Befriending the enema
It is noon and the streets of Lamai on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand are teeming with cars, scooters, food vendors and tourists.
Large British women walk about in bikinis, boobs and bums busting out of their bitsy material confines, and their lads go off to get "meaningful" bamboo tattoos in Thai. Russians saunter the streets like Mafia dons and balding German and French men hook up with beautiful young Thai women.
Small restaurants advertise Thai food and pizza and happy-hour cocktail specials, and ladyboys emerge, vampire-like, in the evenings to offer massage services.
High on the holiday vibe, everyone zoots about on scooters without helmets, as if flipping a finger at the frippery of death. The place is rank with sex and sin – everybody here is having fun … everybody that is, except me.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the good times, I've decided to book myself in with the health freaks, sprout snobs and self-loathers for six days of yoga, meditation and detox at the Spa Samui.
Located off the busy main road in the heart of Lamai, the spa is a surprisingly serene oasis where, once inside, the burps and barps of the traffic are replaced by a gentle tinkling of oriental music.
Unassuming A-frame bungalows line a welcoming swimming pool, which flanks a restaurant that spills on to the beach. A second, quieter accommodation facility, the Spa Samui Mountain Retreat, is set against the island's picturesque rock formations and is linked to the beach resort by a regular shuttle.
Founded about 20 years ago, the spa was one of the original draw cards to Samui, back in the day when backpackers ruled Thailand's island travel scene.
It still retains a bit of a hippy feel and is by far the cheapest spa option on the island. It offers a buffet of health options from detox programmes to yoga and massage, (paid) access to a host of spiritual, nutrition and body-work therapists, raw food "cooking" classes and a divinely healthy restaurant.
I've chosen the six-day "Juice It" programme, which incidentally is also the cheapest. For an off-season special, I'm paying 11 950 baht (about R3 700) for five nights accommodation, a daily fruit platter and juices, detox drinks, broth, wheatgrass shots, four yoga classes, four Thai massages, daily meditation and, erm, two colemas.
I also get a free airport transfer, four steam-room sessions and salads on the first and last day. According to the programme's literature, this regime will allow my poor, long-suffering colon to rest while "removing residues of past dietary habits and providing natural energy and vitamins from juices and supplements".
I start off with great enthusiasm glugging down a litre of water and crunching my way through a generous salad of leaves and sprouts.
"This is going to be easy," I think, before voluntarily opting to pay extra for a "classic" two-hour Thai massage.
It's a slow pressure point massage designed to get to the core of major energy imbalances. And, clearly, I'm energy deficient. The moment I step off the mat I'm hit by a wave of nausea followed by an intense headache that stays with me for the next few days.
Photography by Lisa Johnson
Regardless, I soldier my way through my meditation and yoga sessions and foolishly decide on a gung-ho approach to good health by embarking on a daily liver cleanse – a hellish concoction of olive oil, lime, cayenne pepper and orange juice. All of which make me feel exhausted and I take to a poolside lounger for large swaths of the day.
Despite my discomfort, I soon find out that the "Juice It" is considered a soft option by the hardcore healthy, who smugly swan through seven-day fasts at a time with little more than broth and supplements to support their withered bodies. When I complain of my dis-ease, I'm met with patronising looks and comments such as: "It's not normal for the juice cleanse, but I suppose it's possible if you're really toxic."
By day three, I've accepted my lot as a healthless desperado in dire need of extreme intervention – the fact that I've survived this long is really rather amazing – but it doesn't stop me from balking at the idea of the looming colema.
At 4pm, I'm shepherded into a video room with an obnoxiously cheerful English woman and her unenthusiastic-looking boyfriend. We watch a short video before being taken downstairs, where we are shown how to set up the medieval-looking equipment for the daunting task of "self administration" in our own bathrooms.
It comprises a bucket, a porcelain board with an opening that balances on the toilet end of things and dubiously rickety-looking stool for the other end, as well as some tubing and a tube of KY jelly.
The girlfriend, a regular at the spa, seems to be taking inappropriate pleasure in her boyfriend, and my discomfort.
"I know," she says cheerily. "I was also unhappy in the beginning. I lay on my back and sobbed but after the first few goes it was like ‘Yay, it's colema time'." As if her enthusiasm needs any confirmation, I later overhear her asking a staff member for chopsticks: "You know … for examine."
I can't say I share her zest for the process, but aside from feelings of violation, I survived and actually felt rather good as a result. My headache miraculously disappeared with the elimination of those pesky toxins and I began to get an inkling of the renewed energy I had been promised.
The six-day programme was well worth it, on the whole. So much so that I opted to stay at the spa for an extra four days to take advantage of the healthy menu at the radiance restaurant and capitalise on my hard-won feel-good factor.
I have to say, I feel great – bring on the sprouts and seaweed extract!
You can fly directly to Koh Samui Airport from Phuket or Bangkok on Bangkok Air (bangkokair.com/eng) and other local carriers (the price is dependent on when you visit). It is also possible, and considerably cheaper, to catch a ferry from Phuket (ferrysamui.com). For more information about the Spa Samui and to view their latest specials, visit thesparesorts.net/samui