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Massage with healing oils, fish reflexology and enchanting spas in tropical gardens can all be found in Singapore, says Catherine Beattie, who spent a busy 48-hours in the dynamic city.  Whether you’re planning a trip ‘down under’ or looking for warmer climes, Singapore offers an abundance of lifestyle and...

Singapore Sling

Massage with healing oils, fish reflexology and enchanting spas in tropical gardens can all be found in Singapore, says Catherine Beattie, who spent a busy 48-hours in the dynamic city. 



Whether you’re planning a trip ‘down under’ or looking for warmer climes, Singapore offers an abundance of lifestyle and entertainment options. Asia’s ‘Garden City’ has long been a popular stopover between Europe and Australia, but has now evolved into a world-class destination in its own right, with stunning new attractions and a plethora of superb spas. With its exotic blend of cultures, traditions and lifestyles, Singapore is one of the most enjoyable and exciting cities in Southeast Asia. 

After the UK’s freezing weather, the 30ºC tropical heat is a joy. The humid warmth envelops us like a blanket as we emerge from Changi Airport for the short drive into Singapore. We are joining a cruise in a couple of days and this is our first visit to the city (not counting the hours spent in transit at this fantastic airport on visit to family in Oz).

Zipping along the bougainvillea-lined expressway, our first impressions are of blue sea and skies, wide tree-lined streets and tidy modern apartment blocks separated by gardens and green areas. When a tropical rain shower briefly blots out the sun and turns the expressway into a swirling torrent, I understand why the gardens are so lush and why it’s wise to carry a brolly!

Our room on the 15th floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel is supremely comfortable and spacious with far reaching views. We are conveniently close to Orchard Road, Singapore’s famous tree-lined boulevard of fashion emporia and designer shops. But I’m not here to shop, but to spa, and plan to visit seven city spas in two short days.

My first spa experience is at Damai, the Grand Hyatt’s luxurious new spa. Damai (meaning peace in Malay and Indonesian) celebrates the Singapore lifestyle and combines the healing philosophies, techniques and spa traditions of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European cultures. Treatments include Chinese Qi, European hydrotherapy, ayurvedic therapies and Urut, traditional Malay and Indonesian massage. At Damai, you choose oils for your treatment – Chinese to improve circulation, Malay to encourage healing, Indian to detoxify and European to energise and boost immunity. 


There are 11 spacious treatment rooms designed in restful neutral colours with Thai stone walls, fine timber floors and mood lighting. Each has its own sound system, water feature and outdoor garden. The treatment beds are especially comfortable, having memory foam mattresses and three adjustable sections for different treatments. The spa also has a couple’s suite with twin massage beds and a deep stone tub overlooking a cascading water terrace. Other facilities include a hydrotherapy area, state-of-the-art gym, exercise studio, outdoor pool and two tennis courts. 

As I’m jet lagged and tired from the long flight, Jackie, my therapist, suggests I try the Damai Orchid Massage signature treatment, named after the Vanda Miss Joaquin orchid, Singapore’s national flower. I choose healing Malay oils for the massage, which is preceded by a warm lime and sea salt footbath. Jackie explains that this pressure point massage eases tiredness, lift the spirits and improves energy flow to the head and body. Sounds perfect! I succumb to 90 minutes of divine relaxation during which I drift off to sleep at least three times, waking finally as the massage ends with delicate hydrating spray. Afterwards, Jackie brings me ginger tea and reassures me that I didn’t snore that much!

We are too weary to explore the city, so have dinner in StraitsKitchen, the Hyatt’s informal buffet restaurant in a contemporary ‘market place’ setting. Dining here is like a multicultural gastronomic tour, with chefs on hand to cook delicious dishes to order from Chinese, Malay and Indian show kitchens. The ambience is lively, the service second to none and you can eat as much as you like. Even the crockery comes in unusual shapes, colours and textures. StraitsKitchen is a popular venue and our most memorable dining experience in Singapore. Great for ‘people watching’ too!

The next morning, we meet up with Wong Wee Tee, our petite Singaporean guide and Guru, our driver, who are taking us to the spas and city attractions in a small bus. First stop is Sentosa, Singapore’s little getaway island off the southern coast and the location of the city’s first integrated resort, the mammoth Resorts World at Sentosa. This new world class attraction incorporates a Universal Studios theme park, marine and water parks, casino, shops, a maritime museum and the world’s largest oceanarium. Four of the resort’s hotels are now open and two more including an ESPA wellness spa, open in 2011. 


Guru drops us off at Mount Faber station, as we want to travel to Sentosa by cable car. We are visiting Spa Botanica, Singapore’s first garden destination spa, set amid the tranquil greenery of the Sentosa Resort & Spa – a world away, yet just a ten-minute drive from the bustle of the city. Spa Botanica has 15 indoor treatment rooms named after local spices and six outdoor ones named after local flowers as well as spa facilities situated in tropical gardens. These include Singapore’s only mud pools as well as float pools with cascading waterfalls; steam and mud detox baths and two labyrinths, designed for meditative walks to relax mind and body. Exclusive treatments include the Singapore Flower Ritual and my personal favourite Jungle Rain, a massage with the warm water jets of a Vichy shower. Individual treatments, spa rituals and packages use local herbs, flower balms and essential oils and include use of indoor and outdoor spa facilities. The Garden, Spa Botanica’s bright and airy restaurant, is well worth a visit. The décor is delightful, and all the dishes and vegetarian choices are sourced from organic or biodynamic farms. All food carries nutritional information and is carefully prepared to retain natural flavours and goodness. 


After Spa Botanica, Guru drives us back through the city to one of its newest icons, the Singapore Flyer. At 165 metres tall, the Flyer is the world’s largest giant observation wheel. A rotation in one of its spacious capsules provides us with sensational photo opportunities – sea and city panoramas as well as close up views over the Formula 1 race track skirting below. We gape in wonder at the sheer extent of the Marina Bay Sands development, another new hotel and entertainment complex nearing completion. Awesome!

In the Flyer Retail Centre afterwards, Wee Tee takes us to the Kenko Reflexology & Fish Spa for fish reflexology, a popular treatment in Southeast Asia that uses the healing properties of the Garra Rufa (also known as ‘Doctor Fish’), to smooth and massage the feet. This unusual treatment originated in Turkey, where it is still used to treat skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. The tiny minnow-like fish eat only affected and dead areas of skin leaving the healthy parts alone. 










I wash my feet then step carefully into a large submerged tank of tepid water, lined with shingle and filled with hundreds of tiny fish. No sooner have I sat down than the fish are swarming all over my feet and ankles, nibbling away. It’s incredibly ticklish and I can’t stop laughing. 

After a bit, I brave wading into a second tank of larger fish. Here, the tickling and massaging sensation is more intense, almost like short electric shocks, making me laugh and squirm at the same time. I can only tolerate a short time here, so return to the first tank, where the gentler nibbles of the smaller fish now feel like a caress. Verdict – a fun treatment with a genuine ‘feel good factor’ (it’s impossible not to laugh) that leaves your feet beautifully smooth. 










After the excitement of fish reflexology, we visit a more conventional spa in one of the city’s tranquil parks. Canopied trees and acres of lush green foliage surround the delightful Aramsa Garden Spa. Here, the spa’s philosophy is of being at one with nature, the natural healer and is reflected in the gardens, open spaces and the floor to ceiling glass windows in the 14 treatment rooms and suites. These are accessed via cobblestone pathways meandering through fragrant gardens. The menu of holistic and nurturing treatments includes 17 different massages, indulgent spa packages, facials and individual therapies using products made from natural ingredients, flowers and local herbs. Vegetarian spa cuisine is served at the Greenroom Café and you can book a Pilates and Dance class in the Power Moves studio. 


From the peace of the Aramsa Garden Spa in Bishan Park, we return to the bustle of the city and the Asian Spa in the prestigious Fullerton Hotel, located in one of Singapore’s most historic buildings overlooking Marina Bay. The hotel opened in 1928, but it wasn’t until 2000 that a spa was added to the hotel’s facilities. The recent upgrade created 11 themed treatment rooms based on the elements of Fire, Water, Metal, Wood and Earth. The therapists are from different Asian countries, which adds authenticity to your choice of treatment, whether you choose a stretching Thai or a relaxing Indonesian massage. The mix of East and West treatments includes massages, facials, hydrotherapy, body wraps and more. 

Our final spa visit of the day is to the legendary Raffles Hotel. We are to have a Singapore Sling (what else?) in the Long Bar, followed by a tour of the hotel and a treatment in the Amrita Spa. The iconic 122-year old hotel is named after Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore’s founder and declared a national monument in 1987. Raffles is certainly impressive – elegant white neo-Renaissance architecture, tropical gardens and a stunning entrance lobby with atrium and galleried landings. After closing for a total refurbishment in 1989, Raffles reopened two years later as an all-suite property, since when it has won countless awards for all-round excellence and quality service. As well as 103 suites, the hotel has eight distinctive restaurants and bars and over 40 speciality shops in the Raffles Hotel Arcade.

Serene from Raffles greets us in the lobby and takes us on a fascinating short tour. Previous guests have included Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, heads of state and stars of stage and screen. In 2006, the hotel hosted HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during their state visit to Singapore. It feels surreal to be looking around their palatial suite with its elaborate furnishings and long outdoor balcony. 

The tranquil Amrita Spa is open to Raffles guests only, so I’m privileged to be pampered in such exclusive surroundings. Amrita (from the Sanskrit legend meaning elixir for eternal youth) has six treatment rooms and a VIP suite designed for couples. There’s also a gym, sauna and steam rooms, hot and cool Jacuzzis, an outdoor swimming pool and a poolside bar serving refreshing drinks and spa cuisine. 


As expert hands deliver firm and fragrant aromatherapy to my shoulders and back, any tension falls away and I drift off to sleep. Like all good treatments, it’s over too soon. But at Raffles, my return to reality is gentle and unrushed. I’m encouraged to continue my relaxation with my feet up, a cosy wrap and a refreshing drink on the deserted Spa Veranda. With the warm evening air and beautiful environment, this is special ‘me time’ to treasure. 

Before joining our cruise ship Arcadia the following day, we visit Singapore’s largest spa – Willow Stream at the Fairmont Hotel. The extensive facility offers relaxation lounges, whirlpool and cool plunge pools, sauna and steam rooms and 35 treatment rooms – all named after different orchids. There are three couples suites equipped with twin massage beds, private Jacuzzis and aromatherapy steam rooms. It’s a busy popular spa and the ambience is more ‘North America’ than ‘South-east Asia’. The infrastructure is a bit tired in some areas compared to the slick high standards of its newer competitors, but the spa menu is impressive and epitomises the best of East and West spa traditions. 


Willow Stream offers imaginatively named lifestyle spa packages, such as High Maintenance – a customised deep cleansing facial, manicure and pedicure; Shoppers’ Relief – a 60 or 90 minute massage with warm aromatic oils to revitalise, detox and recover, and Singapore Luxury, an all-in-one indulgence with face, neck and décolleté exfoliation, toning facial massage anti-ageing hand treatment, hand and foot and scalp massage. Some packages can be conveniently carried out in one room by two therapists. 

Kerstin Florian, SUNDARI Skin Care and Jane Iredale Mineral Makeup products are used in the spa and available for purchase. 

Time to board Arcadia for our cruise to Oz. We’ve had an action packed 48 hours in Singapore and loved every minute. We never made it to Chinatown, Little India or a host of other exciting places (still have islands, beaches, golf courses, shops, gardens, night safaris and more spas to experience), so plan to be back soon for a longer stay in this vibrant and captivating city. 

For the latest prices and offers, visit the hotel and spa websites:Grand Hyatt Singapore and Damai Spa www.singapore.grand.hyatt.com
Spa Botanica www.spabotanica.com or www.thesentosa.com
Kenko Reflexology and Fish Spa www.kenko.com.sg
Aramsa Garden Spa www.aramsaspas.com
Fullerton Hotel and Asian Spa www.fullertonhotel.com
Raffles Hotel and Amrita Spa www.raffleshotel.com
Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Singapore www.fairmont.com/singapore
www.willowstream.com
Singapore Flyer www.singaporeflyer.com
For further information on Singapore www.singapore.comRead: Lonely Planet’s Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei
11th edition Published Jan 2010
ISBN 978-1-74104-887-2 RRP: £16.99

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