Wellness centres are reporting a sizeable build-up of male clientele. The BTAP team tries out signature treatments designed for them.

Most still won’t even venture into one without a wife or partner coaxing them to go through the experience as a couple. But thanks to the stress and irregularities of life on the road, the number of male travellers discovering the wonders that massage, aromatic unguents and tranquil surroundings have on a weary persona – even in a short one-hour treatment – is growing noticeably. (Recent industry figures in the US show that 31 percent of customers are men.)

But just because they’re more amenable to pampering doesn’t mean they’re soaking up the spa menu lock, stock and bathtub. Managers of such wellbeing centres have observed that sports massages and deep tissue manipulation remain their best sellers. “They want result-oriented treatments, not too long and complicated, and not to be followed by a myriad of accompanying creams and products,” remark professionals running H²O, the exclusive new male-only preserve of the Emirates Towers in Dubai. While deluxe hotels in general may not have made such a trend-setting investment, their spas definitely do their utmost catering to the particular needs of a male clientele. And recently, members of our BTAP team discovered how.


The Peninsula Spa by ESPA

Part of The Peninsula Hongkong’s three-floor health and fitness facility, this sprawling 1,116-square-metre spa occupies two floors, offering sweeping views of Victoria Harbour from six of its 14 stylish treatment rooms.

Downtime begins the moment you enter the low-lit cherry-wood clad reception area with its audible running water feature, sink into a sofa and accept a mildly scented wet towel. Two private suites – a single and a double – with harbour views can be requested in advance, and incur a surcharge.

After some brief form-filling, changing rooms on pristine fitness floors offer Jacuzzi pools, steam and sauna rooms – but there is little need for the latter as exclusive spa versions are found in the “thermal suite” that awaits anyone who has booked any treatment. The spa allows the visitor to arrive up to an hour beforehand to enjoy scented circular steam rooms, saunas overlooking Victoria Harbour and computer-programmed “lifestyle” showers that offer three different types of water temperature, consistency, aromatherapy oil and accompanying light effects.

Fifty percent of clients here are male and many opt for one of the spa’s six signature treatments (all priced US$256), which all incorporate Eastern and Western ingredients and treatment methods.

One of the most popular for men is called Freedom of Life. Like all signatures and a few other treatments, this begins with a selection of tea, while a sea salt and algae footbath is prepared, in which a fresh ginger exfoliation scrub is administered.

The sound of Tibetan cymbals then denotes the start of the body scrub, massage treatment and an express facial. The cymbals sound again when the one hour and 50 minutes are up. Freedom of Life’s central manipulations employ a lot of stretching through rocking and rotation and a selection of warmed relaxation-blend ESPA oils is utilised.

Another male client favourite is Ayurvedic-inspired Chakra Balancing with Volcanic Stones, performed for the same duration with the same rituals. Key to this treatment, which is the specific placement of heated volcanic stones at vital energy points around the body, as well as their use with the client’s selected ESPA oil in the choice of either a full-body or back-focused massage.

If you cannot de-stress in this spa, with its calm ambience, expertly trained therapists who are keen to demystify and quality ESPA branded products, there is no hope for you. This reviewer had back-to-back appointments either side of the Chakra Balancing with Volcanic Stones, yet became so relaxed that he only just managed to stay awake throughout – but thankfully still remained switched on for the post-massage meeting.

Treatment packages offer value, notably the Weekday Spa Escape, available Monday through Friday, that includes two hours of treatment time, use of spa facilities and swimming pool and an exclusive poolside spa cuisine breakfast or lunch, all for US$192 per person.

Details: ESPA, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hongkong, tel 852 2920 2888. Last appointment 2200. All six signature treatments like Freedom of Life cost US$256.

Andrew Dembina


Spa Botanica

Please try not to go to sleep! With that stern admonition from my editor ringing in my ear, I made an appointment for a signature treatment at Spa Botanica. Spa Botanica is set on Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa and the hotel that runs it, The Sentosa, prides itself on the US$6.3 million it spent on renovating the space. In its very short three-year history, it has won a number of prizes, one for conservation (the buildings used to be a 19th-century army barracks), the Spa of Singapore crystal award at the Spa Asia Wellness Summit in 2005 and Singapore’s Leading Spa Resort award at the 2005 World Travel Awards in London.

I enter the lobby and the calming sound of falling water greets me. A hint of lemongrass lingers in the air. I fill up a form indicating my preferred treatment (I choose something called Tropical Glow). I am then led to the changing room. If you arrive early, you can choose to while away the time soaking in the hot tub, relaxing in the float pool, getting a mud bath or doing a few laps in the midnight-blue lap pool. I float briefly and then decide to do a few laps.

The spa has 15 indoor rooms and six outdoor pavilions. As it bills itself as Singapore’s only garden spa, I’ve chosen the outdoor pavilion to make the most of the unique experience here. Ramita, a petite Thai woman, greets me and leads me to my pavilion. I go through a wooden door and enter a quiet courtyard. Once I enter the pavilion, the rest of world seems to disappear, replaced by azure skies, brilliant orchids and some vaguely hypnotic new-age music. In the centre of the pavilion is what looks like a Balinese hut. In the verandah are two massage tables, where most of the treatments take place.

Tropical Glow starts with a jasmine-coriander scrub from neck to toe. For 45 minutes, Ramita applies the scrub. This is followed by a 15-minute Vichy shower. You go to the other side of the hut, lie on a table and a shower arm with seven different nozzles swings slowly over your body, the spray from the seven different nozzles cascading down your back. The showers have the dual effect of washing off the coriander paste and relaxing you at the same time. To pass the time, I chat with Ramita about Thaksin and Thai politics, but I am eventually silenced by the warm spray.

After the shower is the papaya wrap. A poultice of clay and papaya is slapped on me and I am literally wrapped in some kind of paper. Here I must confess, I failed in my mission. The lethal combination of warm afternoon, new-age music, trickling water, brilliant sunshine and relaxing scalp massage lulls me to sleep.

But only for a while, I swear. A nap really. Barely 20 winks. Ramita wakes me up with a start to begin my facial and aloe mask. I can get used to this.

Too soon, the wrap and facial is over. I stumble off to the shower stall to wash off the papaya pulp. I rinse off and return to the massage table. I lie on my back expecting a relaxing massage. Instead, Ramita begins walking on her knees and elbows on my back. It’s not a feeling you forget. I grit my teeth and manfully bare this. This is what happens when you tick “hard massage” on the form you fill at the reception counter. Thankfully, she is soon off my back. I heave a sigh of relief. However, it is only a brief respite.

Ramita begins kneading my feet and calves like they are merely plasticine. I develop a newfound respect for Ramita. She might look like an ordinary woman, but she has the strength of 10 dock workers. I whimper and ask that she turn down the dial on the power. She does and the massage becomes actually enjoyable.

Ramita later explains that if I had chosen the gentle or medium massage, I would have gotten a Swedish massage with lots of kneading with no elbows and soft thumbs. By choosing the hard massage, I get a mixture of east and west, a bit of Swedish massage combined with a Chinese massage known as tui-na involving much kneading, elbows and thumbs. I recommend that you only go for the hard massage if you’re a masochist.

Finally, after three hours, my Tropical Glow has ended. It is now 1830. I decide to prolong my enforced holiday by reading a book by the float pool. I watch the sun set amidst the honking of peacocks and the screech of macaws. As I nod off again, I recall the lines of the poem by Robert Browning: The lark’s on the wing/The snail’s on the thorn/God is in His heaven/All’s right with the world!

Details: Spa Botanica, 2 Bukit Manis Road, Sentosa, Singapore 099891, tel 65 6371 1318, www.spabotanica.com. Last appointment 2230. Tropical Glow costs US$190 for single and US$354 for a couple.

Jimmy Yap


H2O – The Male Spa at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers

You can usually be assured of fair service from a spa in Dubai, but even with that in mind, my expectations were exceeded at the new H2O male-only oasis at Emirates Towers. From the moment one steps through its doors and into the contemporary space, he is treated like a king (or sheikh in this desert context).

Offering a menu of more than 30 treatments designed to dispel tensions that offen accumulate after a long-haul journey and days in different time zones, it’s the ideal place for travellers to spend an hour or two de-stressing and restoring energy levels. Attention to detail and raising the bar on luxury and service are all part of the day’s routine. A variety of massage, facials, foot reflexology and other hand and foot treatments, as well as waxing are available.

To ”get away from it all”, I opted for the one-hour Bali massage, complete with the sounds of tropical birds cooing in the background – which really did add to the feeling of being somewhere exotic. With just the right amount of pressure exerted by my therapist, this was my kind of massage. I felt relaxed as soon as the treatment started and my aches, pains and stress were soon soothed away.

After treatments, guests are invited to linger and use the various facilities such as the Oxygen Lounge for an invigorating dose of pure oxygen or the Cosmos active massage chairs, which work on tired muscles employing 47 different ways of massage and the Flotation Pool that allows you to spend an hour in complete privacy, bobbing in warm salt water with relaxing music playing in the background. It is said that the total relaxation gained through this therapy is equivalent to eight hours of sleep.

H2O focuses on getting the balance right between fast and result-orientated treatments and providing relaxation and revitalisation in a short time. The Express 25-minute treatments are ideal for businessmen on the go. (Majority of Emirates Towers’ guests are men.) I was most impressed with the spa’s passion for details. The balance between relaxation and efficient delivery of treatment as part of the overall experience was excellent.

Details: H2O – The Male Spa, PO Box 72127, Dubai, UAE, tel 971 4 330 0000, www.jumeirah.com. Last appointment 1930. Balinese Massage costs US$86.

Mark Roach


i.sawan Residential Spa & Club, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

The Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok invested a “significant” amount of money to completely redevelop its fifth floor into the i.sawan Residential Spa & Club that’s set among lush tropical gardens and on the same level as the hotel’s swimming pool.

The new concept also includes six stand-alone spa cottages offering overnight stays specifically designed for hideaway spa retreats. These cottages have their own treatment rooms and wonderful bathrooms to relax and rejuvenate in. There is also a spacious bedroom and living area.

When arriving for a spa treatment, guests are taken through the gardens to check in to their cottage with their own private spa treatment professional on call at all times. Mine was already waiting in the treatment room for my arrival. A stay in a spa cottage also comes with a healthy breakfast and various discounts on all spa treatments. Also, part of the spa precinct on the hotel’s fifth floor, are separate nail and hair salons, a fully equipped gym and a chic juice bar.

My spa concierge (who met me at the lift) and I decided I needed the Man Space signature facial for men on the go. After I had checked into my spa cottage and taken a wonderfully relaxing shower, Khun A was waiting for me in my private treatment room and went to work with a deep cleansing scrub, followed by a facial massage with creams for hydrating and anti-aging.

It was a most relaxing experience and to be able to receive it in a perfectly quiet environment atop one of the busiest intersections in Bangkok (with some excellently selected and chill-out tunes on the in-room iPod) was a surreal experience. After the treatment, I was served tea and left alone to convalesce in the cottage and being a Friday afternoon, it was a great way to ease into the weekend.

After I left the cottage, the first thing I felt like doing was turning around and going straight back to have a sleep in the room. From the moment I walked onto the fifth floor of the hotel, it was like being in another world and certainly nothing like Bangkok on a busy Friday afternoon. Khun A was excellent right throughout the treatment and went to great lengths to explain the individual components of the treatment. I had a blissful rest that night. I am already planning my next visit to i.sawan!

Details: Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, 94 Rajdamri Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand, tel 66 2 254 6310, www.bangkok.grand.hyatt.com. Last appointment 2100.

My Man Space treatment was US$71 and an overnight stay in a Spa Cottage starts from US$525 for single occupancy with an array of free extras including a massage treatment and evening cocktails.

Mark Armsden


I Spa, InterContinental Financial Street

There is no need to ask for directions when I get off the elevator on the sixth floor of the new InterContinental Hotel in Beijing. I let my nose lead the way to the I Spa, lured by the enticing smell of exotic oils and soothing skin creams that permeate the floor.

The receptionist pulls out a brochure listing the various treatments, and each sounds terribly enticing. There’s Wellness, Revival and Rejuvenation, each with different pampering qualities. Intriguing are the Anti-Oxidant Tea Tree Body Polish, Aromatherapy Body Salt Glow, and Herbal Mud & Moor Body Wrap.

The more traditional offerings include Aromatherapy, Traditional Chinese, Shiatsu, and Foot Reflexology, currently the rage in Beijing. I opt for the InterContinental, a 95-minute treatment that the brochure describes as “the ultimate antidote for stressed bodies”, a combination of traditional Chinese massage with Western aromatherapy techniques.

A tray holding five small brown porcelain jars is placed in front of me. They contain exotic massage oils produced by Jurlique, an Australian company. The receptionist explains that the ladies prefer rose, and that lavender is good for relaxing in the evening, while birch arnica relieves tension in the shoulder and neck (perfect for people like me who sit at the computer all day) and sandalwood is for dry skin and dry cough (both are common in Beijing).

She lifts the green top of each jar one by one so I can smell the contents. I choose lemon, which is light and good for relieving tension during the day.

Next, she pulls out eight spa music CDs, especially designed to put one in a relaxed mood. The choices include Serenity, Bliss, Freedom, Peace and Tranquility. Then come three small porcelain trays with samples of Chinese tea leaves – so many decisions to make – chamomile, dry rose and green tea.

Soon, I’m ushered into the Intellect room, the most luxurious of 10 massage rooms at I Spa, complete with individual shower and a huge bath tub/Jacuzzi with numerous jet sprays. The lighting is subdued, and several pleasantly-scented candles and fresh-cut flowers are placed around the bathtub. My lemon oil and pot of hot rose tea are there waiting, and the CD I’ve picked is playing in the background.

After a shower, I’m requested to sit in an armchair and place my feet in a thick blue porcelain basin. Hot water is poured in and then some milk salts are added. My masseuse begins to gently massage my feet. The combination of the warm water, salts and soft manipulation is all very soothing.

Feet dried off, it’s time for the best part. Sunny explains that she studied Chinese medicinal massage for two years with a Chinese doctor and was also trained in-house by the InterContinental experts. She begins with a strong (but just the right amount of pressure) manipulation of the neck and back muscles. Gentle music playing, the scent of candles and flowers in the air, I slip into a state of nirvana and enjoy the massage. She then works her way down to my lower back and legs.

Sunny then begins to do the lemon oil massage, methodically massaging my neck, shoulders, back and legs, her deft hands kneading my tired muscles. The tightness in my neck and pain in my back slowly melt away. Then she massages my scalp. When she’s done, she wipes my face with refreshing hot towels. I then sit up in a chair as she uses her knee and elbow to gently knead my back, ending the massage by gently pulling my arms back in a comfortable stretching motion.

Feeling completely rejuvenated, I head back out into the Beijing streets, completely relaxed – both mentally and physically – and ready to take on the world once again.

Details: I Spa, 11 Financial Street Beijing 100034, China, tel 86 10 5852 5999. Open from 1030 to 2300, last appointment 2200. The InterContinental costs US$124.


CHI, the Spa at Pudong Shangri-La

CHI is on the sixth floor of the Shangri-La’s new Tower Two, and the entire floor, all 800sq m of it, is dedicated to the spa. The elevators open into a calm, dark hallway, and the adjoining CHI lobby is filled with soft lighting, soothing sounds and sweet smells. This is meant to be a sharp contrast to hectic, throbbing Shanghai, and it works perfectly.

I walk into this bastion of tranquility, ready for my Aroma Vitality massage, CHI’s signature treatment, and one that is tailor-made for men. Aroma Vitality is part Japanese shiatsu, a hard vigorous massage, and part Swedish, which is softer. That is to be followed by a Biodroga Detoxifying Facial, a treatment of peeling, massage and a mask. This will restore my fatigued skin and cure my  “morning-after” look, which is good. My morning-after look is pretty much 24/7 these days.

I fill out a form, listing my favourite colour (green), type of food (salty and spicy), and time of day (evening) and my least favourite weather (humid). My element turns out to be fire, so my aromatic oils are rose, lavender and neroli.

Every room in CHI spa is a suite, with shower, bathroom, changing area, bathtub and one or two massage tables. My Padma room is a perfect temperature, utterly comfortable. I take off my shoes – a relief in itself – and enjoy a rose water footbath. My therapist says the whole treatment – bath, massage and facial – will take two hours and 40 minutes. That makes my stress level spike up again. I’ve never been able to sit still for that long. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

First, I lower myself into the roomy tub and float in the warm salty water, supported by gentle jets. This is the Himalayan Water Therapy, a 20-minute treatment that goes by in a flash. Next is the 90-minute Aroma Vitality treatment, a long, relaxing massage that starts with my legs, then moves up to my arms and finishes with a long, delicious back rub. All the while, my thoughts float peacefully; a top-of-the-line massage is like meditation, but less work. As the brochure says: it “helps to release tension and restores a sense of peace and harmony”. Indeed.

Soon my facial begins, layer after layer of cleansers, toners and exfoliants, brushed on and removed with warm towels. Then the mask: gently, the therapist paints layers of caffeine-laden warm wax on my tired mug. The warmth feels good, and it also allows the wax to penetrate deep into the skin. In all, spa director Mary Yip says later, the facial had 12 layers. I lost track at about six.

Afterwards: CHI’s signature massage is designed to melt away the stresses of modern life, and it does just that. During the treatment, I had not a care in the world, and the warm, fuzzy feeling lasted the entire day.

Details: CHI, the Spa at Pudong Shangri-La, 6/F, Tower 2, Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai, 33 Fu Cheng Lu, Pudong, Shanghai 200120, China, tel 86 21 6882 8888, www.shangri-la.com. Last appointment 2200. Aroma Vitality costs US$200.



The Spa Village at The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The newly opened Spa Village at The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur may pose more as a threat for the business traveller with go-for-the-jugular at lunch meetings than it is a treat. Even the most aggressive tigers will leave the spa complex purring at the end of their treatments.

The Village is a haven away from the madding KL crowd and your journey to serenity begins as you walk into its entrance of cool, green landscaped water features, complete with a gentle stream with languid carps to soothe raw nerves.

Offering a myriad of relaxation remedies, from traditional – but luxurious – Malay spa package (the Traditional Royal Malay Treatment) to exotic Indonesian pampering therapy (Gandapura Therapy), the Village’s Sensory Exploration experience is billed as a unique experience.

If you are open to new-age experiences, the one-hour Sensory Exploration is a quick pick-me-up that covers body, mind and soul. First, a therapist will ask you to write down your fears and worries on a piece of paper. You are then ushered into the Sensory Room to begin your journey. To soothe the mind, you’re asked to take the piece of paper with your worries and submerge it in water while you watch your scribbling dissolve away. It’s a simple act but your mind actually begins to let go of stress.

The re-energising of your soul begins with an exercise of tasting the four common elements of sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavours. Cocooned in the safe environs of the Sensory Room, you also experience a renewed relationship with your sense of taste. The best is the “body” treatment where you lie back and enjoy the firm and comforting hands of your therapist working at the knots in your shoulder, followed by a sweet, sweet foot rub that altogether rejuvenates and relaxes.

For those who can splash on time, I recommend the Chinese Peranakan Treatment, created by Straits Chinese health and beauty rituals, born out of the syncretisation of Malay and Chinese cultures back in the 17th century. This three-hour therapy takes you from an all-natural facial to a traditional Chinese massage. Gents who need to look – and feel – their best at a breakfast deal will certainly benefit from it.

The highlight here is undoubtedly the massage where deep tissue rubs and accupressure is applied to restore natural energy flow to the body. Termed tui-na, the therapist manipulates this energy flow to re-energise internal organs such as the liver and kidneys to function at their optimum. The result is a relaxed body working well with a widely-awake mind.

Details: The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Imbi, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tel 60 3 2142 8000, www.ritzcarlton.com. Last appointment 2200. Sensory Exploration costs US$45 and Chinese Peranakan Treatment is US$340.

Fred Lim


The Mizuki Spa at Conrad Tokyo

The Mizuki Spa, located on the 29th floor of the Conrad Tokyo, is the largest hotel spa in the city. With a design incorporating water and moon motifs and a layout centred on a wooden-walled waiting room, the labyrinthine interior features no less than 10 treatment rooms, five of which have their own shower bath and toilet, and two of which are designed for use by couples.

Visitors are greeted at a circular atrium by staff dressed in suits, rather than white coats, which is an indication of the businesslike, no-nonsense attitude to treatment here. The reception and guidance is courteous, but ever so slightly stiff.

The signature spa package, called Mizuki Spirit, works traditional Japanese elements into a comprehensive relaxation treatment and is a 150-minute session. Before things have even started, the immaculately outfitted changing rooms, replete with four individual Jacuzzis and heavy cotton robes, impart a sense of luxury. Conducted in a high-ceilinged room with soothing slate flooring, the programme opens with a steamy soak in a small square cypress wood tub, which offers somewhat limited views out onto Tokyo’s dense skyline.

For guests too busy to venture out of the metropolis to visit the real thing, this goes some way to recreating the idiosyncratically Japanese hot spring experience.

The session continues with a politely done foot massage and an oil massage using products made exclusively for Conrad with anti-oxidising grape seed from the Napa Valley. Next comes an invigorating session of bamboo sticks rolled over the body – not quite as rough as it might sound. During each of these phases, the assigned therapist is careful to tailor the pressure applied to the recipient’s desired level.

Having been thoroughly soaked and massaged and pummelled, the penultimate stage is a face massage, which is brief but not hurried, and is at once soothing and thoroughly refreshing.

The final gambit is an edited version of the Japanese tea ceremony, with astringent green tea, which is to be sipped while the body adjusts back to normality after its pampering. The ritualistic end to the session is the perfect conclusion to this tranquil treatment, and imparts a sense of having been privileged to an impeccably elegant experience.

Details: Mizuki Spa, 1-9-1 Higashi-Shimbashi, Minto-ku, Tokyo, Japan, tel 813 6388 8000, www.conradtokyo.co.jp. Last appointment at 2030. Mizuki Spirit costs US$394.