Hua Hin — is owned by Qatar’s premier master developers, Msheireb Properties, and managed by Chiva-Som.
A national real estate development company and subsidiary of the Qatar Foundation, Msheireb Properties was established as a commercial venture to support the Qatar National Vision 2030. The company aims to enrich people’s lives through improved quality of life and work, and modern, innovative and authentic developments.
“We agreed to manage and operate the resort because our companies both share the same vision to inspire healthy lifestyles and promote sustainable transformations. This vision extends to the way we do business together,” attests Rojanastien.
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Officially opened on Mar 29, Zulal — which means “pure natural water” in Arabic — is supposedly Qatar’s largest wellness destination featuring the world’s first contemporary showcase of Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine (TAIM). Derived from the Canon of Medicine, written by physician-philosopher Ibn Sina in the 11th century, TAIM is one of the cornerstones of the history of medicine, though it is less well-known than Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda. Deeply rooted in Qatari and wider Arab culture, TAIM emphasises restoring balance through herbal medicines, spiritual therapies and dietary and mind-body practices.
“Why we feel so confident in integrating our holistic knowledge with Arabic medicine is because the principles are the same — it’s about nutrition, exercise, rest and recovery. And what we also like about the Middle East region are superfoods like figs, flaxseeds and olives which are rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and known to prevent gastrointestinal illnesses, hypertension and other ailments. You might be surprised to know that the camel’s milk is vastly superior to cow’s milk with 10 times the iron and much less fat,” he expounds.
“Arabs used to live a nomadic lifestyle in the desert and survive very tough conditions but they remain very healthy and robust thanks to their superfood-rich diets. So, what we’re doing is revisiting these ancient wellness practices by presenting them in a more contemporary way.”
A destination for all ages
To bring Zulal to life, Msheireb Properties engaged Oppenheim Architecture to design an entrancing resort that melds design with the landscape together with Qatari heritage and culture. The result is a stunning slice of coastal heaven — filled with idyllic gardens, pools, meeting places and meditative spaces — inspired by classic Arabian courtyards washed in homogenous desert hues.
Located on the edge of the Persian Gulf and accessible from Doha International Airport, the coastal sanctuary brings visitors both local and foreign an exceptional experience, offering the highest international standards built upon six pillars — nutrition, fitness, spa, physiotherapy, holistic health and aesthetics — with a menu of over 400 treatments for complete well-being and life transformation.
The resort will offer two distinct paths to achieving wellness goals: an adults-only Zulal Serenity, and the family-focused Zulal Discovery.
Offering 60 well-appointed rooms and suites, Zulal Serenity offers extensive wellness facilities such as thermal and hydrotherapy suites, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spa suites, gymnasium, exercise studios, state-of-the-art physiotherapy studio and an aesthetics centre. With seven programmes available – each tailored to individual health needs – guests will be able to choose from relaxation, detox, weight management or fitness.
A big part of the Zulal experience, the family component is another first for Chiva-Som, which has only ever catered to adults over 16. Zulal Discovery, built with 120 rooms and suites, is purposefully created for families to bond through customised wellness programmes. The experience lets kids explore different aspects of well-being, helping them take care of their own health and forge better relationships with each other and the environment.
Age-specific programmes, coined after animals indigenous to Qatar — “Hedgehog” for three years and under, “Fox” for four to eight, “Falcon” for nine to 12 and “Oryx” for 13 to 17 — have been designed by child and family specialists centred around teaching children the value of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. While younger children will be encouraged to explore, with nature-based outings and arts and crafts, older children will spend their time keeping active, with kayaking, dancing and personal training. Balancing physical, mental and emotional elements of wellness, they’ll also be introduced to meditation and healthy cuisines.
All wellness retreats — per night rates starting from $2,488 for a double room — are full-board which includes accommodation, all meals, a health and wellness consultation, daily treatments, and unlimited access to wellness facilities and group activities. With a digital-detox policy in public areas, the vastness of the desert and the ocean within view from every room, guests can fully disconnect and naturally re-energise.
Marrying the best of two cultures
Optimal, bespoke wellness lies at the heart of each Chiva-Som experience. With its unique synergy of indigenous traditions and evidence-based wellness, Chiva-Som partners with guests on highly personalised wellness journeys focused on complete lifestyle transformation. And this is no different at Zulal Wellness Resort. Although it has a multicultural workforce of 30 nationalities, Rojanastien says the Chiva-Som soul is strongly felt through its genial hospitality and superlative skill by the therapists who are personally taught by the Chiva-Som trainers themselves.
“What you get is the best of both worlds governed by the same principles of holistic wellness and commitment to sustainability. Both our resorts adhere to 17 Sustainable Development Goals mandated by the United Nations Global Compact which include no poverty, no hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water, and so on,” he lists.
He adds: “We encourage other businesses and companies to join the effort to adopt more sustainable practices to take our country forward. It’s not always about money and GDP, it’s about the quality of life that you want for the people and what sort of future you want to leave behind for the next generation.”
While adopting a new approach to TAIM and pursuing wellness as a form of family bonding, Zulal is set to significantly contribute to boosting the national tourism sector and support Qatar’s strategic plans for economic diversification and securing a higher standard of living.
For Rojanastien, the pride comes in the form of showcasing Thai hospitality and wellness expertise at its finest to a new demographic. “When you think of the pinnacle of wellness destinations, we want you to think of Chiva-Som and Thailand. In hospitality, we are one of the strongest. Why? Because it’s in our nature to welcome people with our warmth. Thai therapists are the most sought after in the world especially those trained at the Chiva-Som Academy,” he enthuses.
“My wish is that when I go away, people speak well of me. I did something not just for myself, but for the people, community, and country. We are proud to be a Thai brand and grateful for where we are today. It makes my day when locals come up to me and say they are proud of what we’re doing.”