Hammered on Huangshan, Cooked in Kochi

Jun 24, 2010
*Special to asia!
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What makes a spa a spa? Strictly speaking, a spa has to have a thermal spring nearby which has healing properties. Or at least use products that are made with thermal spring water. These days anyone who employs a handful of masseuses and a shelf of essential oils will claim they run a spa. This is the first in a series of posts about my spa trek all over Asia.


Huangshan's beguiling serenity was destroyed by a massage nazi.

Huangshan's beguiling serenity was destroyed by a massage nazi.

Nobody warned me about Yellow Mountain in the Anhui Province of China. No one said, "You will have to lug your suitcase uphill for two hours until you reach your hotel." Yes, you could have taken a sedan chair or have porters carry your luggage but you would be put to shame by the elderly locals who manouevred up the steep slopes without breaking a sweat. After we breathlessly deposited our bags at the hotel, we continued our trek upwards to the summit to take in the famed limestone wonderland. That took two hours and it was so strenuous that my roommate and I opted for some tender loving care at the hotel's massage centre. What a mistake. Instead of TLC I got the fists of fury. My stocky, steely faced masseuse pounded my back while excavating information about my job and what a massage like hers would cost in my home country. Was it my imagination or was the pounding getting harder as she talked about people who had left her big tips. I paid her 40 yuan more than I needed to but she practically scowled as I left for my bedroom, hobbling. Wham, bam, no thank you, ma'am.

The other place that should have a warning sign outside the door was a hotel basement spa in Kochi, India. It promised an ayurvedic massage with a steam bath. Lots of oil was slopped onto my body and this proceeded to flow onto the bare wooden surface that I lay on. This is the normal ayurvedic oil massage experience, but I could have done with a little more, erm, hand-holding. As the masseuse kneaded me I slid all over the bed and was only prevented from falling off it by the raised rim around the edges. I was like a fish on a greasy frying pan. What's more the masseuse had a corn on her thumb which I became well acquainted with throughout the kneading and I was only too glad to escape to the shower and steam room. But it was a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The shower control was faulty so I had a scalding hot shower with dense steam followed by the nastiest shock. The wooden door, no doubt warped by the hot steam over the years was jammed. I could not open it and no amount of pounding on the door seemed to attract the attention of the masseuse who had evidently gone to man the front desk. Finally she returned to release me. As I was drying my hair she stuck out her calloused hand saying, "Tip, thank you". I felt like weeping.

Sucker punched yet again. Caught like a fish in Kochi's post-card perfect fishing nets, which incidentally were invented by the Chinese.

These have been the worst experiences I have had as a lifestyle writer reviewing spas for the past 20 years. It can only get better from here.


Kochi's fishing nets were reportedly introduced by China's explorer Zheng He.

Kochi's grasping fishing nets were introduced by a Chinese explorer.



vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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