Review: Afond Boutique Spa, Singapore

Being pregnant is one of the most incredible, interesting, challenging and rewarding experience in a woman’s life. I am now beginning to understand this experience. If I haven’t tell you yet, well, I’m into my 7th month of pregnancy!

As my stomach gets bigger each day, my lower back tends to ache a lot and I get numerous leg cramps every night! The pain can be quite bad and no amount of pain plasters, analgesic ointment or hot water could ease the pain. Being an avid spa goer, I kept asking myself if I should go for a massage to ease my pain. I have done a lot of reading & asking around and I get some people saying it’s a no no and some saying, yes, go for it. At the end of the day, I guess checking with your obstetrician and trusting your own body will be your best judge if you should go for a pre-natal massage.

In Singapore, it seems that Javanese and Indonesian massages are the most popular type of pre and post natal massages. There are also several Malay Macik(aunties) who seem to specialise in pregnancy massage and they can even come to your home.

Not all spas or therapists have the expertise in doing prenatal and/or postnatal massage. I did some research online and finally found one that has both the necessary expertise and the availability for the massage that I badly need. I’ve decided to check out the Afond Boutique Spa.

Afond Boutique Spa
Oriental Tap and Basin

Nice spacious room
Cosy Oriental lights

Nice spacious room
Keep your clothes in this Oriental cupboard

The Afond Spa has two branches. One is located at Chinatown and the other at Holland Village. I went to the Afond Boutique Spa located at Chinatown which is located in a 3 level conservation shophouse besides the popular Maxwell market at the fringe of the historic Chinatown area.

Afond Boutique Spa has a few luxurious couple rooms and private individual rooms with attached showers. Each room is decorated with oriental furniture, ornaments and lighting. I was introduced to my assigned therapist, Susan. She led me to the 2nd floor where all the individual rooms are situated.

Initially, I was quite skeptical about prenatal massage, not sure if it will affect my baby but I know I badly needed a massage as my lower back was really aching. I left myself in the good hands of the therapist but was prepared to stop if I feel that I’m not comfortable with Susan or if I feel that the massage is not going right.

One of the differences between a normal and prenatal massage is …… the lying position! As explained by the therapist, most women find it uncomfortable to lie face down right from the start of pregnancy because of their tender and swollen breasts. And it’s impossible to lie face down on a traditional massage bed once your belly has started to grow.

On the other hand, it’s also not a good idea to lie flat on your back either, particularly once you’re past mid-pregnancy, because the weight of your uterus puts too much pressure on the veins that return blood from your legs to your heart.

For these reasons, I was asked to lie on my side with a full-length body pillow in between my legs for support. I understand that some therapists performed the massage by asking the customer to sit on a chair as well.

Afond Boutique Spa
Hang your towel here if you need to take a shower

Nice spacious room
This Oriental Screen protects your modesty when you take your shower

Nice spacious room
Dry up and change into the undies; ready for the massage

Susan is indeed is a well trained pregnancy massage therapist. She knows exactly where a pregnant woman’s sore spots are and which areas and techniques to avoid. Very soon, I was in a totally relaxed mood and enjoyed the one and half hour massage session.

What exactly is Prenatal massage? Prenatal massage shares many of the goals of regular massage, i.e. to relax tense muscles, ease sore spots and improve circulation and general body tone. But it’s also tailored specifically to the needs of pregnant women and their changing bodies. It is recommended that prenatal massage is done only after the 2nd Trimester.

Do note the following pointers for pregnancy massage:

  1. Make sure you only engage a therapist that is familiar with pregnancy massage. It is best to get a recommendation from some-one you know or check out reviews online.
  2. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, stop immediately.
  3. Once you are comfortable with a certain therapist, you should engage the same therapist for future sessions.
  4. Skip the other spa treatments – no more steam, sauna, hot pool, scrubs or foot reflexology for this interim period. Facial and hair treatment is still alright.
  5. Although I do not believe in spa packages due to the many hard-sell spas out there, I believe a short-term pregnancy massage package with a familiar spa is worth it. If you’re a busy working to-be mother, a regular massage can take some of the stress and pain off a pregnancy, so a package deal may cut some of the cost involved.

Many mothers-to-be are on the look-out for a good pregnancy masseur. I will not hesitate to recommend that you call Afond Spa for a chat to see if they are a right fit for your pregnancy massage needs.

Address:
293/293A South Bridge Rd S’pore 058837

Size of Spa: About 10 private treatment rooms with en-suite showers
Friendliness: Friendly and professional
Pricing: 1 hour massage starts at S$70. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards. Discount available for visits before 5pm and first-time customers.
Others: Sport, ladies and pregnancy massage are also available. No hard-sell at this spa.

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Review: Ancient Thai Spa, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I spent a recent weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Read earlier article)

It was a busy weekend with many family activities but that did not stop me from making a quick run to a local Thai Spa; the Ancient Thai Spa. I had discovered this gem of a Thai Massage in my last trip to KL and it was a return visit for me.

The Ancient Thai Spa is located at one end of Jalan Alor, the famous open air food street, that is famously associated with Bukit Bintang, the ultimate KL shopping triangle. Almost every tourist that comes to Kuala Lumpur would have visited Bt Bintang or Jalan Alor as part of local culture initiation. You have not been to Kuala Lumpur if you have not been to Bukit Bintang or Jalan Alor.

The very busy Jalan Alor food street just off Bukit Bintang
The very busy Jalan Alor open air food street; just off Bukit Bintang

Open air food stalls will open in the evening
Open air food stalls will open in the evening

Ancient Thai Spa offers a quiet haven at one end of busy Jalan Alor
Ancient Thai Spa offers a quiet haven at one end of busy Jalan Alor

The spa offers private parking - where chauffeurs dropped off business executives
The spa offers private parking – where chauffeurs dropped off business executives

In fact, Bukit Bintang is lined with foot reflexology and massage shops. You cannot take two steps without being approached for massage services. While prices are generally lower, these shops are open and noisy, and not quite my cup of tea for a relaxing massage.

Hence, I was glad to discover the Ancient Thai Spa, which is clean, air-conditioned, does not hard-sell, hire only Thai massuers and offers calm and peace in the hustle and bustle of busy Bukit Bintang. Best of all, it offers authentic Thai massage services.

The receptionist is a local Malaysian Chinese and the rest of the operations are operated by Thais. Prices are a little higher than most shops along Bt Bintang but are still acceptable. Certificates proudly displayed indicate that the shop is endorsed by the Thai embassy, Malaysia Police and all the masseurs has attained at least a 2nd Thai ancient massage Certification level. You do feel relaxed in such a shop

The spacious reception areal
The spacious reception area

Multiple certifications that vouch for the skill authenticity of the shop
Multiple certifications that vouch for the skill authenticity of the shop

The foot massage area - decked in a pleasant blue
The foot massage area – decked in a pleasant blue

Private partitioned area for body massage
Private partitioned area for body massage

Body massage and foot massage are carried out by mostly middle-age male and female Thai masseurs. From their mild mannerism, lack of English skills and good massage skills, you can tell they’re not from the commercial areas of Patpong or Bangkok in Thailand but probably from the inner provinces.

It is good that you tell your masseurs if you can accept a hard massage because Thai massage from authentic masseurs trained from the ancient Wat temples can be a no-holds bar for hard cracks and twists. Not many of us can take the ultimate Thai ancient massage and it may be better to opt for Thai oil massage or request for a milder version of the massage. For me, the harder the better.

But I had to surrender too when it came to Thai foot massage. Unlike Chinese or Japanese foot massage, Thai foot massage utilises a stick to poke at the pressure points instead of only using fingers. If you cannot take the pain from normal foot massage, Thai foot massage will send you up the wall.

Again, pain is proportionate to the light and floating feeling you have on your feet after a painful foot massage, but ultimately it is up to you if you can accept the initial pain. Be warned, if you cannot take normal foot massage pain, do not try Thai foot massage!

We had both body and foot massage and ‘floated’ our way out into the busy Jalan Alor after our treatment. Just nice to hit the Jalan Alor food stalls at 6pm when they’re just starting to start up for night business. A most pleasant way to spend time in Kuala Lumpur!

Address:
One end of Jalan Alor; off Bukit Bintang

Size of Spa: About 15 partitioned treatment rooms and 15 foot massage chairs
Friendliness: Friendly and professional
Pricing: 1 hour massage starts at M$70. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards. Discount available for visits before 3pm.
Others: Sport, ladies and pregnancy massage are also available

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Even babies need a massage: Learn Baby Massage

I wanted a different kind of present when my best friend had a new-born baby. I wasn’t keen on yet another baby’s toy, clothes or food. I’m sure everyone else will be buying the same kind of presents.

I remember watching a TV show once which showed masseurs/nurses that specialises in massaging new born and teaching new mothers and even fathers on massage techniques for their babies. It is said to be soothing and therapeutic for babies; especially for ‘angry’ babies that seem to cry more than usual.

After all, if massages work for adults like us, I’m sure it works for babies as well. I knew this is something I’ll want to get for my friend especially since she’s a nervous first-time mother. Some googling and research lead to the following article:

“The first few months of having a new baby in the home can be a daunting experience. This is especially true when, despite feeding, changing and making baby comfortable, he/she continues to scream. You start to feel you’re a useless Mother, and can’t understand what you’re doing wrong.

One of the most likely causes of baby’s distress is a condition known as baby colic. Although it’s not a serious condition, it can cause you and your baby many months of misery and sleepless nights.

Be assured this is not uncommon in young babies, and there is a way to help alleviate this miserable problem.

Baby massage has proved to be an excellent method of reducing baby’s distress and creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere for both mother and infant.

Firstly, you must establish that there isn’t a health problem. Once this has been confirmed, then baby massage can make a tremendous difference to you and your family. It can help you and your partner to form a close bond with baby whilst at the same time easing baby’s discomfort.

A downloadable baby massage DVD will help you to learn the best way to get started in the comfort of your own home. Regular massaging will gradually help to calm baby’s symptoms and bring some semblance of order to your household.

This professionally produced video re-creates the baby massage class in the comfort of your own home – enabling you to follow along at the best time for your and your baby and make massage part of your routine together.

Independent midwives Joanna Parkinson and Katie Wainwright commented “we definitely would recommend these products to our new Mums…they offer clear instructions on how to perform baby massage safely”.

Baby’s early months need not become a nightmare. Baby massage can make sure of that, so start learning it today. You can quickly and easily download your DVD here!

Well, I’m sure my friend will be glad to receive this giftpack consisting of instructional DVDs on how to massage babies. Maybe I can get her to do a review of the DVDs…

If you are interested in a similar baby massage DVD for your friend, colleague or yourself, go to their website to buy or download a copy.

Happy baby massaging!

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Review: The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa, Singapore

I was looking for an authentic Thai Massage in Singapore and The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa seems to pop up frequently on the search engine whenever I searched for authentic Thai Massage in Singapore.

I’m a die-hard Thai massage enthusiast. I need a Thai massage fix every so often and since I was not in Thailand but Singapore, I decided I had to trust ‘Mr Google’. I decided to check out The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa and booked an appointment.

The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa is located at one of the older shopping mall in Bukit Timah area. The decor of the spa is quite simple & rustic, with the furniture made of Teakwood and Thai silk and they even have the Thai Massage day beds.

Foot massage chairs near the reception area
Foot massage chairs near the reception area

So far, so good. True enough, the massage therapists are all from Thailand. Second tick in their favour. There was a strong wiff of Thai massage oil and lemon grass in the air. Third tick in their favour.

I opted for the 120 mins Thai Aroma Oil Massage while my partner chose the 120 mins Royal Thai Massage.  We were put in separate rooms as the Royal Thai Massage was done on the raised Thai Massage bed in the public area while my Oil Massage was done in the privacy of the room.

I was not really impressed by the Aroma Oil Massage. It felt like any ordinary Swedish massage and not the strong, smooth strokes of Thai oil massage.

The Royal Thai Massage was done on a raised flat bed in a public area. That’s quite typical of a authentic Thai massage setting. Unfortunately, most Thai massage places would also let down the bed curtains; hence, ensuring some privacy even within a public setting. However, the masseur left the curtains up; hence, exposing my partner to full public view throughout the massage.

All 4 raised beds were empty while we were there. Instead of choosing the furthest bed, the masseur also chose the nearest bed, which was within the walking path for guests and staff walking to the toilet and changing room. All sense of privacy was totally stripped.

Despite the lack of privacy,  my partner dozed off during the 120 minutes of massage, as she had just arrived from a long and tiring flight. That was how relaxing the experience was but on a second thought, if this was an authentic Thai massage, how could one person slept all the way through as authentic Thai massage would certainly have kept one awake with the many twist and turns of the body?

Tea was served after the massage. As we were there during non-peak timing, we were offered a discount off the menu price.

Will I be back? I doubt so. I had enjoyed Thai massage so much in Thailand but seem to find the same massage experience elusive once outside of Thailand. As much as these Thai spas outside of Thailand offer authentic Thai decor and Thai masseurs, these Thai masseurs simply seems not to be able to match the skills of their counterparts back home. Maybe the best masseur talents are secretly kept at home and only the second rated ones make their way outside of the country. That seems to be the only logic I can think of…

Size of Spa: About 5 private rooms and 4 public beds
Facilities: Shower and changing room

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: 1 hour Thai massage starts at S$85. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards.

Pix credit: www.singaporemirror.com.sg/

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Review: Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa, Jordan

As a spa and massage enthusiast, the Dead Sea is like the Holy Land that I must visit at least once in my lifetime. And here I am. The very thought of floating freely in the Dead Sea really excites me! Not to mention the mud-bath, mineral salt scrub, spa and massage that is so much associated with the Dead Sea.

Here’s some interesting fact about the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on earth, the lowest point on earth and the world’s richest source of natural sea mineral that was accumulated over thousands of years. Thousands of people come to the Dead Sea for the fun of floating at the lowest point of the earth but there are also a lot of people who come to the Dead Sea to seek and find cures for their skin or health problems.

The drive from Evason Ma’In Hot Spring Resort, which was our last hotel, is less than 30 minutes. The Dead Sea is actually a long lake straddling between Jordan and Palestine.

Along the long stretch of water, you will see three 5 stars luxury hotels side by side (namely, the Kempinski, Movenpick & Marriott). More hotels are being built alongside these few hotels.

We stayed at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa. Being a 5 stars luxury hotel brand, you would expect a certain standard of customer service but unfortunately, I could only say that this hotel fall short.


Nice comfortable hotel room


The resort has numerous swimming pools


Breakfast restaurant – Not impressed by food nor service

Nobody offered to help us carry our luggage after we walked through the Security counter x-ray scanner at the main entrance. Our luggage was left lying on the X-ray scanner despite a few bellhops standing around the lobby area. They were more interested in chatting with each other.

At the front desk area, only one receptionist was doing the check in & check out. This despite being a few hundred rooms hotel and being 1pm which is the peak period for check-in/out. This was obviously not an isolated incident because when I was checking out at 1pm the next day, the same scenario was played out.

The Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa sits on a large land area. The various amenities and facilities are well spread out and were designed to provide great views overlooking the Dead Sea. The hotel lobby area is spacious with Arabian theme decor and there are several restaurants, spa facilities, a few spacious swimming pool and chill-out areas in and around the resort.

The room we had was a good size with a comfortable king size bed, thick carpets and wooden furnishing.  The hotel only provide one small bottle of complimentary drinking water and the rest of the same brand (4 bottles) in the fridge were chargeable. The breakfast spread at the hotel was reasonable except that we were surprised that the bread were not fresh at all.  We even feed back to the restaurant manager (who was seen chit chatting with staff all morning) but no apology was offered. At least he was honest; he admitted that the bread was 2 days old!

The SPA facilities include an indoor pool with water from the Dead Sea, a heated lap pool and a Jacuzzi pool. The use of the spa facilities costs 19 JOD. Other spa facilities include a sauna, steam room, relaxation lounge and gym. The spa also offer a wide range of therapeutic treatments ranging from massage to body treatments using products from the Dead Sea. There is also a couple treatment room that faces the Dead Sea where guests could watch the sun set & relax in the room after their massage.


The Spa at Marriot


The couple room overlook the Dead Sea

We did not manage to book a treatment as the spa was fully booked on the 2 days that we were there. The Spa seems to be particularly popular during Winter as there were many day-guests from Amman and not just hotel guests.  Word of advice for spa enthusiasts: Please make prior booking if you want a spa or massage treatment even before your arrival.

Each of the 3 luxury hotels have their own private area of Dead Sea beach. For the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort, access to the Dead Sea is a path at the end of the property to the private beach area which is exclusively for Marriott hotel guests.

The beach at the Marriott hotel is a stone beach and not sand or mud. Luckily, the hotel provide tubs of Dead Sea natural mud, obviously extracted from other parts of the Dead Sea, and were placed on the beach area for guests to use freely.  You could rub yourself in mud and/or float in the Dead Sea for as long as you wish. It is almost impossible to swim in the Dead Sea and it is really true that you can read a book or drink a cup of coffee while floating in the Dead Sea!


Private Dead Sea access from the hotel


Floating in the Dead Sea


Dead Sea Mud. No smell. Just apply direct onto body


Scary: The skin is creased after the mud dries


Look at the amount of dried salt after dipping in the Dead Sea

Word of wise advice when you plan to float at the Dead Sea:

1. Wear a slipper or dive boot. The beach is made up of small and sharp stones.

2. Don’t swim if you have cuts. Cuts and scratches are magnified a hundred times due to the extreme salt content.

Other useful word of advice when visiting the Dead Sea:

1. Buy your favourite Dead sea spa products elsewhere. Prices are much higher here.

2. Better yet, bring your own plastic bag and grab the free mud. Many guests did that.

3. Buy your favourite drinks and snacks before arrival. There is not a single convenience shop around.

4. Do not try the Chinese food at the next door Movenpick hotel. Worst Chinese food ever.

Due to the Dead Sea area being below sea-level, weather in the Dead Sea tend to be warmer than the rest of Jordan. Even then, the December weather was a bit chilly to be hanging out at the pool or lounges. I could only afford to spend a short time dipping in the Dead Sea to avoid catching a cold.

You can thus get a bit bored. If you do get bored, you can also do some hotel hopping by asking the front desk to arrange to drop you off at the other nearby hotels.

The Marriott Resort is a large, clean and comfortable hotel. However, I also find it a relatively sterile hotel, where staff seems to lack the smile factor and where chatting between staff seems to be more interesting than serving guests. You can’t go wrong by staying at a Marriott hotel. However, do not expect anything outstanding, not at this branch.

Address of hotel: Dead Sea Road, Sweimeh, Jordan

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Review of Six Senses Spa, Ma’In, Jordan

The Six Senses Spa is located just a couple of minutes drive from the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs hotel within the same resort compound. You can choose to take a leisurely 5 minutes walk from the hotel or take a short drive using the complimentary electrical buggy or car from the hotel.

Along the way to the Six Senses Spa, you can see vegetable farms with herbs, vegetable and fruits in various stages of bloom. There are also various hot streams and waterfalls along the way.


The Six Sense Spa is a short walk from Evason Hotel


The Six Sense Spa is located in a natural ravine –
note the natural waterfall on the right of the picture.


Entrance to the Spa

The Six Senses Spa is a stand-alone villa compound housing a reception area, a hot waterfall lounge area, 2 levels of massage rooms and a spa facilities room. Walking into the reception area, there are shelves displaying Dead Sea spa products and an over-size round sofa fronting the reception area.

The receptionist on duty was a Gentleman and he took us for a tour of the spa despite being after their operating hours when we arrived at the spa.

The Six Senses Spa in Jordan is indeed unique. The Spa compound is built around it’s key attraction; a natural hot spring waterfall and a main hot spring water pool. There is even a very unusual cave sauna, heated by very hot spring water, right beside the waterfall! It’s natural, unique and amazing.

Just swimming in the heated pool and listening to the continuous waterfall is guaranteed to take away whatever urban stress and worries that you may be having!


Just being able to rest and relax beneath the
hot spring waterfall is worth all the money in the world!


Another view of the waterfall and hot pool


Check out the waterfall temperature

I understand that the Six Senses’ commitment was SLOW – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome Learning.  It is their commitment to utilize local ingredients as much as possible. So the treatments offered by the Six Senses Spa focus on their therapeutic properties of the mineral-rich waters, offering healing mineral and deep sea therapies combined with Asian and Six Senses signature treatments to ensure pampering in the hands of their trained Six Senses Spa therapists. Treatment prices are not cheap but considered reasonable for a brand name like Six Senses.

There are two types of Spa Menu offered by Six Senses Spa.  One is the SLOW menu where local ingredients were used and the other is the familiar menu of Six Senses treatments common throughout the Six Senses group.

There are about 10 treatment rooms in total on two separate floors to distinguish male & female due to Jordan being an Islamic country.  On the ground floor where the heated water fall pool is the changing room and spa facilities for male and on 1st level is the changing and spa facilities room for ladies.

In the changing room, there is a sauna, steam room, relaxing area as well as shower facilities. In the middle of the building, there is a outdoor sitting lounge where guests could sit, relax and enjoy the sound make by constant flow of hot spring waterfall. Self serviced cold and hot drinking beverages were placed in a booth besides the rest area.


The large and private massage treatment room


The colourful rest area

Hotel guests could use the Spa facilities with a fee of 15 JOD(@US$19) but the fee is waived if a massage of at least 60 mins is being booked. We booked our massage treatments for the next day and were offered free use of the spa facilities for 2 days.

My treatment was a 90 minutes Holistic Massage which is a combination of Swedish and Shaitsu full body massage that also include a face and scalp massage by a Thai therapist.  As usual, with a Thai therapist, you will never go wrong with their skill and as always, be welcomed with their friendly smile.

After our Spa treatments, we relaxed with a hot cup of ginger tea, dried fruit and nuts beside the hot pool. You may spend the whole day there – soak in the hot pool, have a massage and relax by the waterfall.

There is no doubt that any spa and massage treatment with the Six Senses Spa is definitely not a cheap endeavour. But then again, where else in the world can you have a massage and relax beside a natural hot spring pool and waterfall? Not many – so, banish the dollar and cents from your mind and you’ll naturally feel relaxed, at-ease and cleansed of all urban stress by spending a day at this Spa.

Location of Spa:
P.O. Box 801 Madaba, 11117 Ma’In, Jordan

Size of Spa: Many rooms within a 2-storey spa compound
Facilities: Large private massage room with toilet. Common hot pool, spa and rest area

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: 1 hour massage starts at US$75. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards.

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Review: Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel, Jordan

A trip to Jordan in the Middle East was my last holiday destination for Year 2010. My travel Itinerary in Jordan was: Madaba, Petra, Ma’in and Dead Sea. I would like to share my experience with Evason Ma’In Springs Hotel & Six Senses Spa.

The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel & Six Senses Spa is located near Madaba, Jordan. The hotel is actually 264 metres below sea level and the drive down the ravine to reach the hotel, which took almost 30 minutes, was worth it as the view along the drive was magnificent.


Entrance to the hotel


The hotel is surrounded by hills and waterfalls


Quick introduction to the hotel

Upon arrival at the hotel entrance, we walked through the security checks and were led to the reception counter for check in. We were served with cups of cold hibiscus tea. The decor of the hotel is rustic Arabian and you’ll find large over-size colourful cushions, Indian cotton curtain, wooden floor and furniture, over-size Arabian lantern, Arabian carpets, beige tone walls and high ceilings.

I was quite surprised that the guest services were not very friendly (no smile). Not sure if it was because they were all males or if it was because we are Asian. No welcoming feeling at all which I did not expect from a 5 stars luxury hotel chain like Evason (Six Sense).

We were led to our room, the Evason Room. Yes indeed the room setup was very nice and thoughtful. The room cane complete with an Ipod dock, a Bose sound system, a 32″ flat screen television that swivels so that you can watch television from anywhere in the room, a writing table, sofa set, separate shower & bathtub (dead sea salt was placed on the bathtub area which I think it was a wonderful gesture) and of course not forgetting the beautiful mountain view just outside the balcony.


The cozy bedroom


The TV and just below it is a Bose iPod Sound System


The bathroom


Take a peep at the view outside the room

There is a library at the lobby with books, iPods and DVD movies to borrow. Scattered around were jars of cookies on the tables and best of all, the library was opened 24 hours and there were 2 computers with free internet which I think it was a huge perk for guests to use.

The wine cellar has a wide collection of wine and you can arrange for a private wine-tasting session. Breakfast spread was wide. The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs resort emphaize a lot on organic and healthy lifestyle. Most of the fruits, vegetables and spices used in the hotel were from the hotel’s own plantation or from nearby organic farms.

Breakfast was special as the restaurant is located with a wonderful view of a nearby waterfall. The weather was too cold to sit outside the veranda so we chose indoor seating. The breakfast spread was superb and there were many live cooking counters instead of the usual sole egg and omelet counter. I especially like the way food was displayed which was an art by itself. So different from most typical hotel breakfast display.


Have your breakfast with this view


Breakfast is a visual treat of presentation and colour


Stylish display of eggs


Milk bottles


Colourful Juice bottles


How about some really fresh honey!

The surrounding view of the resort in the day was amazing as the resort is below sea level and is surrounded by rough rock terrain and criss-crossed by small and large hot waterfalls and streams. You feel so at calm with nature at this resort.

Jordan at this time of the year was supposed to be rainy and even snowy but we were lucky to have good weather throughout. The sun was shining and all we needed was a long sleeve sweater to move around.

However, the flies are indeed a nuisance, it’s everywhere. We also found a couple of cats wandering around the restaurants which I feel is unacceptable especially since they were even allowed to climb onto chairs, dining tables and eating utensils!

Upon checkout, the cashier couldn’t get their credit card machine to work and we were asked to sign a credit charge authorization form. They then made a photocopy of our credit card without prior informing us. We stopped them and demanded them to thrash away the copy. This is so unprofessional.


Will we be back? I think so

In conclusion, it is definitely a very good hotel in a fantastic setting and it is very isolated and quiet which is perfect to relax and recharge. The resort is definitely not a cheap place to stay but it is worth it.

The other attraction of this hotel is the superb Six Sense Spa. (More in a later review)

Word of advice; make the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel your last destination to end your Jordan trip. You’ll probably have a tiring trip after all the climbing and exploration of Petra and Wadi Rum and so to end and relax off at this resort will be the perfect way to end your travel into Jordan.

Address of hotel: P.O. Box 801 Madaba, 11117 Ma’In, Jordan

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BeiTou hotspring area, Taipei, Taiwan

I had planned to spend a leisurely 2 days in the Wulau Hotspring area on my last visit to Taipei, Taiwan. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side as my visit was disrupted by Typhoon Fanapi, which caused 2 deaths, hundreds of injuries and millions worth of damage to property and farmland across Taiwan.

Although the drive to Wulai was only 1 hour from Taipei, I was advised against visiting it as the drive was mostly through mountainous road, which was prone to landslide and avalanches, whenever there was a typhoon. I had no choice but to sit out the trip by staying in my hotel room as Typhoon Fanapi lashes across Taiwan. Luckily, the hotel at Wulai was gracious enough to provide a refund.

The typhoon died down considerably the next day. It was alright to move about but I was still advised against going to the mountains. Instead, I decided to visit the Beitou Hotspring area, which is within the suburbs of Taipei and did not involve driving across mountain road. In fact, the Taipei subway system will bring you right to the foot of the Beitou hotspring area.


A natural hot pool at Beitou. Note the steam rising from the water


Signboard points to yet another hot spring


An old communal hotspring bathhouse from the Japanese occupation era
– it’s still operational and open to for public use

Beitou is a historical hotspring area which was first visited and popularised by the occupying Japanese at the start of the last century. In fact, several Japanese style public hotspring bathhouses and wooden inns remain to this very day.

Today, Beitou is popular with locals and tourist alike. Locals tend to come over the weekend for a short break while most tourists may stay a day or two. The entire Beitou area has the feel of a tourist resort with fast food joints, hotels and restaurants dotting the area.

Beitou is also the gateway to YangMingShan, which is a Taiwan National Park.

You will get a cluster of hotels that offer hotspring at the foot of Beitou; about 200m after you get off the sub-way station. Most of the hotels here are relatively inexpensive; I was even quoted less than 50USD per night. Of course, this was during the summer months on a week day. I hear that prices shoot up over the winter months especially over the weekend.

These hotels are relative clean and neat. Most will offer hot spring water in the bathroom and some hotels will also have communal hotspring pools. Also, some will offer private hotspring rooms for 3 hours for day visitors. The hotspring water come from underground all around Beitou and you can see these hotsprings simply by walking around.


Even the subway station is designed with a hotspring theme


Signboard points to the various area of interest outside the subway station

As you go up the Beitou steep and narrow road uphill, you will come across more hotspring hotels. In fact, the higher you climb, the more expensive and ‘exotic’ are the class of hotels.

The roads are too small and steep if you are carrying luggage. You should pre-book your hotel and arrange for hotel transport or get a taxi to pick you up at the subway station. If you visit during off-peak season, you can shop around for your hotels but it is best to pre-book during peak periods.

The entire Beitou area is a tourist area. Visitors will find plenty to do or nothing to do at all times. I was told that many couples and families spend their entire time at the hotels; either at the hotspring bath in the privacy of their rooms or the communal hotspring in their hotel; if there is one. This is followed by a sumptuous meal at the hotel restaurant; after all, people come to Beitou to relax, rejuvenate and re-charge.

On the other hand, you have the entire YangMingShan to explore if you are so inclined to wake up early and join the numbers of morning strollers, joggers and cyclists. Many local residents will climb early to enjoy the cool morning breeze and catch the morning sunrise.


Steam from a hot spring fault on the way to YangMingShan @6am


The entire mountain area is dotted with
geothermal faults that spout hot steam all the time


You can’t get lost; there are signboards all over


Spectacular view from the near peak

I woke at 5am to walk up YangMingShan. It is not really steep and there is a spectacular view as you climb higher. Steam from various geothermal faults dot the climb and equally early strollers and joggers greet you as you pass them by. Even as a first time visitor, I was not afraid of getting lost as there were signboards all over the hills.

However, I was no where near the peak even after climbing an hour or two. It was then that I noticed that there were small buses going uphill and I decided to catch one. It was a long drive and even then, the bus only reached and terminated somewhere at the middle of the peak. It was good enough for me as it offered some spectacular photography opportunities.

The climb downhill was relatively easy. In my haste to rush back to my hotel for breakfast, I took a wrong bus and ended up at the subway station. No problem; I just retraced my steps back to my hotel.

I may have lost the opportunity to visit Wulai but Beitou was certainly not a poor substitute. I had the opportunity to enjoy hot spring water bath, a climb up an interesting mountain area and wonderful photographic opportunities.

All in, a great holiday indeed! I will be back.

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News: Man dies in final of sauna championships

Suana
Pix credit: Reuters: Sari Gustafsson/Lethikuva

A Russian man died in the finals of the world sauna championships in Finland after spending some six minutes sweltering in temperatures of 110 degrees Celsius (230.00F), organizers said Sunday.

“After this incident we decided that this game is over and done,” Saija Jappinen, cultural secretary at Heinola city told Reuters, announcing the end of the event.

The world sauna championships, where competitors try to outlast others in the heat and steam, have been held 12 times in Heinola, some 138 km (86 miles) northeast of Finland’s capital Helsinki.

Dozens of competitors were whittled down to just two, but six minutes into the final judges noticed something was wrong with Russian champion Vladimir Lazyzhenskiy and dragged him and Finnish finalist Timo Kaukonen from the sauna.

Police are investigating the cause of Lazyzhenskiy’s death.

Kaukonen was treated for burns in hospital.

Article Credit: www.reuters.com

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Review: Le Zhu Tang, Xiamen, China

There must be literally hundreds of foot reflexology shops in Xiamen, ranging from small 4 person palours in small shops, all the way to establishments that employ hundreds of foot masseurs with their own building.

Whenever I am in Xiamen, I will visit one, both to relax and to get my regular dose of foot massage. I’m always spoil for choice amongst the hundreds of foot reflexology palours in Xiamen and I normally visit one that is near to my hotel. My last visit was to Le Zhu Tang, literally translated as Happy Feet Hall, which is just adjacent along a busy street where I was staying.


Front entrance to Le Zhu Tang

It was my last day in Xiamen and I should be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours. I normally spend the remaining time in a foot massage palour to kill time, relax my tired feet as well as get some free food.

We chose a 1-hour session as we wanted to have more time to have lunch. We were lead to a private room that had 3 massage chairs, a LCD TV and an en-suite toilet/shower. There were two of us but typically in Xiamen, you’ll be given such a private room even if you were to visit alone.

The massage routine was similar to other reflexology palours I had been to in Xiamen. The usual routine consist of a hot water foot wash, the actual foot massage, a short, quick back and shoulder massage and a hot towel wrap of the feet and leg.


The private room we were in; complete with LCD TV and toilet


The masseur use fire to sanitize the massage rod

Once the foot massage was over, we had a choice of relaxing in the room or have lunch at the cafe. (Most other palours serve food to your room; for Le Zhu Tang, you have to go to a cafe).

The cafe was not packed as we were there during a lull period. Unfortunately, the choice of food was also minimal for the exact same reason. We had local porridge, a specially cooked noodle dish as well as some juices.

Some of the other larger places I had visited in Xiamen had double-boiled herbal soup, bento sets, dim sum, dessert and other delicacies. In comparison, Le Zhu Tang seem to fail in the food and beverage department if compared to other similar establishments in Xiamen.

It was soon time to leave for the airport. We paid up, said our goodbyes to the cafe ladies and was soon out to the hustle and bustle of Xiamen streets.

While Le Zhu Tang has good number of rooms, they are not the biggest or the swankiest in Xiamen I had been to. Their massage and service standard are average and so is their price of RMB75(US$12) for an hour of foot massage.

Will I come back again? I guess not; not when there are hundreds of other similar places I can visit in Xiamen, many of which are newer, bigger and swankier for the same price.

Location of Spa:
Jiahe Road, Xiamen, China

Size of Spa: Many rooms within a 2-storey shophouse
Facilities: Private room with LCD TV and en-suite toilet and shower. Common cafe area

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: 1 hour foot massage starts at US$12. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards.

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