Some people travel for adventure, but smart people travel for relaxation and there is nothing more rejuvenating than being pampered at a spa. Southeast Asia is blessed with some of the best spa and health centers in the world and there are a myriad of massages, facial and body treatments on offer to refresh both your body and spirit.
In Thailand, a day at the spa should definitely include a traditional Thai massage. This is usually accompanied by washing of the feet, soothing tea and soft, traditional music. A Thai massage starts gently, but quickly goes deep and a well-trained masseuse will sense exactly where your tense spots are. There will be some temporary pain and uncomfortable stretching but when finished you’ll feel like a new person.
Thailand has some truly wonderful spas throughout the country – there are health centers in Bangkok, up into the northern cities like Chiang Mai and down south on islands for multi-day detox holidays.Phuket has some spectacular spa resorts where you can combine vacation and rejuvenation. The Banyan Tree Phuket is rated by many as the world’s best spa with impeccable service and attention to detail. The Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket features Ayurvedic treatments and an unbelievably good fusion massage which mixes Thai and Swedish techniques. Pleasure and pain combined in the best possible way.
Bali is also famous for its variety of spas. The Indonesian approach differs to the Thai method with water being the foundation of most spa experiences, as local belief sees water as a source of both physical and spiritual energy. There are a wide array of exfoliation treatments such as seaweed, coconut husks and sandalwood. In an Indonesian spa you will usually be offered jamu, a drink made from roots and herbs that’s supposed to be beneficial for all kinds of ailments. It doesn’t look or taste nice, but the locals swear it’s good for you. The Jamu Spa in Bali specializes in jamu treatments and offers a variety of other treatments involving better-smelling ingredients, such as cocoa beans, vanilla and papaya.
You can find spa resorts throughout Indonesia and outside the cities are some really interesting experiences such as natural volcanic hot springs. The Javana Spa, about two hours from Jakarta and near the rainforest, is surrounded by waterfalls, and features a sulfur bath with water from the hot springs of Mount Salak.
In the multi-cultural Malaysia, the therapies and treatments available incorporate techniques from many different Asian countries. All the big hotels in Kuala Lumpur have spas, but you’ll have a truly pecial experience at KL’s five-star Mandarin Oriental, the only Asian spa offering the Haki Stretch and Relax. The 50-minute treatment combines soft pressure with vibrations and rhythms to release tension. It’s primarily focused on the neck, shoulders and head, but ends with a foot massage, fitting the south-east Asian philosophy in which the feet are considered the mirror of the body and reflect the body as a whole.
Also in Kuala Lumpur, the Fish Spa provides adventurous exfoliation. It has a large pool stocked with Garra Rufa fish (known as “Doctor Fish”) and they just love to nibble on human flesh. If you let these fish feed on your feet you’ll get a tingly micro-massage which will leave the soles of your feet smooth and your blood circulation increased. It can also help with a variety of skin conditions including psoriasis.
Outside Kuala Lumpur, the Health Club and Spa at Putrajaya Shangri-La is truly world-class, offering rejuvenating massages and even personalized spa treatments based on astrology. The tropical setting features private villas, and the spa takes a holistic approach that incorporates philosophies and techniques from many different Asian treatments.
Stuart Clarke is a freelance writer based in Bangkok who has written articles for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers and Rolling Stone magazine.