There's only one place on Earth where someone's had the bright idea of combining two of the world's most legendary health therapies, and I have the misfortune of being there.
Misfortune? Well, putting together the rigours of a Turkish steam bath regime and vigorous Thai massage – and then being told your skin will end up shedding in layers – somehow sounds less an inviting wellness treat, and more a torture straight out of the Game of Thrones playbook.
"But it will make you feel brand new!" protests Mai, the marketing manager of the award-winning Amatara Wellness Resort just north of Phuket, Thailand. "You will come out feeling like a newborn baby!"
"Right," I reply, totally unconvinced. "Helpless, vulnerable and squalling my head off?"
She smiles sweetly back. I'm not sure if she didn't understand or, more likely, has chosen to ignore me.
After all, this sprawling resort set among lush tropical gardens, bamboo thickets and babbling brooks on the picturesque beachfront at serene Cape Panwa hasn't managed to win so much acclaim in so little time by indulging the whiniest of its guests.
Rebranded 18 months ago after taking over the premises from the Regent Hotel chain, the Amatara has won a series of awards since as a luxury holistic spa, including the top Luxury Holistic Retreat title in the 2017 World Luxury Hotel Awards. The refurbished hotel is being talked about in the same breath as Thailand's exalted Chiva-Som in Hua Hin, which it views as its major competitor. The Amatara offers a similar level of luxury and approach to wellness, with a variety of programs that include detox, revive, anti-ageing, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, nutrition, weight-management, life-coaching and bespoke wellness, but a major difference is it's also geared towards the whole family.
The resort accepts children and has a kids' club, nanny and babysitting service, and caters as much for those guests who aren't so much interested in improving their health as those who are.
The main restaurant of the three at the oceanfront site, for instance, serves organic healthy food "for the body" – think soups, salads and quinoa risotto – and healthy food "for the soul", with burgers and pizza. There's also fine-dining at The Grill and wellness cuisine at The Retreat.
In addition, on the leisure side of the Amatara operation, there's a full range of non-fitness activities including beach games, the 55-metre infinity pool, ocean swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, tennis, table tennis, golf 25 minutes' drive away and sight-seeing excursions into Phuket, a 35-minute drive.
The 105 suites and villas all have their own balconies and ocean or bay views, either with sunrises or sunsets, and a number have their own private pools.
But for those serious about improving their health, there are wellness consultations, blood pressure-testing, even blood-testing, naturopathy and vitamin supplementation, and a series of treatments and activities according to the program selected.
And top of the bill for many, it seems, is that signature Thai Hammam Treatment.
I read, for the third time, the description. There's a sauna heated to 80-degrees, followed by a freezing shower. There's the hot steam room and another shockingly cold shower. A soap-up lying on a hard stone plinth and another punishing steam.
Then we get to a full body exfoliation and the skin strip thing. A sit on a heated bench while you're covered in shaved ice. And then you're slathered in mud. A steam. A cold shower. Finally, a nice sit-down but in a room into which mists of salt are pumped …
So at exactly which point is this meant to be a rebirth? To be honest, I feel exhausted even thinking about it.
I bow my head in shame, and undress ready to undergo the world-first and world-only 165-minute regimen. I surrender totally. "Don't worry," my therapist Lala tells me. "This will be an unforgettable experience." I don't tell her that's what I'm afraid of.
I broil in the sauna, shiver in the cold water, redden in the stream room, squeal softly back under the cold rainwater showers, and lay exhausted on the heated stone slab in the dedicated Hammam room which, I must admit, is terribly Moorish and pretty.
Then I'm massaged with black soap, which is actually rather nice, steamed again, then am almost carried back to the stone as I slip-slide away. The exfoliation takes place with a traditional Hammam glove as Lala shows me with plain delight how so much of my skin is falling off, I worry my insides might fall out with too little to contain them.
Next, my hair's washed and oiled as I still lay on the stone, and I'm given a bowl of shaved ice to pour all over me. It's hard going, but this hot-and-cold cycle is glorious for the immune system I'm told, and great for the skin. Being coated with mud – not any old mud, but authentic Moor mud with the organic detoxifying residue of herbs, flowers and grasses – is, however, a surprisingly pleasant experience. My joy is only tempered when I glance down at my body, and see what looks like a huge black beached seal.
Then another steam, a cool shower to rinse off the mud and a 15-minute relax in that salt room, with two walls constructed of Himalayan salt, supposedly to support the respiratory system. And yes, I did check by running my finger down and licking it. While finally there's a fabulous one-hour Thai massage.
And at the end, as I drink a cup of ginseng tea and am given a tiny snack of bits of things wrapped in a betel leaf, how do I feel?
I do a body scan. Bizarrely, I feel absolutely wonderful. My limbs are light, I'm totally relaxed, the face looking back at me in the mirror is glowing and my skin feels … like a newborn.
I see Mia the next day. "How was it?" she asks. I have the grace to look embarrassed.
Jetstar flies direct to Phuket.
Amatara Wellness Resort – package rates for four days and three nights, including accommodation, wellness consultations, three meals a day, treatments and activities, start from Thai baht 41,800 a person twin-share (excluding VAT, tax and service charges).
Book via Amatara direct or through a travel agent.
The Amatara Wellness Resort, Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand, Phone (+66) 7631 8888; See amataraphuket.com.
Sue Williams was a guest of the Amatara Wellness Resort.
TRENDING SPA WELLNESS TREATMENTS
Irrigating the colon with warm water to treat constipation, bloating, poor digestion and fatigue. One of the Amatara's most popular therapies.
CHI NEI TSANG
A strong abdomen massage or "inner organ massage" to help the digestive system.
TRADITIONAL THAI MASSAGE
A vigorous type of massage with lots of digging into "lines of energy", pushing and pulling and stretching.
AYURVEDIC MASSAGE THERAPY
Starts with warmed sesame oil being trickled slowly onto the "third eye" on the forehead, to relieve tension, worry and depression.
A COFFEE ENEMA
I like coffee but taken the more usual way. Still, this is supposed to increase the elimination of toxins from the liver by increasing bile output.
Muscle-testing, pinging tuning forks and flower remedies to bring the chakras and energy back into balance.
AUSTRALIAN BUSH FLOWER ESSENCE THERAPY
Nice to see us come into our own. Our wildflowers are prepared homeopathically and taken as drops.