When you are staying at one of the world’s great hotels – in this case The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, which has defined luxury in Thailand's capital city for over 130 years, you expect a great massage.
Oraphan, my masseuse at The Oriental Spa certainly delivered that and then some. The spa is head-turning, and reaching it is part of the fun.
You board the hotel’s ferry, a teak river barge, which takes guests across the Chao Phraya River. Here, you find not only the Oriental Spa but also the hotel's beautiful Sala Rim Naam Thai Restaurant (featured in Part 2), and, al fresco dining at the Terrace Rim Naam, where, the evening after our massage, we enjoyed a set-menu, dinner show.
You step off the wooden Thai boat into a lush, garden-like setting much like what surrounds the original portion of the hotel, called the Author’s Wing .
We are welcomed with beautiful Thai smiles and the traditional Thai greeting, the “wai” – pronounced "Y" - a show of respect, indicated by pressing palms together near your chest and bowing. We grin and bow back, ready for our pampering.
One therapist slips to the floor with a bamboo tray containing our slippers. She places them on our feet and takes away our American flip-flops. Another quickly brings over tightly-rolled, scented towels we’ve come to expect because they are presented at all fine Thai hotels and restaurants (both before and after the meal at the latter). The fragrance usually includes lemongrass. Along with the chilled towels is chilled tea. (Left: Fletcher with his tea, towel and slippers)
We sip our tea as we quickly fill out our spa health questionnaires.
Soon after, our therapists introduce themselves: Oraphan for me; Chanita for Fletcher, and we are escorted up one flight of the beautiful wide, wooden stairs to side-by-side treatment rooms (left).
Even though we are both having the 90-minute Oriental Signature massage, we have separate quarters. Inside, there’s a roomy, rain-and-steam shower; plenty of personal toiletries down to toothbrush, comb and mouthwash; a toilet; large closet with lock-box for the clothes and valuables plus two different sizes of robes to choose from. I especially like that option since my Western body fits more comfortably into the larger one.
After my quick shower, Oraphan offered me a choice of two massage oils: "invigorating," featuring a mixture of lemon extract, rosemary and pepperment; or "romance," featuring lavendar, ylang ylang and patchoui. Of course, as a romance novelist, I had to go for the latter. It smelled and felt wonderful.
I situated myself face down onto a thick, floor mattress ready for the massage: the floor because many traditional massages in this region, including Thai massage, are often delivered on mats on the floor, as was the case here.
The face cradle was tricky, though. Instead of a cut-out for your face - which wouldn't work, of course, on the ground - there was a rolled towel forming a U to prop your forehead on (see the slideshow). Oraphan saw me struggling and produced a smaller roll, which was an improvement, and we were off.
I loved the long, purposeful strokes of this massage though it was not traditional Thai massage - with all the pulling, adjusting, twisting and stretching. Rather, this approach was very relaxing, yet she was able to do some deep tissue work. This treatment almost had me drifting off to sleep, especially after the warm compresses that she applied repeatedly on my back, neck, arms and legs after completing the massage work. These compresses contain a Thai herbal mix and put me in a dreamlike state.
Since its opening debut in 1993, the award-winning Oriental Spa has been widely recognized as a pioneer of the Thai spa industry, featuring treatments that draw on traditional 2,000-year-old Thai healing techniques and herbal preparations.
Elsewhere in the spa, there are temperature-controlled scrub tables and a “vitality pool” designed to stimulate all the senses with a full body water jet massage.
Specialty treatments include the Oriental Spice Body Scrub and Essence of Aqua, which consist of a selection of marine, herbal, organic and mud-based treatments that make use of a Rhassoul Bath, left, combining the basic elements - heat, water, earth and air - and based on ancient Moroccan expertise.
Akey feature of the spa is its Ayurvedic Penthouse, the first of its kind in Bangkok, when it opened in 2006.
A holistic center of tranquility located above The Oriental Spa, the Ayurvedic Penthouse offers the most exclusive selection of healing and natural rituals in the city.
The majority of the equipment used has been imported from India, from the stand-alone copper bathtubs to wooden therapy beds (shown above) made from 100-year-old medicinal wood hand polished and seasoned with therapeutic oils.
These treatments include the classical Keraleeya Abhyangam synchronized therapy which include harmonious strokes, rhythm, speed and pressure by two therapists; Udwatanam, a dry herbal massage treatment using classical Ayurvedic herbal powders; Pizhichil, the unique and luxurious rejuvenation therapy and many, many more exclusive treatments of Ayurvedic health tradition.
Ayurveda is the ancient art of complete well being, conceived in India thousands of years ago. Its name is a combination of the Sankrit words “life” and “knowledge” and is translated to mean “the science of life”. The essence of Ayurveda is based on healthy living and a harmonic existence of mind, body, soul and spirit. Its philosophies and techniques are all designed to promote a healthy body and peaceful mind, or the concept of “self” which is the center of being. Ayurvedic methods are based on the belief that all materials of vegetable, animal and mineral origin have healing value; Ayurvedic treatments comprise herb mixtures and plant-based products that are local and imported from India.
Our Bangkok stay was unforgettable as was The Oriental Spa at the notable, very special Mandarin Oriental.
Details: www.mandarinoriental.com/Bangkok and www.thailandtourism.org. The hotel is 40 minutes by car or taxi from Suvarnabhumi International Airport. To arrange an amazing luxury tour of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, with stays at Mandarin Oriental and other standout hotels, contact Abercrombie & Kent at 800.554.7016 or visit www.abercrombiekent.com.