The hot trend in Asian treatments involves more than indigenous products.
By Bernard Burt
Asian spas remain committed to preserving rituals, while incorporating healing traditions for today’s lifestyles.
Urban escapes add new options. In Bangkok, the Shangri-La Hotel introduced CHI Spa suites where your personal therapist orchestrates a Balinese bath and Thai massage. The hotel’s “Spa Sensation” package includes more than three hours of treatments, a riverside room, and breakfast, from $295 for a single or $315 for a double. (www.shangri-la.com) Nearby, discover a bargain day spa that has 300 therapists; Health Land Spa and Massage offers a two-hour Thai massage for about $10 (www.healthlandspa.com). Tourists pay that for a 30-minute version at the famous Wat Pho temple that enshrines drawings of ancient Thai massage movements. To find the best and least-expensive treatments, however, visit the government-run school of traditional medicine.
Going back to ancient times, Six Senses’ Earth Spa at Evason Hideaway Hua Hin, a beach resort near Bangkok, immerses you in circular domed buildings made of mud. The spa features private outdoor Jacuzzis, a meditation cave, and natural ventilation. (www.sixsenses.com) But my most amazing experience while researching the latest edition of 100 Best Spas of the World was the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai; it re-creates an ancient kingdom in Siam. Stay in one of the residences’ suites for a traditional Mandalay experience or choose to stay in a Villa, an authentic Northern Thai rice barn made from Teak wood. Cool bamboo floors, four-poster beds, stone walkways flanked with orchids, candlelight, and incense prepare you for a regal spa experience. Ascending a long white staircase, spa pavilions seem suspended above a tropical forest. The infinity swimming pool and fitness center with Technogym equipment overlook rice fields worked by oxen. Thai massage in the air-conditioned Baan Thai (House of Healing) unites body and soul.
To get off the beaten track, two destinations come to mind this summer, says Marilyn Downing Staff, CEO of Asia Transpacific Journeys. “Now is an excellent time to visit Sri Lanka. Yes, some of the beach areas were affected by the tsunami, though most have now been repaired and the interior’s cultural treasures remain intact.” In need of more adventure? Trek to Tibet, where experiences in the snow-capped Himalayas include sipping yak butter tea, inhaling sandalwood incense at monasteries, marveling at the playfulness of prayer flags, and overnighting at Everest Base Camp. (www.asiatranspacific.com)
Indonesia’s many spas range from spiritual retreats to ultra-luxury Four Seasons resorts. And the new and marvelous, Four Seasons on the Malaysian island of Langkawi brings it all together (www.fourseasons.com). The Philippines’ first deluxe resort, Shangri-La Mactan Island CHI Spa Village features folk healers’ Hilot massage with banana leaf strips and coconut oil, Tibetan massage, a coffee bean scrub, and coconut milk bath.
The natural healing traditions of India form the basis of ayurvedic medicine practiced for centuries in Sri Lanka, Tibet, Thailand, and Indonesia. Thanks to the teachings of lifestyle guru Deepak Chopra, and the California-based TARA Spa Therapy skincare company, ayurvedic experiences are on treatment menus at numerous American spas. And Balinese rituals have inspired Kim Collier’s JAMU botanical skincare line, which is based in Montana. Visiting an ayurvedic health resort in India requires a commitment to follow the doctor’s advice in every respect. In the southern state of Kerala, we found affordable options, including ayurveda ahyangam, shirodhara, shirovasti, pizichilli, kizhi, navarakkizhi, udwartanam, and panchakarma detoxification, at a 50-acre village, Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort. Yoga is practiced daily. Combine outings to nature parks and beaches in a five-day Ayurveda & Wildlife package: from U.S. $720 single, $920 double. (www.kairali.com)
China boasts a growing number of hotel spas where traditional reflexology includes a foot washing. In bustling Shanghai, I stayed at the JW Marriott Hotel, a glamorous glass tower hotel featuring the Mandara Spa, which transports you to an ancient Chinese village of cobbled walkways and silken suites. The Shanghai pedicure with tiny knives will relieve tourist fatigue, and don’t miss out on the morning ritual of tai chi in People’s Park, which is free for all comers. (www.marriott.com)