Thailand is also facing alarming increases in obesity and inactivity, particularly among the digitally-obsessed younger generation. However, the possibility of cycling as a way of relaxing and exercising, is for many people a non-starter in places like Phuket because the roads and pathways upon which to try it are dangerous, polluted and often downright scary.
Then there’s the heat of course. Fun if you’re heading to the beach for a swim, but not so much fun when scorching sunshine and cascades of sweat are the accompaniments of a bike ride.
Deep in the heart of Rawai, an innovative Frenchman named Dianda Herve has devised a fascinating answer to the danger and heat problems of cycling in Phuket, through an Aqua-Fitness and Cycling programme which he conducts at his Ton Mai Spa.
Dianda conducts daily aqua classes which combine aqua-cycling, running and a broad range of general aerobic and strength-training moves, all actually in the chest-deep water of the swimming pool at his Spa with the opportunity of a healthy post work-out, sauna, massage and coffee thrown in.
As I am always up for something new, quirky and amusing, I decided to mount my trusty mountain bike at 7am one morning recently and cycle from Chalong over the hill and down into the heart of Rawai to check out this intriguing new piece of island serendipity!
The entrance to the Ton Mai (literally The Tree) Spa is right next to the little road leading to Wat Sawang Arom off Wiset Rd at the bottom of Rawai Hill and is well signed from outside. It’s a charming space full of greenery and quietude with a huge Tamarind Tree at its centre, with sauna, massage, steam-room and restaurant as well as the pool and chill-out areas.
You could easily spend a relaxing morning here doing the hour-long aqua-class which Dianda conducts several times a day depending upon demand, followed by a massage and sauna and then a coffee or soft drink.
Dianda’s story is as quirky and fascinating as the Ton Mai Spa is itself. He’s a former French professional tennis player who suffered a life-threatening injury some years ago in Paris. In an effort to rebuild his life he met a Shaman who turned him on to in-water exercising and therapy and also, prophetically, predicted that he would travel to Thailand and then live here!
Subsequently, Dianda did indeed journey to Phuket and after searching for a location in which to open his spa eventually found and fell in love with the location where it’s now situated. He inquired about renting the space, but the owner said he was about to sell it to a condominium developer who was about to bulldoze the site including the ancient Tamarind Tree at its centre.
Dianda said that was appalling and promised that if the owner let him rent the site, he would preserve the lovely tree forever. Miraculously, the land-owner also loved the tree and agreed with this sentiment and Dianda now has a long lease on the property and of course the lovely Tamarind tree holds centre-stage at the spa and the name and logo are a reflection of that miraculous piece of serendipity!
Aqua-exercise of all sorts is particularly beneficial to the older body, of which I rapidly seem to be becoming an owner. So, I thoroughly enjoyed the cycling, jogging, trampolining and generally kicking about, splashing with hand-weights, aqua-dancing and pushing and pulling against the water’s resistance which makes this form of workout so thorough, invigorating and totally safe against injury and over-exertion. All of the classes are closely monitored and orchestrated by Dianda himself as he leaps about on the side of the pool, encouraging and haranguing his aquanauts in equal measure.
Water is of course, some 800 times denser than air so each aqua-movement you make pushes so much more resistance, making you work harder and thereby gain a much more effective and muscle building work-out. Additionally, you are fully supported by water, so you cannot, for example, fall off your bike, and it’s almost impossible to injure yourself in any other way.
Hundreds of scientific studies show that in-water work-outs are one of the most effective you can do for strengthening all of your body, as well as aerobic conditioning and flexibility. In addition, many studies show the huge mental benefits of this kind of programme of exercise, especially when conducted in group situations and in an outdoor setting.
The Ton Mai Spa and Dianda offer a wonderful way for Phuketians to ‘get on their bikes’ safely while staying cool and having a terrific work-out and even enjoy a sauna, steam-bath and massage afterwards. Boris Johnson eat your heart out!
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.