Amanda Hooton- February 1, 2015
It was my friend who started it. “Come to Thailand for a spa treatment!” he cried.
“Oh, another spa treatment,” I said, as if I received invitations for luxurious beautification experiences in exotic locales every day of the week. “Really, is there anything new to say about spas?”
“Yes!” he shouted. “This one is edible!”
He was, it emerged, speaking literally: every single beauty product this particular spa uses actually is ingestible. “What about Retin-A?” I asked, channelling my best white-coat, Laboratoire-Garnier terminology. “What about coenzymes and titanium dioxide?”
“No!” he announced triumphantly. “There’s none of that! So you know that moment during a massage when they suddenly leave the room for 10 minutes and you get really bored? Well, now you can eat your own body wrap!”
Who could say no to an offer like that? So away I went to the outrageously exclusive resort on the crest of a hill overlooking the Andaman Sea on the southern tip of Phuket. Before my treatment, I had a swim in the spa’s incredibly beautiful infinity pool (as opposed to my private villa’s exquisite infinity pool, or the restaurant’s enormous infinity pool, or the beachside bar’s totally luxe infinity pool, all of which I had already swum in that morning; oh, the trials of luxury resort existence).
The resort owner, a Gatsby-esque figure in espadrilles called Wan, had been delighted by my gustatory plans. “You can do a degustation!” he exclaimed. “We’ll split you into quadrants: a different flavour for each limb!” And that was what greeted me in the candle-lit, marble-floored treatment room: a flower-decorated platter containing four white bowls of the kind TV chefs use. “Tom yum,” said my therapist Nueng, a Thai woman with a lovely gentle face, indicating one bowl. “Mango and sticky rice. Thai tea. And som tam.”
Great, I said. Shall I try a mouthful now, or wait until you put it on?
Nueng recoiled slightly. “You no really eat?” she asked incredulously.
Yes, yes, I said, in my best intrepid investigative journalist voice. “I must. For my story.”
She looked doubtful. I reached for a piece of mango and she caught my arm. “I will get spoon,” she said – clearly, if we were going to do this crazy thing, we must do it properly.
She left the room, and, seizing the moment, I ate a few pieces of mango and some sticky rice, which had a sesame seed garnish. Both were delicious.
Nueng returned. “Just a little,” she said pleadingly, handing over a silver teaspoon. “Your stomach may be bad?”
I ate some milky tea leaves and spicy tom yum paste, grainy on the tongue. Do the therapists mix the scrubs themselves? I asked. Yes, said Nueng, here at the spa. Do the ingredients come from the kitchen? Yes, yes. I sampled som tam (green papaya salad), with its crushed peanuts and lime. Has anyone else eaten the scrubs? “Only Khun Wan,” said Nueng, managing to imply that Wan was both a rigorously meticulous boss and also an insane risk-taker.
I lay down and she began applying the bowls one by one, while I thought deep thoughts about beauty products. How exorbitantly expensive they are; how largely useless; how they all talk endlessly about “natural ingredients”, yet using a natural ingredient in its natural state still seems outrageously radical.
Nueng began to massage each scrub into my skin, using round, polishing motions. I could tell by the smell which one she was using. The tom yum, with its galangal and lemongrass, was like some supersonic exfoliator; the Thai tea was soothing and oddly solid, like papier mâché, which sounds horrendous but was lovely. The som tam felt cool and textured, as I expected, but when it got to mango and sticky rice, I was surprised. It felt so creamy, so soothingly smooth: so much like a, well, beauty product.
I really concentrated. I couldn’t feel any rice grains scratching; no squares of mango squashing. Clearly, Nueng had added something. Retin-A!
I raised my head swiftly. Nueng looked up from her ministrations, her hands – and my left leg – covered with little orange cubes. “Stomach okay?” she asked anxiously.
“Yes, fine. Is that just mango and rice?”
“No, no.” She paused, obviously wondering what the hell I was talking about. “Just slightly press mango,” she offered, raising her hands.Well, there you are, then. I lay back down, closed my eyes, and gave myself up to the experience. Round and round went her hands, like a tactile hypnotist, and even though I know that while you’re in it every spa experience feels like the best spa experience you’ve ever had, it really was wonderful.
There was only one unexpected side effect. In the shower afterwards, as I washed the ingredients off, great blooms of aroma rose around me in the steam. The piquancy of lemongrass, the opulent sweetness of mango, the nuttiness of rice. Suddenly I realised I did feel something in my stomach. I was hungry.
Which was lucky, because next up I was booked for a lesson with a personal chef. Long live a universe in which small white bowls serve many different purposes.
And long live the luxury resort, the best beauty product known to man. Even better than mango.
Amanda Hooton was a guest of Sri Panwa luxury resort, Phuket, Thailand; sripanwa.com.