Relax in a haven of natural beauty and luxury
On the beach, a saffron-clothed figure looks out at the still waters and the rising sun. Slowly, he turns towards us, bows and smiles. This is Master Hu, a Shaolin gongfu master and our qigong and tai chi chuan teacher. He is one of the star attractions at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s newest resort at Sanya, on the southern tip of Hainan Island. For this resort, its first in China, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has explored the ancient healing and wellness traditions of the country and of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) within the setting of its 3,200sqm Spa. The efficacy of TCM is increasingly acknowledged in the West, and its many elements – including meditation and acupuncture – are being used in conjunction with Western medical practices.
Pamper is a key word in this garden paradise of a spa
Shaolin Master Hu is a star attraction
Master Hu is an elegant introduction to both the resort and Shaolin philosophy. In the early morning, on the sands of Sanya, he gently took our class of three through an introduction to tai chi with a little qigong thrown in for good measure. Small and full of smiles, he looks heartachingly young, and yet he has been a monk for more than 20 years. He has taken his skills as a master all over the world and is now in residence at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya. As well as teaching guests the rudiments of tai chi, he also introduces them to the philosophy of the traditional tea ceremony. In this fascinating explanation he describes tea as being Zen refreshment for the mind, and then introduces guests to the tastes of five different teas, which incorporate the five elements of TCM – metal, wood, fire, earth and water. Each of these elements relates to our internal organs – lungs, liver, heart, spleen and kidney, respectively – and, as he places each tea in front of you, he explains that in Shaolin philosophy you drink tea not because you are thirsty but because you wish to study life.
That is what is so different about The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Sanya; not only do you have marvellous massages and treatments, but you also get a crash (too strong a word for such a gentle place) course in Chinese philosophy. While it may begin with Master Hu, it does not end there; step over to The Spa Village where Dr Zhao waits to diagnose the treatments that would benefit you most.
Blending into the landscape, The Spa Village is almost hidden by cleverly planted gardens and surrounded by verdant gardens, pools, fountains and waters. Its open-sided relaxation pavilion is long and wide to allow air and light to filter through. Bronze artefacts and orchids are displayed on low wooden tables alongside books, magazines and the morning’s newspapers. The décor is effortlessly chic with chaises longues and silk bolster cushions in shades of sand, gold and aubergine, where you can enjoy teas, tisanes, juices and deliciously healthy meals. Try poached sea bass in a broth of ginger and lemongrass to discover how seriously healthy food should taste.
You could easily spend a day here, lounging, reading, relaxing and meditating, with occasional forays to the pool and regular ministrations in one of the 18 treatment suites. Of these, there are eight single, eight double and two VIP versions with their own secret gardens resplendent with bougainvillea and tropical greenery – book yourself into one of these suites and you may never leave. Each suite is elegantly spare in creamy stone and marble, and bathed in a soft light enhanced by flickering lamps and floral-scented oils and incense (you can choose the fragrance you fancy). Not only does it have a spacious treatment area, but it also has a steam shower and an outdoor bathtub, which is screened from view by the suite’s high-walled garden, so you are open to the sky and its elements.
An appointment with Dr Zhao is essential to really get the most from your visit – just by taking your pulse, TCM practitioners can tell the state of your heart, lungs and liver, not to mention what is going on inside your head and whether your sleep pattern is erratic or not. He will also prescribe the types of foods you should avoid and those you need more of. His English is minimal, but the enchanting Julie Xie, Spa Operations Manager, is an able and discreet translator.
Book into one of the suites and you may never leave
While TCM treatments are showcased – acupuncture, acupressure, cupping and moxibustion (where a herbal stick is used to heat various acupressure points in the body to help improve circulation), and bone setting, a forerunner of osteopathy and chiropractic – a comprehensive menu of other treatments is also available. As with all Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group Spas, the healing traditions of both Asian and European cultures are used in the therapies. Alongside Thai and Swedish massage, guests can opt for aromatherapy, herbal compresses and even an Hilot massage. This originates in the Philippines and is a deep-tissue treatment that helps balance the body and relieve tension. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but any tight or knotted muscles, especially after long plane journeys, are quickly eased. Jet-lagged bodies can also be rejuvenated by taking a Revive body treatment, which merges Eastern and Western techniques for a spot of chakra balancing and toxin elimination. A special Golfer’s Massage is also on the menu, handy for those taking advantage of the nearby course.
Holistic foot treatments include a medicinal soak, wrap and massage
Pamper is a key word in this garden paradise of a spa, with every sense seduced. Nowhere is this more evident than in the choice of body scrubs – whether it’s the earthy smell of fresh green tea, the exotic blend of cinnamon and ginger or the delicate scent of pearl powder and rice milk. While the Indulge Facial is guaranteed to lessen every stress and worry line from a recession-ravaged face, it also incorporates a back and shoulder massage.
The more energetic can head for the state-of-the-art gym or take part in the daily tai chi, qigong, yoga and stretching classes – private sessions with a personal trainer and Master Hu are also available. The resort has three swimming pools, including a lap pool dedicated to exercise, all of which have views of the bay and gardens. There are floodlit tennis courts and a tennis instructor, as well as a fitness trail that loops around the property.
Mandarin Oriental, Sanya is an extraordinary resort, encircled by tropical gardens and a clear sea fringed with coral reefs, bordering the South China Sea. The destination, just an hour’s flight from Hong Kong and near the Vietnamese coast, offers a real mix of east and west, with culture, entertainment, retail and rainforest. For those who want to paint the town red, only five minutes away is the shopping and entertainment area of Dadong Hai; for therapy tourists, the natural geothermal hot springs are just 40 minutes away. Eco travellers will head for the magical rainforests of Ganshiling, while dreamers can embark on a 30-minute journey from the resort to the end of the earth, a place known as Tian Ya Hai Jiao, which roughly translates ‘the end of the sky and the corner of the sea’. There, a winding path leads through carved rocks for even more mystical views. Below, the rest of us remain on the beach with Master Hu to absorb more of Shaolin philosophy and turn our minds to the rising sun.