Need an injection of enthusiasm into your workout programme? Carolynne Dear puts the fun back into fitness in Koh Samui

At the end of last year I was invited on a long weekend by a group of friends to Koh Samui. Beautiful villa, beach, pool, chef – I mean seriously, what’s a girl to say? Of course it was an instant “which flights do I book?”

“You know it’s a boot camp weekend?” messaged back my friend. In my excitement, I must have mis-heard that part of the mini-break. But hey, with a pool, sunshine and no mention of any dreaded detox, how bad could it be?

So we hopped on a Bangkok Airways flight and three hours later were waiting for the resort minibus, the Thai sunshine dancing over the frangipani bushes.

The weekend was one of two-a-year run by Hong Kong-based 5 Star Fitness Retreat. Included in the package was accommodation in a five-star beachfront villa, all classes, all meals, one massage and a cooking class. It was undeniably good value, especially if it meant I might return home slightly fitter and maybe even a little bit leaner. I’m not very good at giving up my food, so the promise of “healthy food focussed on a high protein diet with plentiful green juices (we are not a detox, we just eat healthily)” was enough to convince me it was going to be ok.

We were welcomed with a magnificent buffet of Thai salads – piles of gorgeous (and healthy) food we were encouraged to tuck into. “You’ll be losing a lot of calories over the next few days, so get eating,” advised one of the fitness instructors.

Replete, we sat back after lunch while our instructors for the weekend talked us through the schedule. Basically, there was a heap of classes on offer, from yoga to Thai boxing, running instruction, water aerobics and beach boot camp. There was no pressure to take classes – any downtime could be spent lazing by the glorious pool or  borrowing paddle-boards or kayaks for a cruise around the bay.

I opted to break myself in relatively gently with a pool aerobics class after lunch, followed by a much tougher boot camp session on the beach.

We were all offered the option of a massage in the evenings – my advice would be to take it. All that running around on the sand had my muscles singing and an hour of deft strokes over my back, shoulders and calves had things (almost) back to normal.

Yet more delicious Thai food had been prepared for our evening meal, set around tables on the lawn. We ate ravenously and were prompted by the chef to please come forward with suggestions of our favourite dishes. Thank goodness for tomorrow’s jam-packed action programme.

After a good night’s sleep, we were up at sunrise for a yoga class. I’ve never been very good at yoga – I’m just not very bendy – but it did feel good stretching out as the sun rose over the lawns. A full buffet breakfast had been prepared by the pool – and how virtuous did I feel, all stretched and limber, with my freshly prepared juice, porridge, toast and eggs?

The second session of the day (and by now it was only 9 o’clock) was a class in rolling (you kind of sit or lean on large rollers to iron out the muscles, a bit like a DIY massage) which was interesting to know about. We were then straight into the run session, which I have to say was a tough class. We ran up and down the (what turned out to be a fairly long) driveway to the road and back, mastering new breathing and foot placement techniques. The session culminated with a five kilometre run along the beach and the streets back to the villa. There was an option to run to the Thai boxing class being held at 11, but I took the opportunity to return to the sanctuary of the pool and get my breath back. After all, I had more pool aerobics, boot camp and TRX on my afternoon schedule.

Lunch was again absolutely delicious and there was an interesting workshop afterwards about nutrition with Hong Kong fitness trainer Chrissy Denton. I have to admit I was really getting into the “eat as much as you want” vibe.

There was a gap after lunch which gave us time to relax on the loungers or have a paddle, getting to know the other guests and generally putting our feet up.

Then Hong Kong fitness instructor Dayle Haigh-Smith was pulling us up off those loungers and organising us into the pool for an hour of water aerobics. It was great fun, and was followed by a TRX session in the shady courtyard and a final boot camp blast on the beach.

Tired doesn’t begin to cover it, but I did also feel quite proud of myself. That night we enjoyed another sumptuous dinner on the lawn, a well-deserved massage and the option to join another nutrition workshop with Chrissy. I unfortunately didn’t last beyond 8pm, and crawled my way back to the villa and bed.

Sunday followed a similar timetable – more sunrise yoga, plus a morning boot camp session on the beach, pilates and TRX.

By Monday morning I was pretty exhausted, and despite the huge amount of fun we’d had, ready for my flight back to Hong Kong.

I’d met some great people, made some new friends (plus managed to recruit a new member for our dragon boat team) and caught up with old friends. I’d also picked up some great tips and was flying back to Hong Kong a lot fitter than when I’d left.


Box out

5 Star Fitness Retreat runs two active escapes each year to Koh Samui. This year’s retreats run from March 17-20 and November 24-27, with an emphasis on stress resilience and stress management in March.

The packages includes a four-day, three-night programme of exercise, workshops and healthy eating, catering to all fitness levels. They also includes five-star beachfront accommodation with extension nights also available.

The retreats are a not-for-profit initiative led by villa-owner Tina Atkinson in partnership with Hong Kong-based Elite Personal Training’s Nathan Solia. Other Hong Kong-based trainers include Chrissy Denton and Dayle Haigh-Smith. Locally-based trainers run the yoga, pilates and Muay Thai Boxing classes.