There’s a beautiful synergy between this spa and its surroundings it occurs to me as I lie, face down, on a bed of fresh white towels, while warm, fragrant rice is worked into my skin, kneading away every strain from my upper body. Outside, the lush, working rice paddies of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai create an air of overriding serenity, as well as a deep connection to the heritage of the northern Thai landscape. And here, in the resort’s award-winning Dheva Spa, the rice from that same land is being used for its healing properties.
I’m experiencing the Pottali Abhyanga, a signature treatment in which a compress of rice in a muslin bag is soaked in oil and massaged into the body. The effect is intoxicating. With every compression of the rice against a shoulder blade, or the nape of the neck, warm fragrant oil oozes across the skin, enveloping it in a blanket of comfort. Long, subtly forceful strokes release the tension from my muscles, while the grains of rice gently exfoliate my skin. The treatment finishes with a dry oil massage to the head, working on key pressure points, which makes my mind instantly succumb from distraction to calm.
The core benefit of Pottali Abhyanga is the elimination of any excess cold and dry qualities in the body, which easily build up nowadays through pollution, the fast pace of life, and the electromagnetic influences of cell phones, computers and televisions. These factors cause an imbalance with the energy of movement that is vata (air). The treatment promotes blood circulation, boosts the immune system, and improves the peristaltic movement of the intestines, leaving you feeling tranquil and relaxed.
Pottali Abhyanga perfectly exemplifies the approach at The Dheva Spa, which has become a destination for luxury travellers for its combination of treatments. These include traditional, 4,000-year-old northern Thai (or Lanna) experiences and Indian holistic practices based on Ayurveda (Sanskrit for ‘science of life’), as well as European, Asian and North African relaxation therapies, such as Chinese reflexology and a rasul; the latter is inspired by an ancient Arabic cleansing ritual, in which steam and mineral-rich river mud draw out the skin’s toxins.
The effect is like stepping into a spiritual sanctuary
To explain the philosophy behind the treatments, Sunita Shekhar Mahamuni, holistic health manager at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, says, ‘The Dheva Spa and Wellness Centre has its roots in the variety of therapies that branch out like a tree, encompassing the aspects of one’s life – the environment, nutrition, lifestyle activites, exercise, frame of mind, emotions and spirituality.’
Ascend the steps to The Dheva Spa’s temple-like structure and an air of calm immediately takes over. The palatial 3,100-square-metre design consists of a series of connected small buildings, each decorated with ornate mouldings, sculptures and Buddhist motifs. Built by 150 Chiang Mai artisans to echo a Burmese royal palace, the complex took more than three and a half years to complete.
From the sound of trickling water to the warm breeze that wraps around the flowers, the entire effect is like stepping into a spiritual sanctuary. Inside, the rooms are furnished with Thai silk, teakwood, marble tiles and antiques, while white shutters ensure privacy. The treatments, too, have a traditional Thai aesthetic: each one begins with a footbath in a bowl of water laden with floating flowers. For all the tradition, The Dheva Spa, of course, also boasts modern luxuries. There’s a Watsu pool heated to body temperature, hammams, soothing Vichy and giant rain showers, as well as indulgent bath oils. All a world away from the province’s vibrant capital city, Chiang Mai (yet a short taxi ride will take you straight into the heart of it).
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