Tao Garden: Still searching for a healing haven

There are lots of therapeutic options at the Tao Garden in Chiang Mai, but are they quite what Christina Patterson is looking for?

Like pretty much every other woman in the Western world, I usually start the year wanting to lose half a stone. I want to get fitter. I want to be healthier. I want to be calmer. And I want to see the sun. 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.

Well, when I say "plane", I mean three, actually, because promised lands aren't always places you can get to with a hop, skip and a jump. And this one, half an hour from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, involved a journey that made me feel like Odysseus trying to get home from Troy. But when, after a flight to Abu Dhabi, and another to Bangkok, and another to Chiang Mai, I arrived at the Tao Garden Health Spa, I felt more like Persephone emerging from the underworld into spring.

The Tao Garden, which has won lots of 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 huts for massage, giant vases, statues and shrines. 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 gorgeous 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, Mantak Chia. I'd never heard of it, but I did, having once done a course in chi gung, know a little bit about "chi", and I also knew a little bit about traditional Chinese medicine. "Chi", which means "life energy", sounds as New Age nutty as you get, and the "meridians" of Chinese medicine bear no relation to anything found in Western science. But I'd found chi gung both soothing and invigorating, and I'd also found that acupuncture made me well at a time when nothing else did. So I was looking forward to the moment when someone would feel my pulse, look at my tongue and prescribe me a miracle.

The treatments, I was told, would start the next day. I spent the rest of this one trying to sleep, 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. Some of the hot dishes were, and some of them weren't. Signs next to them listed their healing qualities, but some seemed quite heavy on the oil, and also the sugar and the noodles. Hitting the buffet three times a day was, I thought, unlikely to melt the pounds away.

Sleep proved more of a challenge. The first room I was shown, in one of the "condominiums", was surprisingly basic. The next, in one of the "town houses" which are, apparently, four star to the condominiums' one and two star, was much nicer. It was big, airy and tastefully furnished, but this, it turned out, was lucky. All accommodation is rented from different private owners who furnish according to their own taste. And the air conditioning units seem to have been supplied by a company which specialises in agricultural machinery.

But in spite of it, I forced myself out of bed the next morning, and to the 7am chi gung. Under a giant pagoda in the garden, a German 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". We should, he said, beat ourselves with bamboo. I did start beating myself with bamboo, but then I realised it was nearly eight o'clock, and I had to rush off for my blood analysis.

In the Pakua Clinic, next door to the dining hall, a smiley young man measured my blood pressure, and another one pricked my finger and made me spit into a cup. My blood, he told me, once he'd stuck a slide under a microscope, and gazed at a computer, was full of toxins. I would need, he said, to get rid of them. The treatment, he said, would start straight away.

And it did, with a "Chi Nei Tsang abdominal detox therapy" massage. This "internal organ massage", which is the Tao Garden "signature therapy", and given in one of the treatment rooms set around a courtyard in the very pretty spa, involved a young woman pummelling my torso, and what I assume to be my gut. What wasn't quite so soothing was the "Infrared Sauna". For this, you have to sit in a tiny wooden cubicle next to an electrical bar, and get extremely hot. I was prescribed four, which seemed quite a lot.

After lunch, it was time to go back to the clinic for an "aura bio-electrographic evaluation" and an "Oberon body scan". I wasn't absolutely sure what either of these were for, but was pleased when the young man who did them (who I thought was a doctor, but who, it turned out, wasn't) told me that my aura was "good". It was, he said, 97 per cent. And so, it turned out, when I talked to other guests, was everyone else's.

The man who wasn't a doctor told me that I should massage my ears and feet every day, touch the big tree in the t'ai chi field, and give myself love and joy. Later, in the meditation hall, a German woman called Jutta talked about love and joy again. We were doing a gentle kind of yoga, and a meditation called "Six Healing Sounds". We had, for example, to tap our liver and go "Shhh", and then tap our stomach and go "Whooo".

It was nice to lie on a mat and not do very much, because the next few days were very busy. There was, for a start, the fast. You might think that going on a three-day juice and soup fast would mean you'd save the time you'd normally spend on meals, but it doesn't. What it means is having a "detox drink", and then, an hour and a half later, a juice, and then, an hour and a half later, a "cell cleansing drink", and then soup, and then another "cell cleaning drink" and so on throughout the day, ending with a 9pm "probiotic". And between these drinks you're meant to use the "vibrations" room, which means sitting on various machines that make you vibrate, and you're meant to have your infrared saunas, and your slimming massages, and your cellulite wraps, and your ozone steam treatments, which mean you have to sit naked in a kind of cupboard.

On my last day, I saw a real doctor. He told me 70 per cent of Western medicine was wrong. He said I should come off the drugs I take to prevent cancer. Which I've had twice.

I like a nice massage. I like walking in a shady garden and sitting, when there's time to, by a pool. But what I learnt, in these packed days spent largely having treatments or waiting for the next one, was that a little bit of pampering goes quite a long way. I learnt that if you don't eat for a few days you'll lose a few pounds, but when you do, you'll get them back. And I learnt that while some of the New Age nuttiness you find in "integrative holistic health spas" won't do you any harm, some of it will.

Travel essentials: Chiang Mai

Getting there

* 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).

Staying there

* 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

* tourismthailand.org

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice