While guests at Thailand’s Banyan Tree Phuket lounge by their villas’ private plunge pools, watch the sunset at Bang Tao Beach, and bliss out at the spa, some serious schooling goes down a few hundred feet away at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy. Spa therapists at Banyan Tree’s 42 resorts worldwide must complete 350 hours of Spa Academy training: anatomy, theory, and customer service classes; how-to lessons on making body scrubs and herbal sachets; and hands-on workshops to learn how to masterfully perform every single treatment on the Banyan Tree Spa menu.

On a recent trip to Thailand, I traded vacation for vocation for a few hours and spent a morning as a Banyan Tree therapist in training. I shadowed therapists as they prepped the spa’s treatment rooms – 20 pavilions cocooned in lush tropical gardens – for the day’s services. (The spa opens at 10am, but therapists are already at work by eight.) In a small lab room, a few women mashed a green apple body scrub in a mortar, while others worked to set up each room, using a 44-point checklist as their guide.

Afterward, I headed over to the Spa Academy (housed in a nondescript building adjacent to the resort), where I donned the spa’s signature purple linens for a lesson in Thai massage. The art is one of the first practices therapists learn at the Spa Academy, and anyone who’s received this ancient, centuries-old treatment can attest to the skill and pressure required by those who administer it. Strength training for the hands and fingers is no joke, I learned, as I winced while counting to ten and squeezing my hand-gripper tool together as tightly as possible. Students perform these exercises daily, and work with their classmates for months in a workshop-style setting, perfecting their massage techniques.

Thai massage at the Banyan Tree Phuket.

The experience left me way more appreciative of the 90-minute treatment I received the day before. I laid on the massage table, my face tucked into the cradle, looking down at a bowl of lotus flowers on the ground. I know now that those were strategically placed there just to make me feel more relaxed. And while my therapist soothed my long-haul weary muscles with warm herbal sachets, I hadn’t thought about the hours of classroom time that went into learning exactly where to place those compresses on my body’s meridians and energy lines for optimal relief. Banyan Tree spas have earned their share of accolades over the years. Therapists create five-star experiences for guests who likely don’t realize the hours that go into their relaxation – but that’s exactly the point.

Images courtesy of Banyan Tree Phuket.