Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

An eco-haven on the other side of the world
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The Independent Online

I am currently staying at the Chiva-Som spa in Thailand, wending my way home after an extraordinary Buddhist course in Japan. After such a powerful 10 days, it is sheer heaven to kick back in this lush paradise and re-evaluate the trip.

The resort is three hours' drive from Bangkok, which is still a polluted, congested, smog-ridden nightmare. (In December 2002, a World Bank environmental report said that air quality here has improved significantly in the past decade, and that Bangkok is now rated ahead of Beijing and New Delhi. One can only imagine how dreadful the air quality must be in those two cities.)

Chiva-Som itself is surprisingly eco-friendly. Increasingly, hotels pay lip service to being green. This usually consists of a dog-eared notice in the bathroom asking you to keep your towels and sheets for a week to save water, which is really no more than a cynical ruse to save the hotel labour and money. Humbug!

Fortunately, the manager here is Swiss; consequently, the place is a model of green efficiency. Seventy per cent of the food is grown in the organic gardens, the swimming pool is solar-powered, and more solar panels are being provided for the main building next year. Only 3 per cent of Thailand's energy is currently sourced from renewable sources, but the country signed up to the Kyoto treaty in 2002, and many exciting solar initiatives are being developed to ensure that the abundant sunshine is made to work.

Also, all the waste water from guest's bathrooms is diverted into the grounds, and there is a compost lavatory system, which must account for the wonderful orchids and lush greenery. They even have a wormery that composts kitchen leftovers. It's just like being at home (though I fear that my worms are dying of neglect and cold, as the weather reports from the old country are not very encouraging).

As I lost half a stone in Japan (my palate is too unsophisticated for Japanese food, which is too slippery to stay on my chopsticks long enough to get into my mouth), I'm spending most of the time loitering around the sumptuous buffets. To my joy, I find bowls of organic Birchermuesli, the great Swiss national dish comprised of oats, grated apple, nuts and yogurt. I sit happily scoffing bowls of the stuff beside the pool, only leaving my chair to stagger off to have treatments. There's a vast choice - I settle for a "watsu", in which I'm whirled about underwater like a dead mermaid by a shiatsu therapist, as well as some excellent massages that properly get into your knots.

Jet lag has left my face haggard and grey, so I've had a hi-tech laser facial called a Titan, which stimulates collagen renewal with heat and light. Results really kick in after a few months, but already my skin looks much brighter. And I need all the help I can get as it is now time to go back home and fight the rampaging consumerism and festive furore that will be developing in the Peter Jones haberdashery department right opposite my bedroom window. Things can get ugly in there at this time of year, and I am needed to restrain the shopping public from their worst excesses. Just wish me bon voyage!

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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