City Tours Now | Traveller’s hilarious spa confessions
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Traveller’s hilarious spa confessions


Traveller’s hilarious spa confessions

Kendall Hill

You say relaxation, I say humiliation.

You say relaxation, I say humiliation.

It’s a mystery to me what the Ancient Greeks and Romans saw in public bathing because, 2000 years on, all I see is hygiene issues and humiliation.

My track record with spa experiences is not good. Part of it’s due to the hazy etiquette of getting half (sometimes fully) naked in front of perfect strangers. Part of it has to do with my natural cynicism, which chuckles darkly when, for example, the manager of a new Bali hotel shows me his collection of Lombok black pearls and says guests can have them shaved into massage creams and rubbed into their bodies for $2000. Are people really so gullible?

My uptight Anglo upbringing did not prepare me for the decadence of the destination spa. Editors dispatch me to them regularly (I know, poor me) and I can’t say no because only lunatics say no to free bliss and serenity. But I don’t often enjoy the experiences.

There’s always the worry of what to wear. I’ve been to several posh establishments where it’s expected I would strip naked in front of a petite therapist which, of course, I resisted. She finally checkmated me at the edge of a hot bath infused with relaxing oils, demanding I get in while she stood sentry at the far end. I protested. She insisted. I ended the deadlock with a clumsy backward flip into the perfumed tub, trying to be discreet. She just stood there staring at me like I was, in fact, a lunatic.

Since then I’ve always insisted on wearing something. Anything. Usually bathers or boxers. But never, ever again those spring-loaded “spa panties” they leave in your locker and suggest you change into.




Hold the paper panties, please.

I did that once and the results were terrifying. The panties snapped tight over my midsection and left me looking like a trussed turkey. I refused to come out of the change room.

Worse than the Underpants of Shame was the Sumo Strip of Submission, the standard attire at Sukhayus, an up-market ayurvedic retreat in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Ayurveda, an ancient practice combining massage and yoga, acupuncture and plant-based remedies, hails from Kerala so I’d flown to the source in search of its purest form.

After a cursory medical consultation I was led by two men to a treatment room and handed a strip of paper to slip into. One of them tied it around my waist with string, the length of paper hanging down as a modesty curtain while I slipped off my underwear. A deft hand – I’m not sure whose – wrangled the paper up my backside and secured it with the string. Lying on the massage bed in a tissue-thin sumo mawashi, it took mere seconds of the men lathering me in oil before the paper loincloth turned completely transparent.

So I shut my eyes tight. What I can’t see can’t be happening. (If you haven’t tried it before I can recommend this as an effective way of dealing with emotional spa traumas.)

Afterwards I was escorted, slightly broken, to a steam box contraption and told to climb inside. The hinged box closed around me leaving only my head and neck exposed while my oiled body broiled slowly.

It felt and smelt as though I was cooking. For days afterwards I wandered about with fenugreek wafting from my pores, never sure if the reek was from massage oils or all the dhal I’d eaten. Either way, I was definitely spicy.

To avoid the whole body-touching business I often book a facial. The best I’ve had was a day-long, outrageously expensive session at London’s Bulgari Hotel.

Afterwards, I skipped across Hyde Park feeling (and looking, or so I thought) 10 years younger.

Bulgari Hotel London — the scene of this traveller’s best spa session, ever.

The worst was probably that time at the Canyon Ranch spa aboard cruise ship Crystal Serenity, where I met Edith the tough-love therapist.

The Canyon Ranch is one of those full-service “medispas” that offers ageing cruisers everything from teeth whitening to more youthful eyes. Hospital-grade facial peels and Botox are available for those who prefer instant rejuvenation.

I’d booked in for a simple facial. With Edith, as it turned out. She started by criticising everything from my old, dry skin to the meadows of blackheads on my “dirty face”.

She spent ages performing extractions (a gross spa term for the squeezing of zits by a therapist – it’s disgusting but also extremely great) and I couldn’t look at her face because I knew she’d be grossed out. I certainly was.

Then, as if a switch flicked in her brain, Edith was all sweetness and light. Nice Edith showered me with compliments: “I like your face so much. It’s very … perfect!”

Then Nasty Edith returned to hard-sell some cream for my “puffy eyes”.

My self-confidence has never been the same since. So much for bliss and serenity.

Follow Kendall Hill on Instagram @misterkendallhill




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