Sarah Fung is the founder of Liv Media, a leading health and wellness publication and creative agency based in Hong Kong. Launched in 2015, this media entrepreneur has years of experience under her belt covering the local health scene – and is also exceptionally well-traveled when it comes to wellness retreats in Asia. Between publishing the next issue of Liv Magazine, launching the self-care subscription box JENG!, and organizing the brand’s very own wellness retreat, Sarah sat down with us to share her top picks for must-try Asia wellness escapes, once it’s safe for us to travel again.
What’s the last wellness retreat you took before COVID?
I have small children, so most holidays these days are spent going anywhere with a decent kids’ club! When my oldest was a baby, I did a three-night escape to Museflower Resort & Spa in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. The resort itself is pretty no-frills, but that’s what makes it special. I was looked after personally by Tanya, a Hongkonger who worked with Six Senses before setting up on her own. There are only a handful of rooms, a yoga pavilion on a lake, a simple vegetarian canteen, a simple but excellent spa, and plenty of nature. I found it easier to physically and mentally unwind here than in the many high-end hotels I’ve stayed in, as you really strip back all the luxury add-ons and get back to the basics of what wellness means. They regularly host writers’ retreats and other workshops.
Which wellness destination are you dying to go once borders open up?
I am determined to take a week off and finally do a horse-riding holiday. I am a keen rider and I’ve always wanted to go on a week-long horse trek with friends – but between babies and work, I simply haven’t had the chance to yet. There are too many options and they all sound equally appealing – glacier trekking in Finland; ranch life in Montana; riding through rural Ireland; horseback wine tour in New Zealand; an Arabian trek through Petra… I want to do it all.
What are your favorite wellness retreats in Asia that you’ve been to?
1. Sontgstam Lodge Linka, Shangri-La: A boutique eco-lodge set in a nature reserve in Zongdian Province, also known as Shangri-La, in Northern Yunnan. It’s located beside Songzanlin Monastery, one of Shangri-La’s oldest and most prominent Tibetan monasteries. Despite being in China, the culture in this part of Yunnan is distinctly Tibetan, and there’s lots to explore. The hotel can help you to organize treks, visits to traditional Tibetan homes, horse-riding, mountain biking and more. It even has a spa, which is pretty hard to come by in this remote area (though bigger brands such as Banyan Tree are starting to find their way here). The hotel group has several properties in its portfolio, all around the Yunnan/Tibet border, and it is geared towards travelers looking to travel up through Tibet, stopping at their properties along the way. It’s worth noting that the hotel offers training and employment opportunities to ethnic minorities in Yunnan.
2. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan: On the same trip when I visited Songstam Lodge, we completed the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, the ancient tea horse route connecting China to the Silk Road. This road hugs the mountainside and winds through villages and farms, following the route of the deepest river canyon in the world. It’s absolutely spectacular and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The hike itself isn’t difficult although the road gets a little narrow in places. The end point is the famous Tiger Leaping Stone, the narrowest point of the Yangtze river. You have to descend a series of “Sky Ladders” to get to the bottom – and it is most certainly not for the faint-hearted. You don’t need to speak Putonghua or even get a tour guide to master this well-trodden hike – we followed the arrows painted by the villagers and stayed at the guesthouses inside the gorge run by Naxi villagers for a couple of nights – though I wish we had stayed in the gorge for a week. I loved it so much I went back and did it again a few years later.
3. Six Senses Yao Noi, Thailand: I absolutely love Six Senses and I love what they’re doing in terms of making hospitality greener. I visited the Six Senses Yao Noi years ago and even then they were way ahead in this regard. Their veggies and herbs were grown onsite; their architecture was designed to have as little impact as possible and they genuinely cared about being responsible stewards for Koh Yao Noi, a little-known, predominantly Muslim island between Krabi and Phuket.
4. Como Shambhala Cocoa Island, The Maldives: One of my first major media trips (and the one I probably enjoyed the most!), Cocoa Island is a truly spectacular property and the COMO group are well known for their wellness and sustainability efforts. We would snorkel every morning straight off the deck of our hotel suite. The underwater sea life they have is unbeatable. I cried when I left.
How do you think wellness tourism will change after COVID?
I think the number of trips taken per year will go down, but the investment in these trips, and the trip duration, will go up. People want more than just a weekend spa getaway; they want immersive experiences to nourish themselves spiritually, mentally and physically. For me, a great wellness vacation will include elements of adventure, great food, nature, and local culture. A sense of place will be important. After a year of staycations, we all know what the inside of a nice hotel room looks like. Now we want to feel like we’re really “away.”
If you had to choose – the best wellness retreat in Hong Kong?
Well, I’m writing this sitting by the poolside of the Four Seasons Hong Kong. I have to say they’ve made big strides to really make wellbeing a part of the hotel’s DNA, from their spa to their menu options. In addition to traditional spa sessions, they’re also offering gong meditation, yoga nidra, chakra meditation and so much more. Highly impressed!
How do you practice self-care and prioritize your wellness on a daily basis?
In the summer we spend a lot of time swimming or at the beach, and this is a huge part of my family’s wellbeing – being active together and keeping cool during a hot and humid Hong Kong summer. After two years of being grounded in Hong Kong, it’s also a reminder that the city is a safe place to be and we have lots of nature and things to do to keep us happy and healthy. Getting outside and into the water most days definitely helps me maintain an attitude of gratitude!