Breathe deeply to inhale nature and peace of mind

An ideal getaway from the urban rat race is a tranquil retreat in northern Thailand where you can rejuvenate mind and body, and enjoy nature and exotic treatments.
Liu Qi / SHINE

The Museflower Retreat & Spa in Chiang Rai is a cozy, cloister-like compound in a natural setting.

Imagine a getaway environment with birdsong, crickets, geckoes and lush vegetation as far as the eye can see. No television. No telephone. No Wi-Fi. No meat. No luxury amenities.

That was my destination in early April when I headed out to escape the hectic city life of Shanghai. My goal was a journey of soul-purification and self-discovery in the peaceful green hills of northern Thailand.

I arrived at the Museflower Retreat & Spa in Chiang Rai, surprised to find that life could be so rewarding amid a simple, primitive setting.

“This is what a retreat is supposed to be like,” said Tania Ho, owner and founder of the retreat, where I spent three nights in the arms of a nature and a holistic wellness experience.

Located in the once notorious opium area known as the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos share borders, this area has become a popular destination for eco-travelers looking for nature, ethnic culture and spiritual uplifting.

I took a nearly six-hour flight from Shanghai and a 40-minute taxi trip down a bumpy dirt track to arrive at my destination. I was fatigued on the verge of collapse, but the warm welcome from Ho and her friendly team soon washed away the grit of travel. Tony, the assistant manager, showed me around the cozy, cloister-like compound, pointing out where to meditate, where to read, where to meet people, where to paint and where to do yoga.

The retreat features six semi-detached cottages arranged in a circle around a lush courtyard, with a small lake nearby. The contrast with my life in Shanghai could not have been more stark.

I was assigned a bungalow decorated in a minimalist style, with mainly wooden furniture. There were two comfy beds and rattan chairs but no sofa. No bottled water was provided. Instead, there was a kettle and two big glass jars of potable water.

“Once you finish the water, you need to go to the canteen to refill the jars,” explained Ho, a 30-something Hong Kong native who’s been in Thailand for seven years and speaks the local language fluently.

I was advised to use electric fans instead of the air-conditioner available in some of the bungalows.

“I favor natural air,” she said.

It is a bit disconcerting at first to find that the getaway room has no modern communication. No TV, telephone or Wi-Fi.

“You are here for a retreat, so what’s the point of all those modern devices?” Ho said, smiling. “In case you have to contact the outside world, you can ‘steal’ the Internet from public areas, such as the reception lobby and the communal dining hall.”

I decided to turn the Wi-Fi function on my smartphone off and just use the camera during my four-day stay.

Wandering about at dusk, I was greeted by smiling staffers, who said sawatdi kha (hello), with a slight bow and the palms pressed together in prayer-like fashion. I marveled at this haven for travelers who really want a clean, green and healthy break from the stress of urban life.

Ti Gong

Guests participate in a yoga class at the Museflower.

Nature and yoga

The next morning, I woke up at 6am to the chirping of birds and insects. I felt rested and calm. I stepped out into the open air to inhale its freshness before sitting on the terrace of my little bungalow to enjoy a cup of hot organic tea.

I tried to remember the last time I was aware of the sounds of nature. I was mesmerized just sitting there, gazing over the trees in the distance.

Time to get going for my first yoga session. The classes offered at Museflower differ daily so that guests can experience a range of disciplines, from Hatha and Vinyasa to Iyengar yoga.

Our instructor, Jang, a patient and gentle Thai lady, kept telling us to breathe deeply, stretch our bodies, calm down and become part of the environment. Four of us in the group started off a bit awkwardly.

“Just go at your own pace and find comfortable postures,” she said.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe deeply. I closed my eyes and tried to touch the sky with my hands.

The most difficult moment came when Jang tried to teach us how to do a headstand. For a true beginner like me, it was really hard. I felt nervous, but my spirit of adventure prevailed. The process, however, was physically and mentally painful.

If you get the first posture wrong, then the rest will be all wrong. In my case, I used the wrong part of my head for support and when the class was over, I was left with a sore, stiff neck.

After that, a fresh vegetarian breakfast was most welcome, even if a menu of cabbage soup, oatmeal, cereal grains, white kidney bean milk, cucumber juice and an organic egg omelette might not immediately sound appealing to most people. But after the yoga session, it was pure bliss.

I took a walk after breakfast, enjoying utter tranquility and a mind cleared of clutter. Birds, butterflies and bees fluttered around me. I felt part of nature.

Liu Qi / SHINE

Free-range chickens and ducks wait for food at Museflower’s organic farm.

Ti Gong

Whoever expected vegetarian meals to taste so good!

A day as a farmer

I was quite amazed at how good a vegetarian diet could be, so I went to explore the garden-to-kitchen process. Tony offered to take me on a tour.

Wearing boots and hats, a Singapore woman and I were quickly turned into happy farmers. We followed Tony across a small bridge to the other side of the lake, where free-range chickens and ducks are kept. He showed us how to mix rice and corn, and feed them to the poultry. At first, the birds were reticent to let two strangers come near them, but the promise of food overcame their shyness.

“Now you know where our boiled eggs and omelettes come from,” Tony said. “Right here, from these little animals. So treat them well!”

After the feeding, we were given baskets to collect eggs. It was amazing to find some of them still warm.

Leaving the poultry, we moved on to other parts of Museflower’s kitchen garden, seeing the papayas, mushrooms, herbs, chillies and other crops. Salad greens are grown under a hydroponics system.

Sustainability is the watchword of this ecosystem. Kitchen scraps are recycled to feeding the poultry. Shampoo and soap provided in the bungalows comes in refillable bottles.

Liu Qi / SHINE

Crystal stones in various shapes are placed along different parts of the body during a Reiki treatment.

Water, sound and energy

Beside yoga, my retreat experience also included fringe treatments like Reiki and Hado counseling, an esoteric alternative therapy from Japan based on the idea that the chemical structure of water changes in response to positive or negative emotions.

Based on Dr Masaru Emoto’s “The Hidden Messages in Water,” the treatment measures a person’s bio-energetic state and the negative vibrations that affect body health, such as detrimental emotions, toxins, viruses or imbalances in the body.

Sitting next to Museflower founder Ho, who is a Hado expert, I was required to put a earphone-like sensor around my neck. It set up pulsating graphics in different colors on a computer screen.

While that was going on, Ho showed me photos of how beautiful and ugly words can result in different ice crystals. Amazing!

“The data show that you don’t have unusually low or high energy, which is good,” she said, explaining that the colors appearing on the screen were essentially neutral. “But there’s still room for improvement.”

She asked me to write down key words from the data, such as unpleasant dreams, irrationality, food issue, numbness and feelings of unworthiness or powerlessness. I started to share my inner thoughts, with Ho thoughtfully listening and interrupting only occasionally to give me some analysis.

“You are probably too much into your work,” she said, smiling. “Carve out some time for yourself and your own life.”

Tell that to my editors back home, I mused to myself.

At the end of the session, I was given a personalized Hado water “imprinted” with positive vibrations to neutralize my negative vibrations, and thus rebalance energy.

While Hado is about water, another spiritual treatment, Reiki, involves sound and stones. The word is composed of two Japanese words — rei means “god’s wisdom or higher power” and ki is “life force energy.”

The treatment is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” that flows through us causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stressed. If it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

I decided to give it a go. I lay face down amid soothing music. Khun A, the practitioner, walked softly around me making a gentle sound similar to a gong. The sounds rose and fell, and the melodiousness lingered on. I felt like I was falling asleep. Then she put crystal stones on different parts of my body and practiced “laying on hands.” Half an hour later, I turned face up, and the whole process was repeated.

When it was over, I opened my eyes. Khun A gently asked me whether I had ever been scared or upset. She must have “felt” something. I thought hard about it but came up with no answer. Was it because of the attempt at a headstand? Maybe.

Nonetheless, I left the session feeling totally immersed in a deep inner peace.

The four days at Museflower were certainly an eye-opening experience. I found I enjoyed the simple lifestyle, which revealed to me how we humans clutter our lives with things that we don’t need to find happiness. After returning to Shanghai, I can still feel the benefits of nature in my body and soul.

Maybe next time, I will be able to successfully stand on my head.

Liu Qi / SHINE

If you go:

Address: 159/1 Moo 1 Ban Samanmit, Tambon Donsila, Amphur Wiang Chai, Chiang Rai, Thailand 57210

Tel: +66 (0) 52-029-823

Cost: 14,110 baht (US$410) for a four-day yoga retreat (including three nights of accommodation at a standard room with three meals a day, two Hatha yoga classes a day, daily meditation class, additional spa treatment and holistic therapy depending on package length)

Check www.musefloweretreat.com for more information. Or contact retreat@museflower.com for inquiries.

How to get there: There’s no direct flight between Shanghai and Chiang Rai. Thai Airways offers daily flights between the two cities via Bangkok. The flight time is around five and a half hours. Once in Chiang Rai, it’s another 40-minute taxi ride from the airport to Museflower.

Tips:

1. Bring a swimsuit to enjoy the Himalayan crystal saltwater pool or the natural lake.

2. Bring insect repellent and sunscreen.

3. Bring a pair of flip-flops or sandals for walking around.

4. Bring comfortable clothing for yoga.

5. Bring your own toiletries. Only shampoo and shower gel are provided.

6. Bring a pen and journal for reflective moments.

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