On a fleeting first visit to the jewel-like city of Singapore, Contributing Editor Catherine Beattie discovers a fascinating mix of spas and treatments.
With its exotic blend of cultures, traditions and lifestyles, Singapore has long been a favorite long-haul stopover for travellers. Located off the southern tip of Malaysia, the Garden City is a unique mix of city, island and country all rolled into one. Clean, safe and graffiti-free, it has shrugged off its staid image and evolved into one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting destination with new world-class attractions and a plethora of great spas.
Arriving for our first ever visit, the tropical heat is a welcome contrast to freezing weather we have left behind in the UK. The humid warmth envelops us like a blanket as we leave Changi Airport for the short drive into the city and two nights in one of its most superlative hotels, the Grand Hyatt.
Our room on the 15th floor is spacious and comfortable with goose down duvets, city views and state-of-the-art technology. We are close to Orchard Road, Singapore’s famous tree-lined boulevard of fashion emporia, but with only 48 hours in the city, I won’t have time to hit the malls or designer boutiques. Instead of shopping, I’m spa-ing and visiting seven city spas during my short stay.
"On a fleeting first visit to the jewel-like city of Singapore, Contributing Editor Catherine Beattie discovers a fascinating mix of spas and treatments."
My first spa experience is at Damai, the Grand Hyatt’s lovely spa. Damai (meaning peace in Malay and Indonesian) reflects the Singapore lifestyle by combining the healing philosophies, techniques and spa traditions of the city’s Chinese, Malay, Indian and European cultures. Damai has 11 spacious treatment rooms furnished and decorated in restful neutral colours. Each has its own sound system, water feature and outdoor garden. There’s also a couple’s suite with twin massage beds and a deep stone tub overlooking a cascading water terrace. The spa menu includes Chinese Qi, European hydrotherapy, ayurvedic therapies and traditional Malay and Indonesian massage.
To ease my jet lag, therapist Jackie suggests I have the Damai Orchid signature treatment – a pressure point massage that eases tiredness, lifts the spirits and improves energy flow to the head and body. I select healing Malay oils for the massage and the treatment begins with a warm lime and sea salt footbath. I then succumb to 90 minutes of divine relaxation, during which I drop off to sleep about three times. Afterwards, when Jackie brings me ginger tea, she reassures me that I didn’t snore that much!
We are too weary to explore the city, so we reserve a table in StraitsKitchen, the Hyatt’s informal buffet restaurant in a contemporary market place’ setting. Dining here is like a multicultural gastronomic tour, with chefs on hand to cook delicious dishes to order from Chinese, Malay and Indian show kitchens. The ambience is lively, the service second to none and you can eat as much as you like. Even the crockery comes in unusual shapes, colours and textures. StraitsKitchen is a busy popular venue and our favorite dining experience in Singapore. Great for people watching’ too!
Next morning, we meet up with Wong Wee Tee, our petite Singaporean guide, for our spa marathon.’ We start with a visit to Spa Botanica, Singapore’s first garden destination spa. Located on Sentosa, Singapore’s little getaway island, the spa is a world away but only ten minutes from the city center. Sentosa is accessible by road, but it is more fun to travel by cable car from Mount Faber, taking in the views of the city and the South China Sea. The spa is tucked away in the tropical gardens of the Sentosa Resort and has 15 indoor treatment rooms named after local spices and six outdoor ones named after local flowers.
Spa Botanica is famous for its outdoor spa facilities, and these include Singapore’s only mud pools, float pools with cascading waterfalls, steam and mud detox baths and two labyrinths, designed for meditative walks to relax mind and body.
Spa rituals and treatment packages use local herbs, flower balms and essential oils. Exclusive treatments include the Singapore Flower Ritual and my personal favourite Jungle Rain, a heavenly massage by the warm water jets of a Vichy shower. All treatments include use of indoor and outdoor spa facilities.
The Garden, the spa’s bright and airy restaurant is worth a visit. The décor is colorful and pleasing, as are the dishes and vegetarian choices sourced from organic or biodynamic farms. All food carries nutritional information and is carefully prepared to retain natural flavours and goodness.
The island is also the location of Singapore’s new integrated resort, the mammoth Resorts World at Sentosa. This newly opened world class attraction incorporates Asia’s first Universal Studios theme park, marine and water parks, a casino, shops, a maritime museum and the world’s largest oceanarium. Four hotels on the complex are now open and two more, including an ESPA wellness spa, open in 2011.
We return to the city to try out one of its newest icons, the Singapore Flyer. At 165 metres tall, the Flyer is the world’s largest giant observation wheel. A rotation in one of the spacious capsules is an absolute must for all visitors and provides panoramic and spectacular views of the sea and the city. One of the most awesome sights is the vast Marina Bay Sands development where an overlapping one-hectare Sky Park complete with swimming pools, shops and restaurants crowns three 50-storey hotel towers.
The Kenko Fish Reflexology Spa is situated in the Flyer Retail Centre. Fish spas are a popular trend in Southeast Asia and use hundreds of specially bred tiny doctor fish’ to smooth and massage’ the feet’s reflex points and to supposedly boost energy flow. Fish therapy originated in a couple of spas in Turkey and is still used to treat skin problems like psoriasis. The tiny minnow-like fish eat only affected and dead areas of skin leaving the healthy parts alone.
I’m a bit squeamish but determined to try this unusual therapy. I wash my feet then carefully step into a large submerged tank of tepid water lined with shingle and filled with hundreds of fish. As soon as my feet are in the water, the fish swarm all over them. It’s incredibly ticklish and I can’t stop laughing. In a second tank of larger fish, the tickling and massaging sensation is even more intense, almost like short electric shocks. I laugh and squirm at the same time and can’t bear to look down at my feet. I finish the session with my feet in the first tank, where the gentler nibbles of the smaller fish now feel like a caress. Verdict: a fun treatment with a genuine feel good-factor (it’s impossible not to laugh) that leaves your feet beautifully smooth.
After the novelty of fish reflexology, I visit a more conventional spa. In Bishan Park, canopied trees and acres of lush green foliage surround the delightful Aramsa Garden Spa. Here, your senses are indulged before you have a treatment; just walking to your assigned room via the meandering cobblestone garden paths is uplifting. Aramsa’s gardens contain more than 20,000 plants from over 200 species, all grown in an assortment of carefully tended tropical gardens, each one a feast for the eyes.
The spa’s philosophy of being at one with Nature, the natural healer, is reflected in the gardens, open spaces and 17 treatment rooms and suites, many with private gardens, outdoor hot tubs and showers. The spa is a total wellbeing facility, where bodywork is an essential element with special focus programs to detox, energise and boost the immune system. Healthy vegetarian spa cuisine is served in the Greenroom Café and you can book Yoga, Pilates and Dance classes in the PowerMoves studio. Nature walks and integrated park activities can also be arranged.
The menu of holistic and nurturing treatments includes 17 different massages, indulgent spa packages, exfoliation, facials, body wraps and hydrotherapy. To complement the garden theme, all treatments therapies use natural remedies made with botanical extracts from the earth and the sea.
My relaxing Lavender Drizzle package starts with a foot wash followed by a lavender flora body exfoliation. I then take a long warm shower in my private garden – accompanied by the sound of birds singing in the surrounding trees! After settling myself down on the treatment bed, a blissful one-hour body massage and soothing facial complete a totally superb spa experience.
Returning to city, I make a fleeting visit to the Asian Spa in the prestigious Fullerton Hotel, located in one of Singapore’s most historic buildings overlooking Marina Bay. The Asian Spa is a relatively new addition to this gracious old hotel and has 11 themed treatment rooms based on the elements of Fire, Water, Metal, Wood and Earth. The therapists are from different Asian countries, adding authenticity to your choice of treatment, whether you opt for a stretching Thai or a relaxing Indonesian massage. The mix of East and West spa treatments includes massages, facials, hydrotherapy, body wraps and more.
Willow Stream at the Fairmont Hotel is one of Singapore’s largest spas, with relaxation lounges, whirlpool and cool plunge pools, sauna and steam rooms and 35 treatment rooms – all named after different orchids. There are three couples suites equipped with twin massage beds, private Jacuzzis and aromatherapy steam rooms.
As well as individual treatments and grooming services, Willow Stream offers lifestyle spa packages such as High Maintenance, a customised deep cleansing facial, manicure and pedicure; Shoppers’ Relief , a 60- or 90-minute massage with warm aromatic oils to revitalise, detox and recover, and Singapore Luxury, an all-in-one indulgence with face, neck and décolleté exfoliation, toning facial massage anti-aging hand treatment, hand and foot and scalp massage. Some packages can be conveniently carried out in the same room by two therapists. Products used and sold in the spa include Kerstin Florian International, SUNDARI Skin Care and Jane Iredale Mineral Makeup.
While Willow Stream’s lovely treatments epitomise the best of East and West spa traditions, the spa ambience is more North America’ than Garden City.’ Some areas (indoor spa pools and changing rooms) are looking tired and need updating to the slick high standards of newer spa competitors.
My final spa visit is to the Amrita Spa at Raffles Hotel. But first, we enjoy a Singapore Sling (what else?) and trample on a few peanuts in the famous Long Bar, then take a peek at some of the public rooms of the legendary hotel. Named after Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles, the hotel and opened in 1887. A hundred years later, the Singapore Government declared the iconic hotel a national monument. Raffles is undoubtedly impressive: elegant white neo-Renaissance architecture, tropical gardens and a stunning entrance lobby with atrium and galleried landings.
Serene from Raffles gives us a fascinating short tour of the property. She explains that the hotel has 103 suites, 8 distinctive restaurants and bars and over 40 speciality shops in the Raffles Hotel Arcade. Previous guests have included Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, heads of state and stars of stage and screen. In 2006, Raffles hosted HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during their state visit to Singapore. It feels surreal to be standing in their palatial suite with its elaborate furnishings and long outdoor balcony.
The Amrita Spa is for the exclusive use of Raffles guests, so I’m privileged to have a treatment in such exclusive surroundings. Amrita (from the Sanskrit legend meaning elixir for eternal youth) has six treatment rooms and a VIP suite for couples. There’s also a gym, sauna and steam rooms, hot and cool Jacuzzis, an outdoor swimming pool and a poolside bar serving refreshing drinks and spa cuisine.
I drift off to sleep during a relaxing aromatherapy massage, which, like all good treatments, ends too soon. But at Raffles, my return to reality is gentle and unrushed. I’m encouraged to continue my relaxation with my feet up and a refreshing drink on the deserted Spa Veranda. With the warm evening air and beautiful environment, this is one spa experience I’ll always remember.
For the latest prices and offers, visit the hotel and spa websites:
Grand Hyatt Singapore and Damai Spa www.singapore.grand.hyatt.com
Kenko Reflexology and Fish Spa www.kenko.com.sg
Aramsa Garden Spa www.aramsaspas.com
Fullerton Hotel and Asian Spa www.fullertonhotel.com
Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Singapore www.fairmont.com/singapore
Raffles Hotel and Amrita Spa www.raffleshotel.com
Singapore Flyer www.singaporeflyer.com
For further information on Singapore www.singapore.com