But there’s no resting on its (ancient) laurels: on a recent trip through the continent, we found that Asian spas are still setting trends by integrating unique indigenous ingredients and traditional techniques with the latest in spa luxury. From northern Thailand to the barely-above-sea-levels of the Maldives, here’s what’s on offer at some notable places.
Thailand for your next travel destination
Four Seasons, Chiang Mai
Set in the Mae Rim Valley, this travel destination Asia is about 30 minutes outside of the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, this beautiful resort is surrounded by terraced rice fields and acres of lush tropical foliage. Like the accommodations, the spa—located in a converted residence at the far end of the property—features elements of traditional Lanna style, from the distinctive pagoda roofs and the use of local fabrics to little touches like the vintage wood paintings turned into “Do Not Disturb” signs for the seven treatments suites. Services range from Ayurvedic body treatments and Elemis facials to a Thai-centric menu using Ytsara products and local ingredients. Ytsara Saat includes a scrub with orange and cajeput, plus a papaya-aloe wrap and a massage, while another wrap revitalizes with local herbs like lemongrass, bai nart leaf (from the camphor tree) and prai (a gin
ger relative). The 120-minute Ytsara Samunprai, a massage mixing gentle stretches with heated, organic herb-filled poultices, is another standout. www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai
The Chedi, Chiang Mai
Overlooking the Mae Pin River in the heart of Chiang Mai, and just blocks from the fa-mous night market, The Chedi’s 84 chic, modern rooms—most with oversized balconies and plush day beds—form an oasis of cool amid the city bustle. The contemporary spa is set in a long, one-story white-and-wood structure surrounded by giant stalks of greenery and pools of floating lotus flowers. Inside, two of the 10 treatment rooms boast saunas, while the rest have steam chambers, bathtubs and soothing teak walls. Along with signature treatments like the top-notch four-hand Chedi Massage (a mix of five techniques, from Swedish to Lomi-Lomi) and traditional mat-based Thai rub-downs, several services make use of fresh, hand-mixed ingredients like yogurt, brown sugar, Thai herbs, and melon juice. The Chedi Indulgence is an all-out, all-natural splurge including a foot polish, massage, body scrub, floral bath and house facial.
Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle
Up a steep, winding path, over a suspension bridge and through the verdant bamboo forests of far northern Thailand sit this luxury tented camp’s two open-air doubles’ spa suites, each complete with terrace and outdoor tub. Therapists here focus on relaxation and easing muscle tension—vital, since guests spend most of their days learning to train and ride the camp’s elephants and hiking between the restaurants, bar and hilltop accommodations. Massage styles include Mekong Meditation, in which gentle manipulation and circular motion help release tightness; Doi Tung Rejuvenator, a mix of kneading, stretching, reflexology, and acupressure to unblocked clogged meridians and energy points; and Mahout Recovery, which uses heated poultices filled with camphor, lemongrass, and lime to relax tight muscles. Also on offer are Burmese body polishes (made with fresh ginger, papaya, and rice), coconut oil scalp treatments and anti-aging facials using tamarind, jasmine, bamboo, and green tea. www.foursearsons.com/goldentriangle
Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Kota Kinabalu
Extending out from mainland Borneo into the South China Sea, this beautiful spa’s eight private villas each feature a dressing room, oversized outdoor bath and a separate treatment suite, all decorated in a soothing Tibetan-inspired décor. As one of the Shan-gri-La Hotel group’s Chi Spas, this outpost offers many of the brand’s signature treatments (including the Mountain Tsampa body scrub using Himalayan barley and gentle Tsampa essential oil), but there are also a couple of stellar locally inspired options. The 75-minute Borneo Therapy, based on the traditions of the native bobohizan (healer), aims to unblock negative energy with a foot ritual, palm-and-thumb pressure body massage, and the use of seven potent herbs: nutmeg, betel leaf, lemongrass, lime, clove, red ginger, and collagen-boosting pegaga. In the Pearl Cocoa Scrub, pulverized Sabah pearls are mixed with Malaysian cocoa, rice, ginger, and soy to create a revitalizing, skin clarifying body polish. www.shangri-la.com
The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur
Behind the high-rise facade of this city-center hotel lies the Ritz-Carlton’s Spa Village, a dimly lit warren of treatment suites, each with a private garden, outdoor shower, and soaking tub. While the vast menu includes Kerstin Florian caviar facials and several massage styles, we opted for the three-hour Tun Teja Treatment, a ladies-only service that begins with a traditional deep tissue “princess” massage to get out all the kinks. Next comes an herbal Lulur Cendana Cangi body scrub and mini-herbal facial, followed by some downtime in a flower petal-filled bath. After drying off and slathering on some oil, it’s off to a scented steam chamber to lock in the hydration. The result is a top-to-toe glow courtesy of the all-natural ingredients. www.ritzcarlton.com
Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, Penang
Located on an island off the northwest coast of Malaysia, Penang’s capital city of George Town is known for its creative local cuisine, which is influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Thai cultures. The expansive Rasa Sayang resort, set outside of town on a lovely stretch of coastline, also celebrates cultural fusion at its 11-villa Chi Spa, where Himalayan design elements mix with Malay and Peranakan influences like timber floors, stone walls, and centuries-old rain trees in the private gardens. Along with Chi staples like the Himalayan Stone Massage, popular treatments here include the exclu-sive Rasa Asmaradana, a 75-minute service that begins with a steamed pouch filled with lemongrass and pandan leaves being placed along the spine and on tight areas. Afterwards, a long-stroke massage with nutmeg and sandalwood essential oils helps to heal sore, but well-kneaded, muscles. www.shangri-la.com
Amansara, Siem Reap
In a city known for its ancient, intricately carved temple complexes like Angkor Wat and Bayon, Amansara sets itself apart with a sparse, mid-century aesthetic. Built in 1962, by French architect Laurent Mondet, the 24-suite hotel is set in the former guesthouse of King Sihanouk, and includes two swimming pools and a tranquil roof garden. The spa boasts four spacious, uncluttered treatment rooms and a menu geared more towards relaxation than beautification. Massage standouts include “Scents of Cambodia,” which mixes Thai-style techniques with local scented oils; the oil-free “Touch of the East”, with acupressure moves; and a restful deep tissue massage performed by blind therapists. Also on the spa menu is a session with a respected local fortune teller who, through a translator, will read your cards and palm—with a dose of psychic intuition thrown in. Aside from the fact that she was pretty much right on the money, the 30-minutes we spent discussing life with her were as restorative as any rub-down. www.amanresorts.com
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Spread out over two-and-a-half acres in the middle of this lush private island resort, the Four Seasons’ award-winning Spa and Ayurvedic Retreat offers a thoughtful, well-executed menu of Asia’s greatest hits, from Chakra and Ombak (Balinese) massage and Maldivian bath rituals to Ayurvedic favorites like Abhyanga and Shirodhara. (There’s also an Ayurvedic doctor on staff to help diagnose and propose treatment plans.) But it’s the incomparable Devi Bhavani (Divine Mother) treatment, designed to nourish female energy, that we can’t get out of our minds. Just for women, the service is performed by two female Tantric therapists, who themselves must follow Tantric principles like vegetarianism and meditation. After a welcome foot bath and prayer, clients are treated to a scrub, perfectly coordinated four-hand massage, a floral bath and a unique “private parts” herbal steam, which is said to address hormonal issues and fertility. At a key point the therapists also sing and chant, which helps enhance the treatment’s peaceful, deeply nourishing vibe. A version of the service is also available for men and couples—the latter a top choice with honeymooners. www.fourseasons.com/maldiveslg
An outpost of Taj’s Jiva Grande Spa brand, this peaceful spot is set on the far end of the resort island, away from the bustle of the docks and restaurants. Past the reception, the thatch-roof treatment pavilions are set around a central courtyard, and each enjoys its own private sundeck and relaxation area; some look out over the lagoon, while others have views of the ocean. One pavilion is designated for Ayurvedic therapies; another, with water beds and a plunge pool, for the Heat/Hydro Experience; and a third for the signature Indian Royal Mud and Bathing Experience, in which couples paint each other with detoxifying mineral mud, relax on heated deck loungers, then wash it all off in a cir-cuit of indoor/outdoor showers and baths. As fun as that sounds, we opted for a cupping session, in which small, heated glass bulbs are attached—via natural suction—to the back, then slowly moved around to jump-start circulation and unblock stagnant energy. As uncomfortable as it was at points, the skilled therapist’s soothing post-cupping massage and expert technique left us loose, sleepy, and, thankfully, free of any tell-tale red circular marks. www.tajhotels.com
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Spa-lovers are set at this dual-island resort, which has two facilities offering different services—plus a Kid’s Spa featuring an ice cream-inspired menu of manis, pedis, and massages. At the larger Spa Retreat, there is a hair salon, large relaxation area, and nine treatment rooms, including pavilions with saunas, steams and Jacuzzis, or soaking tubs. (Each treatment villa is set on stilts over the lagoon and features an indoor tub and—a quirky twist—an outdoor toilet.) The menu here is grounded in the five elements—air, earth, fire, water, and plant—with corresponding treatments designed to en-liven, ground, detoxify, hydrate, and nourish, respectively. Standouts include the organic Stone Crop Lightening Facial, 10 Grains & Spices Scrub, and Mango Enzyme Body Wrap; all use organic Eminence or Terrake products. Across from this spa is Mandoo, an organic restaurant with a five elements-based food menu, as well as 21 overwater spa guest suites, each with a private massage room and mini-gym.
On the other side of the resort, accessible by shuttle boat or long footbridge, the Over-water Spa’s four bungalows are each set over the ocean, with glass panels under the face cradles so you can watch the marine life go by. Here, the menu is chakra- and color-based; the red Empowerment Ritual, for example, targets the base chakra with a hot stone massage, body wrap, and foot massage, while the green Harmonizing Ritual balances the heart chakra with exfoliation, Swedish massage, a wrap and Reiki. Crystals are also employed, as are natural products from Germany-based Dorissima.