From enlightenment-giving to shaman-inspired rituals, these inspiring spa resorts are elevating their experiences from historic to holistic.
Cambodia’s spiritual centre, Siem Reap, steeped in a cultural blend of Hinduism and Buddhism, has a magnetism that draws you to its mystical charms. The magnificent temples of Angkor take your breath away as you look in awe of its splendour. Amidst this backdrop of grandeur in a homage to the Gods, the lure of Angkor is eternal as a spiritual paradise of peace and tranquillity.
Siem Reap is where wellness and spirituality mingle naturally, encapsulating the essence of the mind and soul in a journey of discovery.
Those seeking “enlightenment” should head for Anantara Angkor (anantara.com) which lays out one of the most immersive holistic spa journeys in Cambodia. Anantara Spa’s wellness packages are themed on Buddhism’s Seven Ways of Enlightenment (mindfulness, self-realisation, energy, joy, peace, focus, equanimity). Each of the seven spa pathways (indulged as a four- to five-hour package or strung over a couple of days) comprises massages (one treatment uses the seed from the angkuhn tree, found mainly around Angkor Wat), body treatments (the Golden Silk Cocoon facial takes inspiration from the silk weaving tradition) and activities (incense stick making, monk’s blessing at a pagoda).
Touring the Angkor temples incurs a lot of walking and climbing, and you will be glad to have a traditional Khmer massage beforehand. Good for loosening the muscles, it was used to reinvigorate monks after prolonged periods of meditation. Akin to traditional Thai massage (oil-free) but with longer, smoother strokes and less stretching, this massage forms a component in the third path to enlightenment, focusing on energy healing.
PhumBaitang (zannierhotels.com) is one of Siem Reap’s most celebrated boutique resorts with an equally impressive spa menu. Designed in the essence of Angkor Wat, the aptly named Spa Temple pays homage to the body, mind and soul.
“There is only one truly sacred personal temple in this universe, the body. It houses your mind, spirit and intelligence …”, the spa declares in its extensive menu. Equipped with a sauna and hammam, it proffers a good number of ancient Khmer treatments, such as the Angkor Temples Ritual for tired limbs. It is curated from a traditional healing ritual for rice farmers where hand-crushed spice would be applied on their legs after a long day of standing in the water tending to the paddy fields.
There are a slew of holistic therapies from around Asia, from the Tibetan KuNye massage to Tantra and Taoism massage for lower back pain and martial arts fitness sessions called wing chun which helps develop focus and confidence.
When overworked muscles take their toll, it’s time to summon some shamanic help. For centuries, the Hmong hill people have sought healing from their shamans who use warm herbal compress to ease muscle tension, stimulate blood circulation and help in detoxification. Thankfully, the ancient ritual is available at SoSpa by Sofitel Angkor (sofitel-angkor-phokeethra.com). Its therapists trained in this ancient wisdom would steam the herbal poultice filled with eucalyptus, cinnamon, yanang, ginger and Borneo camphor (up to an optimum temperature to extract the benefits from the herbs) and apply it on targeted areas of the body.
This treatment is suited for today’s urban warriors who require pre/post workout conditioning or those seeking relief from jet lag, mental and physical fatigue, muscle soreness and low energy.
When feeling positively uplifted from doing good, there is no shortage of philanthropic opportunities in Siem Reap. Among them is Shinta Mani Angkor (shintamani.com), which offers massage treatments by blind therapists.
“Shinta Mani Spa by Khmer Tonics works with blind villagers in the local community, training them to international standards to become qualified massage therapists”, says general manager Kenan Moumin. “For each massage by a blind therapist, we will donate 50 per cent of the proceeds of the treatment to the therapist to help them provide for their families.”
Currently, two blind male therapists trained in Shinta Mani’s signature oil massage offer traditional Khmer and foot massages. Prices range from US$35 to US$60, plus applicable government tax and service charge.
Need a quick energising boost that’s also mind-calming? The traditional J’Pong herbal steam therapy, used to clear the airway and boost blood circulation, is especially suited for those with sinusitis. Angkoria spa at Borei Angkor (boreiangkor.com) is famed for this stress-relieving and rejuvenating herbal steam infused with a blend of natural herbs. For added revitalisation, spend some time at the hot and cold jacuzzi room.
Meanwhile, Amansara (aman.com) has dedicated its signature spa therapy to women. Aman Spa’s Apsara ritual begins with a full-body scrub which features a hydrating and exfoliating blend of local herbs, followed by an energising aromatherapy clay wrap, traditional Khmer mask for toning and rice compress to relax the stomach, culminating in a mini facial. Each spa suite is lavished with a relaxation area, private steam bath and shower.
Its holistic therapies take mindfulness outdoors as much as possible in such sessions as forest bathing while one of Angkor’s master monks leads a walking meditation in the forest to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness amidst nature and the environment to seek serenity.
There is also a movement studio offering activities inspired by Khmer culture, with Apsara dance classes to aerial yoga and kickboxing.
The elegant resort reflects the masterpiece of 1960s New Khmer architecture commissioned by the late King Norodom Sihanouk for his guests. ◼
© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.