Thai Paradise



Bangkok, thailand's capital and largest city, now has more to lure spa-goers than just authentic Thai massage. Last summer, the Shangri-La hotel group opened Chi, The Spa at Shangri-La, on the ground floor of its 799-room two-tower property located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.

  One of the couples spa suites
One of the couples spa suites

Auspicious Beginning

The spa opened precisely at 10:28 A.M. on July 28, 2004—the time and date deemed most propitious by a Feng Shui master. It features nine unique spa suites ranging in size from 860 to 1,150 square feet, each given a meaningful name—such as Jampa, the Tibetan word for "compassion;" Jalu, a Tibetan description for the radiant energy from the body; and Padma, the lotus symbol of purity.

Of the nine suites, five designed for couples contain "eternity light" soaking tubs, herbal steam showers, relaxation areas, and changing and vanity areas. Three of the treatment suites for singles also have these private facilities. One suite even has a private garden area with an infinity bath set into a lotus pond, where guests can indulge in an outdoor massage or just relax. The average stay in each suite is two hours, but some guests linger for five-and-a-half. The spa is designed to accommodate a maximum of 13 guests at full capacity.

  The Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
The Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.

Ian Brewis, Shangri-La's director of spa development, says that in developing the Bangkok location's $2 million Chi, he wanted to establish the company's own spa brand and operational philosophy to reflect its Asian roots as it expands globally.

To do this, Brewis brought on two consultants: Robert Ko Kam-Ming, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of biochemistry at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and an expert on the antioxidating and immunomodulatory properties of Chinese herbs, and Carol Dunham, an anthropologist, herbologist, and expert on Ayurvedic and Tibetan healing therapies.

 The stones used for the Himalayan Healing Stone Massage have Tibetan words carved in them by Buddhist monks.
The stones used for the Himalayan Healing Stone Massage have Tibetan words carved in them by Buddhist monks.

For the spa's design, Brewis hired Julian Coombs of Julian Coombs & Associates (Singapore). Coombs was inspired by the architectural principles of Tibetan temples and used Himalayan artifacts and design elements throughout the space. In addition, Coombs incorporated atmospheric elements, such as candles, moving shafts of light, scented incense, and Tibetan singing bowls, to create a mystical feel that matches the Shangri-La legend from which the hotel takes its name.

Authentic Therapies

Every treatment and product is founded on the Chinese concept of chi, the universal life force, and how it flows through the human body governing vitality and well-being. When chi is free-flowing, good health is maintained; when it is blocked, illness develops. Movement, therefore, is the key to creating good flow. This is achieved in the spa setting with exercise, stretching, massage, hydrotherapy, relaxation, and meditation.
  The spa’s waiting area.
The spa’s waiting area.

Herbs, scents, and sounds are also used to enhance and personalize each treatment according to the client's needs. For example, when a client arrives, he or she fills out a form to determine what elements (earth, fire, metal, water, or wood) would balance the client's chi in the moment. The therapist then brings over a selection of oils based on the client's answers, and the client chooses one for the treatment based on its smell.

Says spa director Arlene Fitch, "What really makes Chi unique is its core philosophy, which is reflected in the spa's temple-like design and authentic menu based on the five Chinese elements. There's real depth in this spa." Fitch notes that clients like the fact that they can harmonize and balance the body. "We work with the chi through the use of oils and massage. Singing bowls are used to begin the treatment. The sound opens up the chi and helps a client to better accept the healing, allowing the client to receive maximum benefit from the treatment."

The spa’s sleek retail area.
The spa’s sleek retail area.

Individual Experience

The spa is open year-round seven days a week, from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M. Fitch says the spa's clientele, made up mostly of hotel guests, is about 40 percent male and 60 percent female, with an age range of 35 and older. They are predominantly from Asia—China, Japan, and Singapore—with some Europeans, as well. The spa has 30 full-time staff members, 22 of whom are therapists. Fitch requires that therapists have nine years of experience before joining the team.

In addition to learning the treatment protocols, the therapists are trained to do balancing exercises before and during each treatment. Fitch says this practice is essential. "Otherwise," she says, "they couldn't give the correct energy."

  Ancient Buddhist
Ancient Buddhist

Since the spa's opening, Fitch says the most popular treatment is the spa's Aroma Vitality signature therapy ($99, 105 minutes), which starts with a gentle, soothing massage that uses Swedish, shiatsu, and reflexology techniques combined with aromatic essential oils. The spa's other signature therapies are Chi Balance ($99, 105 minutes), Himalayan Healing Stone Massage ($114, 135 minutes), and Yin Yang Couples Massage ($114, 135 minutes). Facials, men's skincare, hand-and-foot care, and Himalayan Water Therapies are also on the menu.

What's next for the Chi spa brand? The Bangkok location was the first of 11 Chi spas scheduled to open in Shangri-La hotels through 2007. Brewis says the company will next open Chi spas at its Fiji, Oman, and Shanghai locations as well as several others in China, among others, with "spa villas" planned for its resort locations. The luxury hotel group opens its first Chi spa village this month at Shangri-La's Mactan Island Resort & Spa, Cebu, in the Philippines. The spa will be one of the largest outdoor spas in Asia, encompassing 107,639 square feet and offering private villas for couples, garden suites, a spa Water Garden featuring vitality hydro tubs, aromo-relax loungers, a spa pool, and Asia's first genuine Watsu pool.

  Thai temples.
Thai temples.

For travelers wanting to go East, that flight to Asia is getting increasingly easier to bear with the opening of such spas as Chi waiting at the other end of the long journey. —Julie Sinclair

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