Inspired Luxury, Inspired Experiences

Asia’s leading spas

Asia’s leading spas

The popularity of Asian spas has spawned hundreds of Asian-themed sanctuaries around the world, but for the real deal, travel to one of these countries and experience the best in treatments, facilities, design and heartfelt care. Catharine Nicol introduces us to the best of Asia.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali has become known as ‘the Asian spa capital’. Its long history of traditional herbal medicine and physiotherapy plus spiritual meditation and sensual massage techniques date back to the 15th century. Bali offers the most varied wellness centres, everything from modest, open-air structures to luxury spa resorts, including Mandara Spa, Maya Ubud and Pan Pacific. Treatments include the lulur scrub, traditionally used by Javanese royalty; boreh wrap beloved by farmers with aching muscles; Balinese massage – an eclectic mix of techniques plus the Javanese jamu health drink.

Best known for its health retreat programs is the COMO Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri in Ubud, set high in the mountainous central region, surrounded by forest and perched in the mists above the Agung River. Following indepth consultations guests have the difficult task of choosing between anti-aging rejuvenation, cleansing, stress management, fitness or Ayurveda. Daily lectures can help soothe emotional issues, and the bio-energy vitality pool helps soak away city-born stress.

From the mountains to the ocean, Karma Kandara, Uluwatu, on Bali’s south-eastern tip, perches on the cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean. Its Karma Spa and Wellness rooms have bird’s-eye views of the coastal panorama, and the therapists are Reiki 1 trained. Clients can opt for high-tech, celebrity-endorsed oxygen facials, followed by an infrared sauna detoxification. The Holistic Organic Facial uses kelp, aloe vera and spirulina while the signature Moroccan Hammam Ritual begins the day with sunrise yoga, taking in the natural view from the Himalayan crystal salt pool and finishing as the sun dips below the horizon during an alfresco massage.

The best time to arrive at the Remede Spa, Nusa Dua at the stunning Bill Bensley-designed St Regis Bali, is as night is gently falling and when lights begin to reflect in the koi pond of this butterfly and moon-themed oasis. One of the most tempting rituals is the two-and-a-half-hour Four Hands Ayus Lomi, where Ayurvedic and Lomi Lomi techniques using warm oil specifically for a client’s dosha (biological type) massaged into the body, face and head.

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From meditation sites to alternative health resorts, Thailand’s spa industry is rapidly expanding, with high standards to be found at day spas, hotels, medical and destination spas. To counteract the pace of capital Bangkok, a spa visit offers a wonderful way to begin a relaxing holiday before exploring some of the city’s 400 temples. Then move on to quieter Chiang Mai or just relax on a beach at Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, Ko Samui or Krabi. Apart from helping you lose weight, restore energy and ensure you look and feel younger, spas here can help you kick addictive habits and rid the body of toxins. What a place to learn controlled limbering body movements like Chi-Kung and tai chi to build up resistance to illness.

Known as ‘lazy man’s yoga’, traditional Thai massage can take some getting used to, as the pressure point and kneading work combined with stretches loosens muscles, stimulates circulation and energises, with herbal compresses bringing a mouthwatering fragrance. An oldie, but still one of the best, the Shangri-La Bangkok and its freeform pool overlooks the Chao Phraya River. Tucked away is CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, where some of the most atmospheric and largest urban spa suites in the region can be found. Spa lovers must try the signature Himalayan Tsangpo Ritual of cleansing bath and scrub, followed by a red mountain mud and herb wrap. Add on a Traditional Thai or Asian massage for optimum relaxation.

Venture off the eastern coast of spa island, Phuket, and five minutes speed boat trip later you’ll find yourself at the Six Senses Destination Spa, Phuket on Naka Yai Island. A retreat into a world of fitness, detoxing, healthy gourmet food and no less than four spas, with visiting specialists at your beck and call, will instil positive habits to take home. Treatments follow the four themes of Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian Ayurvedic journeys, with daily therapies prescribed by the wellness consultant upon arrival. Between sessions guests can kayak around the mangroves, take a dawn walk to the nearby village, cycle the resort’s paths, do bell pinging, or book a personal training session.

At the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, the opulence and natural beauty of The Barai – its eight residential spa suites and 18 treatment rooms designed by Lek Bunnag – have to be seen to be believed. Treatments fall into four categories of releasing Water, restoring Earth, beauty based Air and energising Fire, and include traditional Thai therapies too. Don’t miss Tranquility Court.,

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With its rich mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures, Malaysia offers history, culture and spa treatments not found anywhere else in the world. The history of this country’s beauty treatments can be traced back more than a thousand years and they have been richly influenced by local Malays, Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Javanese and countless other races that have settled here. Traditional Malay beauty treatments used by the Malay, Peranakan, Borneo and original people, the Orang Asli, have been family secrets handed down from generation to generation.

Wallowing back to wellness is what The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, Ipoh is all about, and the hot pools, steam caves and ice baths are joined by one of Malaysia’s spa trends, the fish spa, where Garra Rufa Doctor Fish nibble feet ticklishly smooth. For a cultural sense of place it’s imperative to surrender to The Banjaran Signature Massage, a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian techniques, or go for the awardwinning Facial and Body Treatment using organic, Halal KuuSh products. For tough love the Jungle Boot Camp takes you right into the heart of the rainforest.

But if you decide on a city break, The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur features one of the city’s most interesting spas with treatments that take you far from the usual menu and deep into local culture. Seriously unmissable is the Chinese Peranakan Treatment celebrating Malaysia’s mix of Chinese and Malay traditions, which starts with an indulgent milk bath in your spa suite’s private garden, and features a facial massage with an egg, eye treatments using mulberry leaves and body tapping with rattan sticks. And before you come back to reality, a session in the darkened Sensory Room offers an otherworldly experience.,

Langkawi is a magical island with mystical allure. Some locals believe the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls can make barren women fertile and others say a mythical vampire may still reside in a cave on Dayang Bunting Island. Equally legendary is The Datai, Langkawi, buried in the island’s rainforest, but with a pathway leading to a private beach. The Spa at The Datai borrows treatments and rituals from Bali, India and Tibet, such as the Himalayan Hot Stone Massage and Body Polish, rounded off with a Tibetan Bathing Ceremony with Himalayan cedar and rose otto oils. The signature Datai Jade Massage is a four-hand Shiatsu, Balinese, Thai and Lomi Lomi fusion to invigorate yet calm you at the same time.


South Korea

Separated from Japan by the Sea of Japan and from China by the Yellow Sea, this small country of less than 50 million people offers the wellness-seeking visitor a very special experience. Traditional Korean medicine is based on the same philosophies as traditional Chinese medicine, and includes acupuncture, herbal remedies, moxibustion, cupping and chuna manipulation.

The Korean way of keeping beautiful is to bake in hot kilns with ingredients like charcoal or crystals, then soak in blisteringly hot baths, and finally surrender to an ajuma who scrubs the first 10 or so layers of skin off your body. This jimjilbang bathhouse experience leaves you feeling light as a feather with skin blemish-free.

Sulwhasoo Spa, Seoul, brings Korean medicinal traditions, rituals and ingredients into the modern world. Jade cools, ginseng warms, porcelain purifies and Korean paper masks help enhance the efficacy of the brand’s creams. The Signature Extra Refining Rebirth is an intense treatment of over two hours using amber, red pine oil and Sulwhasoo Extra Refining Line products for a totally rejuvenating result.

On the honeymooner’s island of Jeju is The Shilla overlooking a sweeping beach and extensive gardens. Treatments use Guerlain products, which bring the best of European indulgence to this eastern island – the Guerlain Imperiale Body Therapy is a massage with cream containing Eau de Cologne invented in 1853. Facials are king here: the anti-ageing Exceptional Orchidee Imperiale Treatment is two hours of care while guests snooze beneath a doona. Full and part-day packages increase the luxury, and make-up sessions use Guerlain’s famous products. 

Hot water meets colour therapy in the pools at the rainbow-hued Away Spa, in the super-designer W Seoul Walkerhill, a little way out of downtown Seoul. Soothe tired muscles with a scrub and mud Hammam Ceremony – a little less harsh than the locals would give you – or make your way to the only watsu pool in the city. Spa treatment rooms have colour therapy settings, alongside therapies like Thai massage, Korean Yin Yang massage, and facials that use high-end products supplied by Natura Bisse, Valmont and Sodashi.

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The Philippines

The Philippines’ most secret art stretches back through generations of Hilot practitioners – medicine men who kept the population healthy long before conventional medicine arrived. Wherever you visit in the Philippines, you will discover curative treatments dating back as far as the fifth century, with powers learnt from forefathers. Today these ancient practices have been translated into the modern spa setting with the Hilot massage, Dagdagay foot treatment, Bentosa cupping and much, much more. The word Hilot means ‘a touch with love and care’ and the basic concept is health and wellness through balance and harmony.

At the Eskaya Beach Resort & Spa, Bohol you can try the Hilot Kaayo Therapeutic Massage, where sambong leaves that have been heated over a tea light wrap legs and back, and are later scrunched up to scrub away tired skin cells, or a Kahimsog Healthy Coco Shell Therapy massage. Ingredients borrow from the ancient healing practices, like banana leaves, bamboo, rice, coconut milk and chocolate, or go high-tech for facials with Biodroga. Famous Filipino architect, Bobby Manosa, is responsible for the soaring and fragrant cogon grass roofs of the villas and the two Handuraw Spa suites at this boutique, beachside resort. There may be only two suites, but they are majestically spacious.

Nurture Spa Village, Tagaytay began life seven years ago as a tranquil garden spa with indigenous residential Banaue huts and a strong belief in corporate social responsibility. While these remain today the offerings are sophisticated, with treatments like signature Nilaib massage, herbal compresses, rain sticks and Hilot massage. Also on the menu are European facials by Algotherm and Biodroga. Half to multi-day packages like Pampering, Romance and Wellness are very popular, while for guests with serious illnesses like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, renowned doctor Sam Dizon provides deeply healing programs. Colon enemas, acupuncture, lifestyle counselling, juice fasting and more aim to get to the root of guests’ issues, all delivered by genuinely caring local therapists.

Set in a 1930s colonial house, within its own garden in Greenhills is Tian-Di Urban Destination Spa, Manila. Tian-Di means ‘heaven and earth’ and the indulgences here can be rightly described as heavenly. Within these historic walls, Decadence includes a foot soak and scrub, a circulation-energising massage with oils by Pevonia, and a facial for ultimate relaxation.

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Healing traditions in Vietnam go back more than 1,000 years. Ancient Vietnam, known as ‘AuLac’, was known for herbal healing as well as practices to rejuvenate and increase energy. In the 17th century, traditional Vietnamese and Chinese practitioners began identifying their medicine as Dong Y to distinguish it from the Western colonial medicine. Cupping and scraping is available here, while herbs for sale in the markets are used not only in spas but also in the local dishes.

The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is steeped in history, once playing host to legendary personalities like Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham, and its colonial or modern wings are just as popular with the cognoscenti today. Le Spa du Metropole continues the theatre of the hotel with beautifully designed rooms and details creating a tranquil space beside the hotel’s pool. Go for the Dieu Cham facial or the Vietnamese herbal compress. Body treatments and facials use products by Ytsara and Clarins, and the signature fragrance is courtesy of olfactory expert Lauren Severac.

At the timelessly elegant Park Hyatt Saigon, Xuan Spa is full of ambient light and healing vibes. For a local experience, the Xuan Fresh facial uses yoghurt, honey and small stones to massage and tone the skin, while the Signature Xuan Experiences feature bamboo, chrysanthemum, orchid or apricot blossom to heal the body. To perk up, the Vietnamese coffee scrub increases metabolism, while the Tra Vietnamese green tea scrub with salt nourishes and smoothes. For massages, the Ayurvedic menu’s highlight is the Synchronised Abhyanga with two therapists.

The all-villa resort The Nam Hai on Hoi An Beach is a stunning feat of architecture. Treatments are shaped around the healing cultures of India, Bali and Tibet, with facials by Sundari and therapies by Traditions d’Orient Organic. Get a glimpse of the culture you’re in, however, with the Traditional Vietnamese massage then rejuvenate your skin with an Omega 3 body polish or wrap. Bathing rituals prove to be the ultimate in luxurious indulgence – go Balinese or Arabian to max out the romantic factor.

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