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


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.


Review: Spring City Hotel, Beitou, Taipei

There are a number of hotels in Beitou, the popular hotspring destination on the northern outskirt of Taipei. These hotels range from wooden inns from the Japanese occupation era to modern glass and steel modern hotels. However, most hotels seem to have been around for a number of years and are mostly of the 3-4 stars category.

I stayed at the Spring City Hotel when I was in Beitou recently. Again, I took the recommendation off the internet which mostly gave it favourable reviews and put it as a 4+ star hotspring hotel.

The Spring City hotel is located nearly a km up the narrow Beitou hills. It is too far to walk and you’ll need to wait for the hourly shuttle bus at the subway or hail a taxi. I took a taxi up to the hotel.

The Spring City hotel entrance

The hotel has a modern facade

The hotel certainly look like a better class hotel compared to the other hotels at Beitou. However, at the time that I check-in, there was a horde of guided tourists who were waiting to check out, making the small reception area seems chaotic and noisy. (Over the next 2 days, I realised that the majority of guests in the hotel are mostly from Hong Kong and mainland China).

The rooms are spacious and offer a tea-drinking table and hot spring water piped directly to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, the rooms do not offer good views of the surrounding hills which was a big disappointment given it’s uphill location.

The hotel also offer a Japanese and Taiwanese restaurant as well as a gym, a spa, a swimming pool and a hot spring communal pool area. However, the gym and swimming pool were under maintenance during the period that I was there.

I was tired and late in checking into the hotel and was glad to soak in my personal  hotspring pool at the bathroom. Most, if not all hotels in Beitou has hotspring water piped to their bathrooms – do note that hot spring water in Beitou has a slight sulfuric smell. I also wanted an early night as I wanted to wake up early to catch the sunrise at YangMingShan the next morning. (See earlier article)

A tea drinking corner is available in each room

Hotspring water is supplied to each bathroom

The next morning, I spend several hours climbing up the hills and had a wonderful time taking photographs. I came back for breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast is modest with more Taiwanese choices than international dishes. International tourists who are expecting a sumptuous international breakfast spread may be a little disappointed.

I rested a little while before hitting the communal hotspring area. This is a little garden area that had several whirl pools, still pools, showers and rest area supplied with hot spring water.

Just tell the reception that you are a guest and you’ll be supplied with a basket containing shower caps, towels and slippers. Day visitors who are not hotel guests will need to pay a fee to use the facilities.

Nothing beats soaking in the various hotspring pools with the mountains in the foreground. A massage spa is available just across the road and what better finale than to finish the hotspring visit with a massage. Unfortunately, my time schedule did not allow me to do that.

The communal hotspring area

Various hotspring facilities set amongst lush greenery

I love standing under the hotspring waterfall

I checked out from the hotel and took the hotel shuttle to the subway station. From there, it was a train and airport bus trip to the airport and home.

Will I stay at the Spring City hotel again for my next visit?

I doubt so. The hotel price is steep compared to many other hotels available in Beitou. I had mistakenly thought that hotels higher up the hills would offer a better view and hence was prepared to pay the premium. Not exactly an accurate assumption!

There was absolutely no view at the hotel. The view was much better only when I climbed YangMingShan. I could have stayed at a much cheaper hotel and climb YangMingShan if I wanted the view. The hotels at lower Beitou were also nearer to restaurants, amenities, subway station and guests did not need to depend on the hotel shuttle to get around.

Otherwise, I think the hotel is decent and in fact, I would recommend this hotel if you are bringing children or older folks as I’m sure they would enjoy the various convenient hot and cold pool facilities. (I find it heartwarming to see many mother-daughter couple enjoying the hot springs – seems to be a perfect mother-daughter bonding kind of activity)

If you’re an independent adult, try the cheaper options at the base of the hills and spend the extra money on good food or a massage!


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.


Review: Tango Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan and Thailand remain my favourite countries for hot spring and massage holidays respectively. Of course, both countries are also well known to be great food and shopping destinations as well.

I was in Taipei, Taiwan recently to visit Wulai – a well known and popular hot spring destination near Taipei. I spent a few days in Taipei and stayed at the Tango Hotel. Just in case you’re interested in visiting Taipei, this is a good hotel you can stay while in Taipei.

Tango Hotel room

Tango is a boutique hotel chain with hotels in various parts of Taiwan. I stayed in the Tango, Xinyi branch in Taipei for this visit.

I’ve never stayed at the Tango hotel previously in my visits to Taipei. However, I decided to check out this hotel for this trip based solely on hotel recommendations and reviews from the internet. I’m glad to report that the recommendation was generally spot-on and I have no regret choosing this hotel.

Firstly, the hotel was offering a birthday special package. For anyone showing proof that they are staying during the month of their birthday, one can get a ice cream/fruit plate, free laundry (socks and undergarments only) and a special 2 day stay package.

Breakfast is included with the stay although if you’re used to sumptuous hotel buffet breakfast, you’ll find the breakfast here weak. Breakfast choice changes daily but are typically 4-5 Taiwanese porridge choices and 2-3 western bread and fruit choices. Supper is also served on Fridays and Saturdays but are very similar to the breakfast choices.

The geographical location of the hotel is also good especially if you need to visit Taipei 101 – which is a short 5 min taxi ride away. Alternatively, you can take the sub-way, which is a 3 min walk from the hotel. The subway system in Taipei is fast, convenient and serve a comprehensive section of Taipei. The nearest subway station to the hotel is known as the YongChun station.

Guest reception and service at the hotel is also good – as is typical of service oriented Taiwan. Guests are always greeted cordially and service is always prompt and unobtrusive. The hotel is too small for tour groups but apparently enjoy a good international reputation – I can see and hear guests that are from all corners of the globe.

There are 3 LCD TVs in the suite

There’s even an indoor garden in the bathroom

There’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom; with it’s own LCD TV of course

What differ this hotel from most other is the design of the guests rooms. I will hesitate to describe it as avante garde but it is definitely modernistic clean-cut design.

We had been upgraded to a suite because of the birthday package. The suite is not big as far as suites go but it had a separate work area, 3 LCD TVS, a jacuzzi and a hi-fi system. I’ve never seen so many TVs in a hotel room. There was even a TV in the toilet area!

The other interesting aspect of the room is the bathroom area. It is almost as big as the bedroom and is separated by a sliding glass door. There is a jacuzzi, a TV, a rain shower and even an indoor garden.

What was lacking in the room is a window. You are absolutely boxed in and there are no windows to let in any natural light. The entire room and corridor tend to be darkly lit as a result and I suspect the lighting was also designed to be dim.

There is also no light or AC switches in the guest room and everything is controlled via a remote control box. I had read in reviews that many guests had problem figuring it out but we had absolutely no problem with it.

I had also read in reviews that there were many shops and eating places near the hotel. I was disappointed that this was not true; most shops were catering to the local residents and were closed over the weekend. Other than a couple of high-end restaurants, there were only a McDonald and Starbucks nearby. Obviously, the reviews must have been written by Westerners who consider McDonald and Starbucks as ‘food’ places.

All in, I am satisfied with this hotel and will not hesitate to recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei, Taiwan.

Location of hotel:
297, ZhongXiao East Road, Section 5, Taipei 110, Taiwan


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.


Beauty, spa and wellness trade show


Are you a professional in the spa and wellness industry? Or a very curious onlooker?

Well, you’ll be glad that a trade exhibition for the spa and wellness industry will be held in Singapore soon. Beauty and wellness trade visitors can check out the spa and wellness industry in Singapore and Asia at the Intimate World Asia from 15 – 16 July, 2010.

The two days will see fashion, spa and beauty industry players and operators search for potential trade and partnership opportunities. Members of local Singapore Spa associations as well as neighbouring spa associations can take part in networking sessions, seminars and product presentations and future entrepreneurs can pick up a tip or two about the industry and increase their product knowledge.

Intimate World Asia also incorporates Health & Alternative Asia where health products and services like organic food and supplements are showcased. Traditional remedies and alternative treatments like addiction and holistic treatments are also offered in this Trade show.

The exhibition will be from 15 – 16 July 2010, Hall B at the MBSS from 10am to 6pm


Review: RI-Star Spa, Xiamen, China

We know that China has taken the capitalistic route for a long time and is on it’s way to becoming a rich country. We can see the rich and famous spending serious money on all sorts of luxurious items – cars, fashion, food, housing, entertainment…. and high-end spas.

I was in Xiamen, China recently and had the chance to catch a taste how the noveau and rich live in China – by visiting one of their most upmarket spa.

I had been in Xiamen before and really enjoyed visiting Riyuegu – an open air hotspring resort out in the countryside. This time, I did not have the luxury of time and will need to make do with a visit to a spa within Xiamen itself.

There are many foot reflexology places in Xiamen and I have been to their hotel spas previously. This time round, I wanted to go where the locals go and not where tourists will go. I ask my hotel concierge to direct me to an upmarket spa where the rich and famous in Xiamen will go. He promptly recommended that I try the RI-Star spa. (The spa is pronounced as Li-Jing in Chinese).

The taxi driver had difficulty bringing me to the spa. Not a good sign that this is a famous upmarket spa in Xiamen – not when a taxi driver is not aware of it’s existence.

Eventually, we found the spa. Or should we say the building… because the spa occupies it’s own building. No doubt it’s a small building and located in a side-street but the entrance to the building tells you it’s a place to be reckoned with.

The entrance and lobby reeks of opulence. You can feel that it is different from other spas. This was confirmed by the price list – everything are priced at least 2 to 3 times that you’ll need to pay at most good quality spas in China – and matches the price of upmarket spas in Singapore. Even the entrance price to the spa – without any treatment thrown in – cost a hefty US$20.

I decided to check out it’s grandiosity.

There are separate spa entrance for male and female. Once past the entrance, attendants jump to attention to serve you from clothes changing to showing you to the showers to pouring cups of tea. By the way, the changing area is where an offer was made to wash and dry my socks… and where the impression scale begin to take off!

Once past the changing area, you enter the wet area which includes cold and hot pool, steam and sauna rooms, a small lap pool and in the middle of it all – a live aquarium and food area.

It was obvious that the spa is not brand new but was definitely opulent when it first opened and despite it’s age, attained a certain level of class. (I later found out that the spa is more than 12 years old but still remain as one of Xiamen’s highest-end spa).

I used the facilities and then hit the shower. Unlike most spa which kept one or two choices, you had a whole selection of brands of shampoo, cleanser, tooth-paste and even facial scrubs and toners to choose from. The towels are soft and fluffy – closer to hotel towels then the typical thin towels you find in spas.

Massage at Phuket airport departure lounges
The Wet Area

Massage at Phuket airport departure lounges
The food and rest area

This was the first time I see food and drinks served in a wet area. As soon as I sat down, I was offered a choice of tonic soups and a selection of local delicacies including steamed sweet potatos, stewed eggs and oyster noodles. I tried all of them and they were delicious.

I was then lead to a 2nd level where the massage treatment area were.

Each treatment room has a TV… not that I would want to watch TV during a massage. I had opted for a 1 1/2 hour Royal Jade massage; which is very much like a hot stone massage that you may find in Japan or Thailand. However, instead of hot stone, heated Jade were used, which the Chinese believe to have detoxification and medicinal effects.

I never had a hot stone (or Jade) massage before; believing it to be a gimmick and also because it tends to cost a premium. I’m glad I did try it this time because the effect of hot jade on the body does have a therapeutic effect you may not get from other forms of treatment.

After a very satisfying massage, I was lead to the rest and food area. I had complimentary fruit juice and Chinese dinner. The dinner was very satisfying with attendants again on full alert to my every move and request. In most other places, you need to stand up, wave your hand or look around for an attendant to come to you. Here, a mere look upwards mean an attendant will appear at your side!

You can then choose to relax in one of the soft sofa available, watch TV or listen to the live performance of a Chinese Pipa performer. (Pipa is an ancient Chinese musical instrument – and yes, it’s a live performance). Or choose to smoke a complimentary cigarette or cigar. This is also the area where you can mix with your partners – if you are visiting with members of the opposite sex.

At this point, a guest relation officer approached us, to talk to us about membership schemes. Apparently, this spa sells membership, and membership entitles you to treatment discounts as well as a whole private section area within the spa. Members are also entitled to visits to similar LiJing spas in major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Qingdao, Zhejiang and Hangzhou.

The GRO tells us the spa is known as a CEO spa as apparently, many top CEOs within China are members. The spa chain even publishes it’s own magazine and list major movie and TV celebrities such as Zhang Ziyi and Li Bing Bing as members. Hmmmm…

I decided to check out the audio-visual room where a high-resolution projector was showing a movie. I had a choice of smoking and non-smoking section and again, attentive attendants will set you down comfortably and pour you drinks. I told the attendant I would like to rest and to wake me up an hour later.

An hour later, it was time for me to get up to change to leave.

A quick choice of the varied shampoo and cleanser and a shower later, I was refreshed and ready to hit the streets. I paid at the reception area and was offered a salute from the security guard as I stepped out. This is a special spa indeed.

Will I come back? Yes and No.

Yes, because this is obviously a very special spa with superb facilities, service and massage standards. Despite being a little bit dated and expensive, it’s well worth it.

No, because I simply don’t like that smoking is allowed in both the wet area and rest area. And no, because I am sure there are still many good spas waiting for me to discover in Xiamen and in China.

If you are a first time visitor to Xiamen, go visit Riyuegu. Only then should you choose the RI-Star spa. Have fun!

Location of Spa:
128 DongDu Road, Xiamen 361012, China

Size of Spa: Hugh. Has it’s own 3 storey building
Facilities: Full spa facilities. Wet area, rest area, movie area and private member area.

Friendliness: Extremely Friendly. Extremely attentive.
Pricing: Spa entrance at US$20. Treatment starts from US$65.


Review: Ayuthaya Royal Thai Spa, Singapore

Note: I receive emails from readers and one of the top questions has been: Where is the best Thai massage spa in Singapore? Read this article for your answer…

I’ve been a keen fan of Thai massage for a long time. Once or twice a year, I’ll make a trip to Bangkok or Phuket to indulge in my Thai massage fantasy and have always returned home refreshed and recharged.

What happens when I am too busy to make a trip to Thailand? I look for a local Thai spa that can deliver to the same quality of massage and service as an authentic Thai spa. I’ve checked out quite a few in Singapore and had hesitated to make a recommendation – until I came across Ayuthaya Royal Thai Spa – which matches a good quality spa in Thailand when it comes to ambiance, decor, quality of spa products used and the quality of the masseur.

The Filipino receptionist who picked up my phone call was polite and knowledgeable and we quickly firm up a date for my visit. Ayuthaya Royal Thai Spa has 2 branches; one at Pan Pacific hotel in Marina Square area and the other at Gallery hotel near to Clemenceau Avenue. I decided to visit the Gallery Hotel branch.

Massage at Phuket airport departure lounges
Ayuthaya Royal Thai Spa is located at Gallery Hotel

Gallery Hotel is an interesting avante garde hotel located near to Havelock Road. The spa is located at an annex of the hotel and I was able to find it only upon making a few inquires with the hotel staff. Even then, I ended up entering the spa via it’s back entrance and not the main entrance.

The spa is typically Thai; with lots of Teak furniture, flooring and colourful Thai cushions and curtains. The receptionist informed me that there is an ongoing promotion and I paid less than S$200 for a 45mins body scrub, 1 1/2 hours of Royal Thai massage and 45mins of foot massage.

The spa has about 6 treatment rooms, including 1 couple room. All rooms come with en-suite showers. I was lead to a room and a Thai masseur entered soon and started my session.

The scrub was quite standard. Nothing to shout about. Then the Royal Thai massage session started and my-o-my, this was one of the best Thai massage I had anywhere in the world; be it Thailand or otherwise. The masseur put in 101% effort and her strokes were just out of this world. Definitely a 5-star effort.

It ended all too soon and the foot massage started. Unlike other places, I was able to lie on the bed while the masseur carried on the foot massage. I had forgotten that traditional Thai foot massage uses a stick instead of fingers and it can be quite painful. I had to endure a good 45 minutes of pain as the masseur carried on poking the stick on my foot.

I came out of the room thoroughly refreshed and recharged. The foot massage hurt a bit but pain is always inversely proportionate to the light floating feeling you get after a good foot massage.

I am a cheapskate and there is also no tradition of tipping in Singapore. However, the Thai massage I just had was absolutely wonderful and I ended up giving my masseur a generous tip! That tells you how good it was.

Location of Massage Palor:
1 Nanson Road #02-11 Singapore 238909

Size of Spa: Moderate, with 6 private treatment rooms
Facilities: None

Friendliness: Extremely Friendly
Pricing: Single massage treatment starts from US$45. Combined packages available.


Review: Massage Treatment @ Phuket Airport

What happens when you cannot get enough of Thai massage when leaving Phuket, Thailand? Simple, you get a last minute massage at the Phuket International airport!

Do you know there is a small massage palor at the Phuket Airport?

I just did not have enough of Thai Massage & Foot Reflexology on my last trip in Phuket. Yes, I went to Phuket to get plenty of Thai massage but I got so caught up doing the rest of fun stuff in Phuket that I just did not find time to indulge in Thai massage. Thank goodness I found this palor at the Phuket Airport which ended my short vacation on a high note.

Massage at Phuket airport departure lounges
Massage Palor at Phuket airport departure lounge

This massage palor (I think should be new; wasn’t there on my last trip 2 years ago) offers standard massage treatments like Thai Massage, Foot Reflexology, Manicure and Pedicure. Although their prices are a bit steep compared to outside the airport, it’s still worth the last minute indulgence; especially if you just can’t get enough of Thai massage.  Apparently, many people must have felt that way too; so much so that it’s worth it for the owner to invest in a shop in the departure lounge of the Phuket airport. Rental surely cannot be cheap.

Although the place feels small outside, it is ingeniously designed that it is able to take about 10 customers for foot massage in 2 separate halls and four customers for Thai or aromatherapy massage in small private cubicles just behind the reception area.

When we entered the palor, there were no customers. We chose Thai massage and let the therapists knead our bodies just nicely for the plane journey back home. As usual, Thai masseurs never fail to live up to expectations. It was almost as if Thai ladies have natural genes to provide a good massage anytime.

It did get uncomfortable after a while as more customers entered the palor. You can hear loud customers and screaming children through the thin partition walls of the massage cubicles. So while the massage was good, the noise factor of this place is something to consider if you’re thinking of having a last minute massage.

Overall, this place does have my recommendations if you have plenty of time to kill at the Phuket airport. Or like me, you simply could not get enough of Thai massage or foot massage and need some last minute indulgence!

Location of Massage Palor:
Departure Lounge, Phuket International Airport

Size of Spa: Small, with 3 private treatment rooms and 12 reflexology chairs
Facilities: None

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: Single massage treatment starts from US$15


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