Spa Nirvana: Rejuvenating Retreats in Asia’s Most Serene Settings

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Tap into this collection of some of the top spa concessions in Asia’s best retreats where not only the atmosphere is serene, but where the spa is the next-to-ideal treatment center nearby. Most of these great retreats, be it on an island, topping a rainforest mountain, or just sited in between a city’s hustle and bustle, encompass a great spa by way of excellent location and area, natural healing, marvelous facilities, and wellness experience on par with many in so-called wellness destinations such as the South of France and Napa Valley.

Check out an array of inviting resorts in Asia that will pamper you with a serene atmosphere, exceptional spa treatments, and great, well-maintained settings. Great spa treatment centers in distinguished and spectacular retreats in Asia provide beyond indulging; they promise a serene environment with their spacious treatment centers, therapeutic treatment rooms, health departments, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, blissful bathing experiences, and mind-relaxing equipment, as well as enjoyable eating special deals at their in-house restaurants.

Many people who choose resorts or hotels for a long weekend stay get turned off by their crowded lobbies and bustling restaurants. They don’t want to deal with a throng of visitors and just want to have that short but unforgettable break, seeking a relaxing, peaceful, and serene place that will allow them to recharge mentally and spiritually. This and more are very achievable in some of the great, restful, and rejuvenating retreats in Asia.

Top Spa Retreats in Asia

Alas! No Children: Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, Malaysia’s best wellness retreat near Ipoh City is the perfect restorative retreat. Nestled within a 22-acre tropical jungle and wild rainforest, the serene and luxurious all-villa resort is a rare, 2-hour drive from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat borders the world’s 8th largest cave system and is graced by the naturally rising geothermal heated volcanic hot springs (mineral evident waters, perfect for soaking and pampering), a thermal steam cave and truly serene Ayurvedic and wellbeing centers. Languishing here means plenty of good sleep, rejuvenating in the spacious Garden, Water & Lake villas and all-encompassing pampering. The emphasis is on wellness on self-renewal and none of the 21 serene villas welcome children under the age of 12.

Rejuvenating at an Asian spa retreat is an experience that goes far beyond pampering and luxury. These wellness retreats are designed to provide the utmost commitment to the well-being of your mind, body, and soul through treatments and therapies like yoga retreats and specially created meals served in the restaurants or within the privacy of your room, all using natural ingredients sourced locally from the region. Each of our five favorite spa retreats in Asia are in themselves sanctuaries within serene destinations perfect for a digital detox, to recharge, or rediscover your balance this year. Each truly creates the ultimate holiday experience for those seeking a meaningful and transformative retreat.

Bali: Island of Tranquility

The dense tropical setting of serenity hosts a variety of engaging spots while getting lost in the natural water tunnel carved through the cliff’s base, receiving a massage in an open-air pavilion perched above a valley, or soaking in a nourishing aroma flower petal bath in a private and intimate outdoor bathroom while overlooking the Petanu. The villas, with spacious glass-walled rooms, bring daylight and ‘Jungle’ inside. Surrounded by genuine closing doors, the peripheries provide a barrier from the resident greenery wildlife.

For 12 centuries, the Balinese have sought comfort and beauty from the abundant and healthy tropical flora that grows on the island. And for 12 centuries, the wisdom and beauty of this tradition remained largely a secret, a treasure known only to the people of the island. Happily today, the world is discovering Bali’s healing traditions. In the ancient villages and romantic resorts, you can experience a traditional massage using rich earthy oils and smooth stones, a cocoon-like wrap with fresh, natural, indigenous ingredients, or an unusual water treatment drawn from the most sacred local resources.

Asia offers some of the world’s most exotic spa experiences. From artful art deco glamour in Bangkok to serene paradise settings in Bali, Asia spa destinations are the ultimate in escape and relaxation. One of the most popular and frequently visited spots for relaxation and rejuvenation in Asia is the lovely and mystical island of Bali.

Thailand: Land of Wellness

Thai healers are known for their ability to blend the philosophical elements of the local faith with Southeast Asia’s ancient trading influences; tranquility through cosmopolitan means. This Asian form of Buddhism roots its spiritual identity through Hinduism’s noble eightfold path while body therapy elements mix it up with Song dynasty breathing techniques, pursued decades before Shakespeare penned cuckold jokes in England. Siam’s spiritual treatment blend became popular throughout Indochina, and when French missionaries struggled to convert the unwashed to the cause of the Vatican, they turned desperate as it became clear that a little almsgiving wouldn’t money bomb a faith that already excelled at spiritual awakening.

Spa Nirvana has, in turn, blossomed as an industry that reflects what long-haul travelers pine for: unique settings and service. In its ancient healing traditions, Tantric massage has its roots in royal Indian ceremonies—hushed Japanese settings enhance the purpose of the almighty sumo rubdown—Egyptian bathhouses promptly whipped Alexander the Great into a frenzy—while Roman nobles used vapor-soaked warrens to emerge as reborn public servant colossi, at least until they overindulged on baby lampreys once again.

As Britain has their wellies and the Japanese produce a handy product called the “ashtray desk”, Thailand’s shiny innovation is the holistic vacation where travelers who trekked to Indochina for a bit of cultural slumming suddenly discover inner peace—without once clutching a packet of self-help literature as they float home. Where other countries build hospitals to extract frail foreigners from the surly bonds of earthly illness, Thailand cultivates wellness-based retreats that middle-class spendthrifts visit in attempts to reboot their tranquility-preserving hard drives after too much corporate multitasking.

As the spa trend has blossomed worldwide, many Asian countries have embraced their natural healing traditions, cultivating not only serene settings but also hallowed holistic techniques passed down through generations. And Southeast Asia boasts a treasure trove of wellness-based retreats where many visitors haven’t just spent a day or two but entire weeks tucked away, rising each morning to birdsong and contemplating what forks in the road lead our souls in the right direction.

Japan: Zen and Relaxation

While many of Japan’s onsens and hot spring towns are not spa resorts in the traditional sense, they do offer a kind of natural rejuvenation that goes far beyond simple pampering. The Thermae-yu spa, located high above the heaving streets of Tokyo, however, is far from what people expect of standard bath houses. A cavernous space, unlike anything any other operation in the city, its stunning décor alone sets it apart. Designed to transport guests physically into a quirky fantasy land of ancient Rome with murals of togas, mythical creatures, and cloudy skies, the clean geometry of the baths themselves and a series of invitingly warm pools provide first-rate comfort. Built over the hot springs that have flowed, untapped and underground for centuries, the facility’s commitment to traditional principles endures all the way up many flights of stairs from an otherwise anonymous, modern drinking park. Although the stylish restaurant and café, dental salon, nail curve, beauty clinic, and Thai massage salon highlight many services to guests, the baths are the attraction. Deep soaking within the mineral-rich water, marveling at the creative tile décor, and surveying the handsome parade of bathers pose an indulgence that no other soaks in any other are likely to deliver.

Beyond the neon signs of Tokyo, the unspoiled countryside offers an escape to another world, one solely devoted to finding ki (life energy) and tranquility at an onsen or Japanese spa. A symbol of Japan and the key to health and a satisfying life, the soaking pools are filled with mineral-rich water while the green, lush surroundings help relax body and mind. Throughout history, these retreats were often frequented by ascetic Buddhists who sought help from the universe. Leaning more towards relaxation these days, the onsen and surrounding traditional ryokan inns continue to offer refuges from modern life and a way for visitors to experience firsthand the simple, deep-rooted relationship the Japanese people have with nature. Always set in serene landscapes, the traditional baths have become one more reason to visit the majestic countryside.

Unique Spa Experiences

Head down south to Singapore and the storied Raffles Hotel, where every room and suite comes with the famous Raffles 24-hour Butler Service, quintessential in delivering the hotel’s promise of service from the heart. Also from the heart is the RafflesAmrita Spa, opened in July 1999 with 6 private spa suites, offering color therapy in a chromo steam room, and treatments using state-of-the-art equipment like the anti-aging and cellulite-reducing Endermologie machines. The RafflesAmrita Spa’s signature treatment is the 3½-hour RafflesAmrita Amazing Makeover, with full-body sea salts exfoliation, Matis facial, and Balinese Massage – can you say ahh?

The Anantara Golden Triangle Resort is a destination spa perched in the hills of Chiang Rai, and it has lovingly built rainforest journeys that end with honey and tea in the spa’s outdoor café. The nature reserve spa tucked high in the land of the kingdoms of Siam offers luxurious Thai massages, aromatherapy treatments, purifying body scrubs, and wraps that echo the refreshing blend of botanical and floral ingredients grown in the local hill tribe gardens and surrounding rainforest. The indigenous exfoliating and anti-aging elements range from sweet herbal scrubs and ginger lemon rind wraps to coconut fruit masks and Black Sesame Seed facials. Paradise Perfected? Not quite yet; did we mention the Siberian husky waking you up and the golden elephants greeting you early in the morning?

Traditional Asian Therapies

Minutes away from the chaotic pace of Hong Kong on an islet between the city’s business district and the South China Sea, the 14-room Hullett House spa is a tranquil enclave with monkeypod wood floors and textiles inspired by 1920s chimneypiece details. More crowded than the spa’s single treatment table is the original 1881 Heritage complex, housed in the city’s former Marine Police Headquarters where a series of themed cafes and shops now draw visitors. Hullett House’s 120-minute Chinese meridian massage sends intense but highly effective pressure to knead out muscular imbalances. An hour absorbed in the deep leather seats of the spa’s whimsy-themed Drawing Rooms nurtures the quest for serenity during a premature rainy season. A detoxifying, 75-minute libation of dried Wolfberry with brewed Pu-erh leaves commences the eye treatment that almost immediately produces a welcome drainage of unexplainable tension. After a one-hour pressure point healing session (at neck, shoulders, back or feet), accept the staff’s invitation to linger over citrus tea and a home-made cookie in the spa’s drawing room, the in-house retail array set with decorative homespun accessories from the city of Suzhou.

Be it a traditional foot reflexology massage to help remove blockages from parts of the body impeding energy flow, or a Neem body scrub to drive off fatigue and muscular tension, traditional Asian therapies borrow from long-established techniques to help clients achieve mental and physical equilibrium. Provided in spa and massage settings complete with tranquil views, such treatments could be what’s needed to soothe away nagging aches and edgy thoughts left over from the year past. Here is a look at spas in soothing settings across Asia, and the top treatments that have them ranked among the continent’s best.

Nature-inspired Treatments

A 60-minute Chickpea Body Shine treatment at The Leela Goa uses chickpea flour mixed with multani mitti, orange, lemon juice, yogurt, or cream to exfoliate and brighten the skin. The paste is then smoothed over the body, and once dry, is peeled away using a lemon and honey milk pack to cleanse and nourish the skin. Among the many natural curative products in Maldives is LUMI, a local brand run by a Maldivian family. LUMI’s products use marine resources such as seaweeds, corals, marine algae, and minerals from the Maldivian seas which have beneficial properties. Traditional Maldivian skincare treatments include rubbing the skin with towels dipped in a rice bran soapy mixture, followed by massages with cajuput oil, Rosy Fouid, and Kaashikeyo which prevents the skin from cracking in harsh weather.

Wellness treatments in Asia are designed to use local ingredients best suited to the skin and climate. Bali, with its tropical climate, offers an array of spa treatments using indigenous floral extracts, exotic plants, and traditional techniques. “Boreh,” a delightful mask scrub made from crushed spices. The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay offers the Balinese Spice Body Scrub, a smoothing exfoliation experience. Created from a recipe passed down by Jero Mangku, the resort’s 70-year-old medicine man, this aromatic blend of cloves, sandalwood bark, ginger root, and rice powder is stirred into a paste with freshly ground coconut to renew the skin, leaving it exceptionally soft and supple.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Feeling “Zen” is primed as the greatest happiness that can be pursued in life, transcendental to other types of worldly happiness. Studies in the US and Germany suggest that “mindful eating”—a type of meditation where you concentrate fully on the physical experiences associated with eating—could better patients’ relationship with food and improve body image. Eating attentively abstains the overeating habit and emotional eating, which are part of the reasons why individuals turn to food to quell negative feelings. On the contrary, when eating mindfully, you tend to eat only as much food as you need and do not respond to emotional cues that usually lead one to crave unhealthy food.

As a home to Hinduism and Buddhism, Bali and Thailand hold centuries of exposure to Eastern spiritual practices. Karma Yoga Retreat in Bali runs plenty of yoga and meditation retreats because it’s believed that repetitive practice can lead one to greater levels of spiritual attainment. Failing a day-long “mindful eating” retreat, I had my hand at an “Awakening the Third Eye” retreat. While I did not come out of the retreat with the ability to see supernatural beings of Heaven, Earth, and Hell, their focus on meditation had certainly widened my peripheral senses—I could hear what is happening at the nearby kitchen as clearly as if it was right next to me.

Planning Your Spa Getaway

Choose your locations first. Perhaps the idea of Korea’s traditional public bathhouses or jjimjil-bang (Korean dry saunas) does indeed float your hydrotherapy tub or perhaps, you’re averse to being trooped out to the monkey-bathed ginger gardens of Monkey Bar at Monkey Beach in Penang, Malaysia. With these locations in mind, now build in the activities so that you can have your spas and still have a mix of other activities to do as well. Tip: I’ve found that the best spa locales for families include those with beaches for the kids to let off steam, and for spa couples, hot spousal treatments where you get to relax together. You may also want to look out for ones without televisions as a measure to at least try to reduce electronic stimulation that’s part and parcel of our daily lives everywhere.

Understandably, the first step in planning a spa getaway should be to choose the spa and then match it with a desirable spa vacation. But before you rush off to immerse yourself in a relaxing dip in a comforting hot pool, to be lovingly wrapped in fragrant sheets of seaweed and to float away on visions of strong-fingered masseurs – Stop! Just stop and think for a moment. Context is king and when you choose any of the aforementioned activities, you’re likely missing out on a lot more than half the experience.

Choosing the Right Spa Resort

There is a certain healthiness to the aroma abration, the perfumed analysis, and then the bottled therapy. But it is neither the environment nor the fine attention to detail that wins the game – but the sincerity with which the treatment is applied. If you are not circumspect, you could well find yourself in a thalassic twilight zone where charm offensives are played out by the heavenly choir of spa therapists who believe, or disagree, that a clever cut to the hair, a well-cooked carrot, and a gulp of ginseng tea can be the panacea to all your maladies before leading you into a decadent escapade with nothing short of the dryers and curling tongs. Such surreal moments are for some a time-machine of fashionable space age fitness, the doylingly modern ploys are but beguiling distractions to the purpose of pure rest and relaxation. A proper spa resort should therefore be adequately isolated from urban dissection and the influences that a big city’s fast-tracked affectations cause.

Asia is the birthplace of spa resorts, and today you will find tailored treatments that you’ll never forget in seemingly unlikely places. Tea therapy in an alluring corner of Malaysia (Pangkor Laut), oceanfront massages on a less-travelled Thai island (Amanpuri), where you expect nothing short of brilliance, fabulous Four Seasons resorts wherever palms grow (Koh Samui, Langkawi), Bill Bensley-designed resorts that promise angelic treatments administered in high art galleries, and then of course myriad other lesser-known and unsung spa resorts where the approach to bodycare is long and intensive. However, not all that’s good needs to be done in 90 minutes. Slow tidings need thorough introspection and most spa treatments are impulsive in comparison to the evolution from forest, to hut, to temple to verandah, to social colonial gathering. This is why a retreat in a spa resort is often intervallic in nature. To allow for fatigue, boredom, replenishment, and rejuvenation. This and not the validity of over fasting is the reason why the healing philosophy in alluvial caress, as propagated in India’s Aayush is therapeutic success. India remains up to now the only proponent of the traditional medicinal philosophy.

Preparing for Your Retreat

Should there be anything personal on your mind, why not bring a journal or notepad to put thoughts down on paper. Yoga retreats can turn your world inside out, often a slower or different pace to daily life will turn up emotions and ideas that need an outlet. Bringing a book, novel or other work is a good idea for any leisure time and should you like keeping to yourself during prolonged spells. Whether you choose to travel with friends, your spouse or alone, trust that these few weeks away from daily struggle will be the most actionable personal time you have ever experienced. In thinking about retreats like a holiday, we suggest instead to look at this period more like a sort of time out for your body and soul. This is a special time to respect yourself and deserving of deep, nurturing care. Pack your bags with joyfulness and trust that you are embarking on a life affirming journey.

While your main consideration in preparing for a retreat will be the style of yoga and your personal reasons for attending, there are a few other practical things worth noting. First and foremost, get a good deal of rest before your arrival. Unlike a holiday, if you’re interested in getting the most out of your retreat – whether educational or relaxing – you should find yourself going to bed and waking earlier than usual. If you work in an office, time adjusting to earlier nights will be a good idea. Also, most retreats are free from the distractions of the world – namely television, telephones and the internet. Be mindful of this as you leave the hub of the city behind.

Maximizing the Benefits of Your Spa Experience

For the staff at each featured spa, it is a real honor to have you choose them out of the 250 featured properties. They all feel the truth of this statement by Andrew Ernst of Aman: “To imbibe exclusive serenity, you have to feel coddled and cherished, and to feel coddled and cherished, the staff must be cared for and physically, emotionally, and spiritually relaxed.” The teams are, of course, happy and honored to pamper you. It would be a dual pleasure if by the time you depart, you achieve a higher level of wellness and peace. Where businesses, people, and guests are cared for, wellness is a natural companion.

Andrew Ernst, Senior Vice President of Amanresorts, suggests that guests new to spas may feel intimidated about dipping into the spa experience. Ask questions, and you will soon find one aspect of beauty, wellness, or health that appeals to you. You never have to do yoga, and then again, you might just be ready for it after you’ve martial-arts-ed, water therapy-ed, or meditated. Once you understand the true purpose, you can let go of resistance to other aspects of wellness.

Programs at spas are often structured and segmented into mini-breaks. Try to get there at least 30 minutes early and make use of the facilities or the designated freestanding areas for personal quiet time. It allows your body to re-center and experience serenity and peace. Leave your everyday fears and tensions behind. Etiquette expectations should be followed with regards to timeliness of arrival. Lateness should not affect your treatment time and other guests’ experiences. Be aware that behaviors witnessed from other guests can affect the ambience of tranquility.

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