Of Hammams, Herbs, and Healing

Courtesy of Shui Urban Spa

From Shanghai to Hong Kong, China’s spa culture is upping the ante.

With a slew of high-end spas opening in China, local sybarites and visitors alike have even more options for deep pampering. From caviar facials to traditional Chinese medicine, the offerings at these spots leave one sumptuously rejuvenated.

Hidden in a quiet treelined corner of Shanghai’s French Concession, Shui Urban Spa (shuiurbanspa.com) is a getaway right in the city. Lounging on the Moroccan-style daybeds on the outdoor terrace, you feel worlds away from the bustling streets. The fully customized Shui Essential Facial, which uses Dermalogica products, starts with a soothing back massage.

In Hong Kong it just so happens that some of the best spas are in hotels. The flagship Mandarin Oriental (mandarinoriental.com), which reopened in September 2006 after a nine-month renovation, claims to house the island’s first authentic Ayurvedic spa. With dark wood, marble, and orchids everywhere, it is reminiscent of a thirties Shanghai-style beauty den. Don’t have time for the Choorna Swedam (an Ayurvedic massage that uses powdered herbs)? Try the Kneipp pool, where pebbles and water jets massage your lower body. At the newer Landmark Mandarin Oriental, in the heart of the Central district, is the 25,000-square-foot Oriental Spa (mandarinoriental.com). You will find a global array of offerings, among them the Moroccan rasul mud treatment, hammam scrubs, Thai massages, a Zen relaxation room, and fragrant Mediterranean wraps.

In Kowloon, Espa at the Peninsula (hongkong.peninsula.com) will simply take your breath away. The $6 million spa features giant communal steam rooms, aromatherapy showers, a 40-strong staff well versed in every kind of massage there is, Frette robes, and even beds with personal music systems. Just a few blocks away is the InterContinental’s I-Spa (hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com). The feng shui design has a soothing effect as soon as you walk into the sprawling space. While locals love the detox and cellulite-reducing wraps along with the Kerastin Florian Caviar Facial, travelers can indulge in the refreshing Jet Lag Recovery Massage and Body Boost. You’ll also find brow-shaping tools by Hollywood brow expert Anastasia.

Try moxibustion at Chuan Spa at the Langham Place Hotel (langhamplacehotels.com), which specializes in treatments based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). An aesthetician holds a stick of burning moxa, a spongy Chinese herb, near pressure points to stimulate the flow of chi. Acupuncture treatments are done by professionals from the mainland.

Not to be outdone, the Shangri-La Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton, Financial Street—both in Beijing—have launched their own spas. In a nod to TCM, the experience at the Shangri-La’s award-winning Chi spa (shangri-la.com), which opened its Beijing outpost last spring, starts with a questionnaire that aims to determine what element you "belong" to. Philosophy notwithstanding, the treatments include the usual suspects: hot stones, scented oil, milk and honey wraps. But the signature Chi Balance combines acupressure with an energizing and relaxing massage for yin and yang harmony.  The ten-month-old Ritz-Calton Spa (ritzcarlton.com) is less focused in its approach, with Thai, Balinese, Chinese, and aromatherapy massages in a space that mixes Tibetan bells with French toile.