Throughout my whole trip to Thailand, I had been treated like a queen. A car and driver, as well as a very excited friendly face awaited me at the Bangkok airport when I arrived, exhausted from the nineteen hour flight from San Francisco. I had four glorious days at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel: cocktail parties, cooking school, sublime service in every nook and cranny. There was the first-class compartment on the train to Surat Thani, and then the wonderful boutique/gourmet hotel, The Boathouse, in Phuket, with its lounge chairs and umbrellas on the beach complete with frou-frou drinks toting colorful umbrellas, ice cold, scented washcloths, and a breathtaking view of the Andaman Sea. For a suburban soccer mom, this was heaven. There was no cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no driving, no servitude or duties at all for two weeks. I felt royal indeed.
To close out my two weeks in Thailand, I felt it only fitting to find a way to go out with a bang and to top off my overwhelmingly enjoyable time with a last bit of pampering. Being only forty minutes from Banyan Tree Spa, one of the premier resorts on Phuket with world-renowned spa services, it seemed an apropros place to spend my last day on the island. It had come highly recommended by tourists and expats alike, and I was glad I had the opportunity to take advantage of its services.
I was able to access Banyan Tree’s website and menu of spa services at one of the many internet cafes near The Boathouse. I could choose from ten massages, a balancing treatment, five body cleansers, twelve body treatments, six facial treatments, as well as the usual manicure, pedicure, depilatory waxing, or hair salon services. There were so many to choose from and they all sounded so wonderful, that I turned to the spa packages. There were steam room packages, two-hour packages, half-day packages, full-day packages, and even two-day packages (now that would really be splurging!). Given my finances at the end of the trip, having wined and dined royally, as well as had regal accommodations, I decided to go with a middle-of-the-road half-day package. Even this was a splurge at $180, as a one-hour massage on our hotel’s beach cost $8, and an hour in the hotel spa was $30. But ambiance, reputation, and decadence goes a long way in my book, so the price would be worth it, in body and spirit.
There were four different half-day spa packages from which to choose. I studied them carefully and opted for the most appropriately titled Voyage of Transformation, a body wrap/massage/facial combination. My trip to Thailand had been eight years coming and was my first far-flung adventure in more than twenty years. It was also my first time in Asia, my first time away from my husband and children for such a long period, as well as a trip that took me far out of my usual comfort zone. I had conquered my fears to make this trip, and had learned a lot about myself in the process. This trip was my voyage of transformation, so the spa package not only fit the bill, but sounded like a heavenly treat.
A private car delivered me to the door of the spa where I was greeted and led to the office. After checking in and paying the exorbitant-by-Thai-standards fee, I was led through a beautifully landscaped garden, past a long fountain, and into a private studio. Each private studio can accommodate up to two people, and there are several spa treatments and packages which cater to couples. The treatment room consists of a deep marble bath/jacuzzi, steam room, open-air shower with multiple heads, two futons on a raised platform, two massage tables, and a toilet room. It offered the utmost privacy as well as peace and quiet. All noises from the outside were completely blocked, even though the walls were only eight feet high and had an open-air section between the wall and roof.
As you enter, you are made comfortable on the futons, and offered a scented washcloth to relieve you of the grit and grime of the day while you sip fresh cool water. You are offered a choice of eight kinds of incense to perfume the room are made available and are lit while you lie back and relax for a few minutes to the subtle Thai music in the background. On this particular day, the warm sun was streaming in, and a cool breeze wafted through with the scent of the flowers from the garden directly outside.
After finishing the glass of water, I undressed and was led across slate stepping stones and a small rivulet that ran through the room, to the treatment area. The massage tables were flanked on both sides by long, narrow ponds with fish swimming around, adding to the ambiance of the room. I lay out the length of the table, and the first of three treatments began.
A White Mudd Body Wrap consisting of natural honey and sesame seeds was used as a body scrub before warm, mineral-rich white mud, known for its healing properties, was applied to my body. Due to a sunburn, I was concerned about the abrasiveness of the sesame seeds, but my fears were denied, as the massage therapist altered the mixture just enough to save my sensitive skin. The actual application took about fifteen to twenty minutes and then I was wrapped in a clean white sheet, followed by a blanket. A face and head massage was administered to enhance relaxation and then I was left alone for a half hour, during which I fell asleep.
When the therapist returned and woke me, I was led to an open-air shower with six different shower heads washing me off from all angles. This process actually took longer than one would think, given that sesame seeds were embedded in honey all over my body. But the warm water felt so good, it was hard to leave and return to the massage table. When I finally did, I was placed face-down on the table. The traditional table had a cut-out opening for my face and allowed me to look down into a bowl of jasmine and hibiscus flowers, a nice diversion from what was to come.
This particular massage was Swedish—a typical European full-body massage that stimulates blood circulation and soothes tense muscles. It uses a combination of three basic strokes: long firm strokes, kneading strokes, and small circular strokes. You have a choice of how soft or hard these strokes are and I felt the need (no pun intended) to have the massage be firmer in pressure. For sixty minutes, she worked every muscle of my body. I felt that she was leaving bruises on my thighs and that the cellulite was literally running away from her touch. (If only!) By the time she was finished, my muscles had no fight left in them and I was as limp as a rag. I had no choice but to be relaxed.
After a ten minute respite while she prepared the facial supplies, the therapist returned to start anew. I was treated to a Banyan Cleansing Facial. First, the makeup was gently removed, with much care taken around the sensitive eye area. This was followed by a thorough cleansing of the face with the softest of cotton pads, and then an astringent application. A masque was applied and left on with a warm towel for twenty minutes. A delightful head and neck massage filled the time. Then the masque was removed using warm water and sea sponges. I am sure that not a speck of dirt was left and that my skin was cleaner that it had been in years. Then the final step began, a facial massage using a slightly scented oil. As she massaged my forehead, it felt as though the wrinkles were melting away and that my face was becoming younger by the minute. A truly enjoyable experience.
I was left alone after my facial to enjoy the environment and let my spongy body return to a state where I could become ambulatory. When I was finally ready, I returned to the raised futons to enjoy a Vision Enhancing Elixir and dried fruit and to take my time dressing. More than three hours after having arrived at Banyan Tree Spa, I left feeling younger, relaxed, and pampered far beyond that which I had previously experienced at a spa. It was a marvelous way to spend my last day on Phuket and a fitting end to my role as temporary prima donna.
About Susan Brady:
Susan Brady has filled various roles throughout her nine years with Travelers’ Tales, having been with the company since its inception. She is currently director of production, responsible for book and catalog production, scheduling, inventory, print buying, and general office management. When not slaving over books, she lives the life of a typical soccer mom in the suburbs with her husband, three children, two cats, and iguana. Before coming to Travelers’ Tales, she helped birth babies rather than books as the director of The Birth Place Resource Center.