My own personal experiences with spas are limited to massage ‘parlors’. That’s probably an archaic word, but somewhere along the line many establishments have decided to slap the name ‘spa’ on their signs and crank up the prices and those lines have become a bit blurred.
Since coming to Southeast Asia, I have a greater appreciation for the various ‘treatments’ offered, but I’ve also become rather experienced in wasting money at some of these new spas. And it seems, the best way to avoid it these days is to get recommendations from friends or a very honest reviewer.
The funny thing is that one place may have an incredible massage, yet they also want to be a reflexology center, or give facials, mani-pedi’s, etc and fail miserably. Is it about being a one-stop convenience for guests? Or is it about making money on this cash cow industry?
I’ve always been an a-la-carte kind of gal until I moved to Singapore and discovered the magic of reflexology and other southeast Asian specialties at a tiny shop near my apartment. I fell in love with the services of Mr. Gerard at Bukit Timah Plaza and no one has yet to replace him in my heart.
I had previously cut my teeth on the mani-pedi heaven of Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, with the various salons represented either North or South Vietnam on competing sides of the street. Later mani-pedi (especially the pedi) became synonymous with parts of Thailand as well. And massage? I’m really not that picky about overall technique, it’s the ambiance that will make it or break it for me.
These days I’m always on the prowl for new blog material and that now includes blog worthy spas or spa-type experiences. The option of saving time at these one-stop-shopping spas is also attractive to me, yet some of the ridiculously steep prices of spas these days can greatly hinder my research. So why not do ‘reviews’ for free services?
Well, I’m cool with that, but it’s a tricky business saying or recommending a particular business as absolutely fab just because I got a free service or actually got paid (gasp) to say nice things about them. As someone who has thrown away quite a few bucks on the new we-offer-everything ‘spa’ experience I cannot with good conscious do that to others who may also be spending their rather hard earned money. Only fair right?
I have crawled through stacks of newspapers behind kitchens in Penang and back alleys of Vietnam in search of another Mr. Gerard, only to discover other new and wonderful treatments. Some more unusual than others, but they often made a believer of me and a believer in the real deal vs. the McSpa industry budget plans.
From acupuncture face-lifts and Doctor-fish to the mysteries of Ayurvedics, I’ve slowly explored these various options and can now appreciate the specialty services in lieu of the one-stop shopping spa trend and I also appreciate the honesty of those spas that focus on what they can proficiently offer.
That brings me to pet peeves. Straight back chairs to ‘relax’ in while I get a pedicure don’t work for me, nor does the toxic aroma of chemicals as the mask-wearing technicians sniff their way through the procedure. But when it comes to my number one pet peeve, it’s noise.
I don’t want to hear the latest top 40 hits, nor do I want to hear staff giggling and text messaging their friends while ‘servicing’ me (and yes this is quite frequent at some of the ‘spas’ I can afford). Maybe it’s just my ‘spa’ karma, but I get more than my fare share of odd ‘spa’ experiences that I really don’t want to experience, much less pay for.
KNOWLEDGE GAINED THROUGH EXPERIENCE
I’d like to share with you a few ‘local’ experiences I’ve had in the name of research without naming names. But I’m also going to leave you with a few recommendations that may save you some money, time and frustration. And I’ll certainly add to them as I continue my search for the perfect one-stop-shopping spa experience.
REFLEXOLOGY and MANI-PEDI
There’s one place I know that gives wonderful reflexology, depending on who’s working on that particular day . You can even get a nearly perfect pedicure. But the last time I was there, I had hoped to save myself some time and get a foot massage as well as a pedicure. But what did I get for 75-ringgit?
Two giggling staff members (one ‘training’ the other) who creatively chose to massage one of my legs and foot while the other painted my toenails on the remaining leg; wishbone style. Ridiculous, right? Will I ever repeat this experience again? No. They lost a customer that day, which I hate because I actually really like them, but not enough to throw 75-ringgit away.
FACIAL and MANI PEDI
My first facial experience in Malaysia was at a Langkawi hotel. Their spa area was interesting in decor and they were super nice folks, but the facial was some sort of rinsing with cold herbal water and some face creme and then I was left to lie in the dark treatment room ‘relaxing’. I listened to the relaxing air-conditioner sound and thought about yet another waste of time and money. Did I find this relaxing? No. That and a mediocre mani-pedi was nearly 200-ringgit.
LEG WAXING and MANI PEDI
Waxing? Well I had never had one before and I may have actually gone to the wrong local ‘spa’ that a trusted friend recommended. I was a little nervous, but I was in one of those lets-go-get-the-works-done moods. My experience that day? Well, as soon as I entered the ‘procedure’ room I could see the waiting room through the exotic bamboo slats that separated it from my not-so-private suite. Brave sissy that I am, I squeezed my prudish eyes shut and bit the bullet for vanity’s sake.
I should have gotten up and left but they all looked so pitiful sitting on the sidewalk waiting for customers. The wax job was ok and I was ‘smoother’, but not Olympic swimmer smooth as I had hoped. But since I was already there and they were obviously bored, I gave them a shot at a pedicure. Twenty-minutes later they were still trying to figure out how the pedicure ‘machine’ worked. Relaxing? Fun? Did I ever go back? No.
INTRODUCTORY BUDGET FOOT MASSAGE
I recently gave two reflexology places a try because the price was dirt-cheap and I had hoped to do a comparison blog. ‘Spa’ number-one had a few black lounge chairs in their new upstairs enclave which already gave it that weird late-night-card-game feel and the masseuse (who I actually knew from the wishbone express ‘spa’) went as fast as he possible could massaging my feet and legs. Odd and definitely no replacement for Mr. Gerard.
I even asked him, “Why are you doing this so fast?” I got a grunt and the distinct feeling that having to touch my primitive body at all was some sort of punishment from his looming boss. He also seemed very keen to get it over with so he could run back outside and watch Pantai Cenang pedestrians. Was this relaxing? No. But then what did I expect for 35-ringgit?
INTRODUCTORY BUDGET REFLEXOLOGY
Another rather odd place that had recently opened, and was running a special, had a friendly, humorous tout outside. Almost like a Carny. I had even thought this ‘spa’ was one of those sexy massage places. But I eventually succumbed and went to check it out. Reflexology? The poor girl had no clue as to what she was doing. I asked her, “Do you like it here?” Her answer? No. Did I blame her? No, I didn’t either.
TOP END REFLEXOLOGY and MANI PEDI
BUT! The winner over all of these kooky spas was a magically beautiful, tropical spa. Looked like the real deal for sure and I picked them because of an ‘advertorial’ I had read about them. AND! Lucky me was getting it free! Reflexology was ok except for the rather high back living room style chair I had to sit in, the girls were very sweet as well. I also opted for a mani-pedi because this had to be the real deal place with excellent services right? Well, rinsing one’s feet in lovely rose pedals does not soften the bare-foot Contessa’s feet. And I was unpleasantly surprised that my ‘free’ was really only 50% off and the total bill was well over 100-ringgit! But the worst was yet to come..
Sadly the next morning I saw that the nail polish had sloughed off during the night, even after drying for several hours. And when I happened to light a match that morning a piercing pain shot through my fingernail and left a black mark. My nail had actually caught on fire! Shocking to say the least. I trudged back to this fancy spa to let them know what had happened. Not there to complain but just to let them know. Were they concerned? Didn’t seem to be. “Oh, would you like me to re-do your nails?” No.
How on earth could I possible encourage anyone to go to any of these spas? I can’t and I won’t. But! I do however have high grades going to other folks, so I’m going to recommend a few Langkawi businesses for their particular expertise as well as my personal experience as a satisfied customer. And hopefully I will be adding to this list in my quest for the perfect one stop shopping spa (if there even is such a thing) and another Mr. Gerard, but meanwhile I’ll continue being an a-la-carte research girl.
Have a ‘funny’ spa story to share (without naming names)?
I’d love to hear it!
Very well written. I agree 101%.