Discovery is predicting that three trends will dominate travel in 2018: the renaissance of northern Europe; the rise of Asian heritage projects; and an increasingly sophisticated health and wellness tourism industry.
In the final articles we highlight how Asia’s top spa resorts are reinventing the relationship between leisure and health.
The coast of Vinh Hy Bay appeared. It was rugged, a bit like the weather and the roads. But the best resorts all require some effort to get there. Besides I was cocooned in the Amanoi’s Toyota Fortuner 4×4, whose suspension allowed me to make a more or less legible note. It went as follows.
Stiff neck. Slight headache. Funny taste in my mouth – a bit acrid. Aching left knee – minor meniscus tear? Throbbing left Achilles tendon. Unspecified pain behind right shoulder. Dry skin, especially feet and hands. Puffy lips. Slightly swollen fingers. Blocked right sinus. Cloudy vision.
My condition was perfectly normal – for a middle-aged frequent flyer living in Hong Kong, drinking more than he should, working longer hours than he’d like, sleeping less than he ought to and playing rather more five-a-side football than his age and physical condition should justify.
Frankly, I couldn’t see why on Earth I needed a three-day ‘Mindfulness, Movement and Stress Control Immersion Programme!’ The words worried me, as did the exclamation mark. Ask me what my usual programme of activities at a high-end resort would be, and I’d probably say: ‘nice dinners, excellent wine, the occasional sports massage, a walk along the beach.’ Oh, and ‘decent Wi-Fi so I could do all the work and deal with all the emails I hadn’t got around to in the past three weeks’.
That’s not what my ‘immersion director’ had in mind.
The ID is one of the Asian medicine specialists brought in by Amanoi to create a new programme of intensive and, it says, highly personalised therapies. Aman is not alone. Luxury resorts, especially in Asia, are moving on. They reinvented the spa. Now they’re reinventing the relationship between leisure and health.
But before getting into all that, I settled down to a nice dinner. I looked at the menu. I was mentally pairing a grouper and ginger with a nice marsanne when, with profuse apologies, they took away my menu and gave me a card with my three-day meal plan listed.
I glanced at it and saw words like ‘broths’, ‘teas’, ‘juices’, ‘infusions’, ‘raw vegetables’ and something called a ‘decoction’. No coffee, no bread and emphatically no alcohol.
The ID explained why the next day during my orientation. In my experience, a resort orientation is usually a map and a gentle ride in a golf cart. This was more of an orientation around me: my body, mind and spirit, as analysed by the light of traditional Chinese medicine.
It turned out I am prone to getting heated, I’m restless and my qi goes haywire or gets blocked. So as well as the broths and decoctions, I had a pretty non-stop routine of massages, healing touches, meridian therapies, acupuncture and a sauna session that involved being assaulted pretty thoroughly with the local foliage. There was time for a hike through Nui Chua National Park, a scrubby wilderness of boulders, outcrops and granite bluffs in the blustery winds and blinding light of a Vietnamese winter.
The room was the other innovation – not a room, but the Thuy Lien Spa House. Forget a plunge pool and getting a massage on your bed. This room has its own spa building, itself larger than resort villas, with a double treatment room, sauna, deck, outdoor dining area, steam room and 15-metre pool, all to myself, overlooking a stretch of lake and forest.
Now that was personalised; and it’s another indication of the way this new world of high-end health escapism is going. If you’re in a retreat and focused on your internal and external being, maybe you don’t want to share spa space with other external beings.
But was it a truly ‘personalised’ experience? At the end, I concluded that it’s more an off-the-peg programme that’s been smartly tailored, not a solution designed for every quirky inch of your being. That would take more time and resources than even these well-equipped, fully-staffed resorts can offer. They should also make at least a nod to unglamorous, unpoetic conventional medicine. Those swollen fingers and puffy lips of mine are a sure sign of high blood pressure. Did they monitor said blood pressure? No. The qi came first.
Still, at the end of the immersion I bounded up the flight of steps to reception like a young gazelle. The Achilles tendon was acting efficiently on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, the structural integrity of my knee as it underwent tension and torsion was just fine, and the corneas of my eyes appeared to be firing on all 43 dioptres.
I felt good. Was that the double espresso I’d sneaked in at breakfast? I hope not.