Of the multitude of attractions in Thailand none has captured the imagination of foreigners like its proliferation of spas. In this land of rainforests and golden beaches, the practice of indulging oneself in the luxury of spas goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Bangkok’s Wat Pho Temple, known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, rises near the Grand Palace and is home to the earliest massage school in the country, an open-air pavilion where the bases of all Thai therapies are engraved on a series of tablets illustrating the human energy pathways called “sen.”
Thailand’s most celebrated spa is in Hua Hin, the old fishing port that remains the most traditional of Thai resorts.
Hua Hin’s origins as a seaside retreat began almost a century ago when King Rama VII decreed the village to be a royal getaway on the Gulf of Thailand some 120 miles south of Bangkok and built a palace delightfully named “Far from Worries.”
But one would be remiss to skip a visit to Chiva-Som (chivasom.com), considered by legions of health enthusiasts to be the finest spa in Thailand. In the 15 years of its existence it has consistently placed as one of the top health resorts in the world, with more than 70 luxurious treatment rooms, watsu pools, bathing pavilions, saunas, and 58 plush guestrooms all nestled in eight acres of tropical gardens that seem to spill into the Gulf of Thailand.
Chiva-Som is also a certified medical clinic with a wide-ranging menu of spa and holistic treatments. The Thai herbal massage (about $70) is a delight, combining Thai rubdowns with heated herbal packs that instantly relieve pains while simultaneously detoxifying the body.
An equally legendary Thai spa is Amanpuri (800-477-9180; amanresorts.com), a member of the Aman group of luxury resorts, built on a hill overlooking Pansea Beach on the Gulf of Thailand. There are six outdoor treatment rooms. A spacious black granite steam room is a marvel and the treatments are exceptional. Its shiatsu massages (about $140) rate among the best in Thailand.
In Phuket, the spa at the Banyan Tree Resort (866-822-6926; banyantree.com) offers a 3-hour spa treatment (about $200) that includes a lemon-grass and cucumber rub followed by a Thai massage applied with fragrant herbal pouches highlighted by a bath in an enormous tub filled with water and flowers. The process is preceded by a footbath in a copper tub filled with mint and warm water.
When you stack that type of pampering with the fact that palm trees surround the resort, which is also teeming with frangipani plants and accented with jasmine and orchids, all overlooking a tropical lagoon, you have the makings of a wonderful experience.
Bangkok probably has more spas—ranging from the humble to the sublime—than any city in the world, but the spa at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok (mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/spa) ranks among the best with 10 treatment rooms, herbal steam rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows that open into an orchid garden.
The most popular treatment is the jet-lag massage (about $60), a wondrous experience that relieves tension and stress. But the Thai Body Wrap (about $70) stands out as the piece de resistance. The 2-hour treatment uses milk, white mud, honey, mint, turmeric and tamarind essences to rub into the body creating an unreal feeling of serenity.
Regardless of the treatment and choice, Thai spas are a national treasure sure to delight visitors who want a little indulgence during their vacation.