Tao Gardens, Thailand: Searching for peace and tranquility
The Tao Garden is set in some of Thailand’s lushest and most tranquil countryside
There are lots of therapeutic options at the Tao Garden in Chiang Mai, but are they quite what Seren Charrington-Hollins is looking for?
As a busy working mother life often feels like a treadmill and a series of deadlines. Whilst pregnant with my third daughter I longed for a short break that was centred on me and could offer me pampering, tranquillity and rejuvenation. So when I heard about a place that seemed to be offering me all of this, and peace, and beauty, and massages, and no deadlines whatsoever, it seemed a good idea to leap on a plane and seek out the bliss of complete relaxation.
As I embarked on my journey to the Promised Land I knew that I was in for one heck of a flight, well three actually. So in my second trimester of pregnancy I drove two and half hours to the airport before catching a plane that marked the start of my journey to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I couldn’t help feeling like Odysseus trying to get home from Troy. My journey saw my journey starting at Birmingham airport on a flight to Abu Dhabi, and another to Bangkok, and another to Chiang Mai. When I arrived in Chiang Mai my luggage hadn’t caught up with me so I must say that I was now in ever more desperate need of relaxation for as thoughts of washing and wearing one set of clothes for a week flashed through my mind my stress levels began to soar.
Relieved that my flight journey had come to an end I enjoyed a twenty minute taxi ride and when I arrived at the Tao Garden Health Spa, I felt just a tad travel weary. It was nightfall when I arrived, but even in the dark the resort looked pretty with its atmospheric lighting, set against the relaxing sounds of nature. I must admit that because of being pregnant the journey had seemed never ending and I was wondering whether a trip to Bognor Regis might have been more sensible!
The next morning I emerged from my accommodation to a fresh, warm day and the beauty of Tao Gardens was fully revealed. The Tao Garden Resort, which has won many awards, is indeed a garden. Set among banana groves, papaya trees and rice fields in some of Thailand’s lushest, greenest countryside, it’s 32 acres of what feels like enchanted forest. Dotted among the trees are little wooden cabins for holistic therapy, giant vases, statues and shrines. It’s magical and everywhere you look, you find something new. It’s like a secret garden and somewhere that you could never tire of exploring. There is, I discovered after a little wander round, not just a gym, and spa, and tennis courts, and an organic fruit garden, and a very fantastic swimming pool, but also an “immortal meditation hall” and a centre for something called “universal Tao”.
Universal Tao is a healing system developed by the man who started Tao Garden, Master Mantak Chia, who is ranked as one of the most influential healers he has been the only one named twice as Qigong Master of the Year by the International Congress of Chinese Medicine and Qi Gong in June 1990 in San Francisco and again in May 2012 in Toronto and it is certain that he is a man that had a vision and that vision is apparent when you gaze in wonder at Tao Gardens.
My first day I spent trying to recover from the flights, exploring and sampling the “healing” foods in the buffet. The food, which is, according to the welcome leaflet, “structured around blood type”, is served in an outdoor dining hall which you reach via a little bridge. The fresh fruits and salads were, as you might expect of food grown in the organic garden and picked that morning, delicious. There were plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans and as I ate the food I took great pleasure in the fact that it was acting as a form of healing, whilst also trying different dishes. Signs next to the dishes listed their healing qualities and I really benefitted from some of the juices and indeed the absence of caffeine loaded drinks such as coffee and tea.
The accommodation was basic, but comfortable and I had a really good nights sleep. The next morning I forced myself out of bed to the 7am chi gung. Under a giant pagoda in the garden, an instructor called Walter showed us how to bend and stretch. He also showed us how to rub our coccyx, stick out our tongues and bend our hands like claws. We should, he said, greet every organ with the “inner smile” and I must admit that his exercises really seemed to release tension that I didn’t even know I was holding on to.
I meandered into the Pakua Clinic, next door to the dining hall and enquired about treatments, because I was pregnant many of the treatments were ruled out, but I booked a therapeutic milk bath and head massage which was given in one of the treatment rooms set around a courtyard in the very pretty spa. I was greeted by a female therapist who had my milk bath run for me, she set a timer and as I sunk into this fragrant bath I felt my stresses wash away, but I also realised how bad I am at sitting (or lying still) the timer was set for me to luxuriate for twenty minutes and I must say that after ten minutes I really struggled as I am so used to being on the go. Once, I managed to still my mind and relax; it was blissful and afterwards my skin felt amazing. I then had a back shoulders and head massage which was one of the most relaxing treatments I’ve ever experienced. After my treatment I went for a nice stroll and got caught in a rain shower, which was strangely enough rather refreshing.
Later, in the meditation hall, an instructor called Jutta Kellenberger talked about love and joy again. We were doing a gentle kind of yoga, and a meditation called “Six Healing Sounds”. Jutta was the most enchanting of women and I found myself pottering off to the onsite bookshop after meeting her book Inner Beauty and Outer Radiance, about the Taoist approach to female healing- well I’d need something to read on the journey home! I also enrolled on her afternoon lecture on pelvic floor exercises and ovarian breathing, this was an absolutely fascinating talk and drew on the knowledge and practices of ancient China, but explaining this is a whole article in itself.
On my final day I spent a morning relaxing by the pool, before heading off to the juice bar for a green apple cleansing juice and a full body massage in the afternoon. I felt relaxed and a sense of inner tranquillity that I hadn’t felt for years was suddenly present.
Tao Gardens was definitely the place to go to discover relaxation and I felt truly radiant- it just goes to show that a little bit of pampering goes a long way, although I had to go a long way to experience this pampering!
Travel essentials: Chiang Mai
* Bangkok is served by Etihad (020-3450 7300; etihadairways.com) via Abu Dhabi; and direct from Heathrow by BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Thai (0844 561 0911; thaiairways.co.uk), Qantas (08457 747767; qantas.co.uk) and Eva Air (020-7380 8300; evaair.com).
* Tao Garden, Chiang Mai (00 66 5392 1200; tao-garden.com). Doubles from 2,700 baht (£56) full board. Three-night retreats from 10,500 baht (£215).
More information www.tao-garden.com