Is there such a thing as too much spa? Max Anderson accepts the challenge of finding out.
After 20 years of reviewing luxury properties, I'm no stranger to the massage table. But, truthfully, I've never been comfortable with spa treatments.
For one thing, I'm more ticklish than Elmo, but, for another, being massaged by a stranger reliably stirs up some working-class guilt that I try to relieve by chattering like a chipmunk.
I am, however, very receptive to the fact that a lot of people relish spa treatments and pay handsomely for the privilege. At Daydream Island (one of the less costly Whitsunday resorts), treatments range from $75 for a half-hour massage to $310 for a two-hour Tropical Delight rejuvenation package. A one-hour rub at Hayman will detox your wallet by $185; a two-hour signature session costs $400.
So I was rather surprised to discover the luxury Fusion Maia resort in Da Nang will provide unlimited spa treatments as part of the room rate.
Fine print? Well, not much. A villa with private pool costs $US400 ($450) a couple a night. Whatever time of year you visit, each guest is guaranteed at least two daily spa treatments from the extensive menu. If you stay at the 200-person resort outside of December to mid-May (peak season in Vietnam), you can pretty much have as many treatments as you like. It was upon learning this last fact that I decided to lay my body on the line and find out if there's such a thing as "too many spa treatments".
After the short transfer from Da Nang airport, it didn't take long to feel at home in the Fusion Maia. This is a lovely, lovely resort, beautifully designed with soothing yin-yang tones, crisp design and lots of still water. Best of all are the resort's young staff, who radiate happy vibes through the simple Vietnamese technique of being - well, happy.
All the resort's energies are channelled towards an incredibly handsome beach plus some far-off headlands, offering beach vistas that more famous cities simply cannot boast. Alas for me, however, there was no time for the sand-side infinity pool, nor the traditional fishing boat experiences, nor even the free shuttle to the historic village of Hoi An. I had an appointment with a soothing and sweet-smelling complex that sounded like a warm breeze was blowing over the pipes of Pan ...
"No, we've never had anyone requesting back-to-back treatments," said spa manager Saffiere. Then she shrugged and added brightly: "But you can always be the first!"
Day One saw me undergo four hours of spa therapy in six sessions variously administered by Thao, Van and Be. All three girls barely made 1.5 metres in height, and while their hands were strong enough to crack Brazil nuts, their demeanour was gentle and their English only slight. Any chattering on my part was quickly met by smiles and shy entreaties to lie back down.
But twice that day, while peering through a cushioned porthole in the table, something deeply strange happened: I went into a semi-conscious state. Admittedly I was tired from flying from Adelaide via Singapore, but I won't easily forget the deep-sleep sensation complete with abstract dream images while part of my brain was conscious of being worked upon. It was a little bit druggy - or slightly similar to the sensation of falling asleep in front of the TV.
By my last session, it was quite normal to be wearing only disposable underwear while surrendering to a regime of pummelling, fruity unctions and cleansing cups of herbal tea.
On Day Two I had more firsts.
Saffiere had entered into the spirit of my spa-a-thon, deciding that I in turn should enter into the spirit of the resort's daily wellness program. She packed me off to an 8am yoga session, which helped with the muscle aches from yesterday's hammering. After that she sent me up a towering column of limestone, where in the shadow of a curly-roofed temple, looking down on stands of bamboo and acres of Da Nang suburbs, I had to do half an hour of tai chi.
The on-table program didn't let up either. Four hours of therapy spread over the afternoon and night, though mercifully Chao and Minh concentrated on face, scalp and hands.
At one point I realised I've never had to stay still and quiet for so long. And while Asian massage is the stuff of The World of Suzie Wong and The Virgin Soldiers (and I thought of both films when Van climbed onto my back so she could use the brute strength of her elbows and knees), I soon realised that my detoxed blood was flowing to only one part of me: my brain.
The time ebbed and flowed on a syrupy current of ideas, memories and plans - until, that is, I was rendered semi-conscious again.
There was only one slight complication to my program, and that was trying to fit in lunch. Fusion Maia's two restaurants had brilliant menus, but I soon learnt it was best not to get bloated before getting horizontal - a mud wrap session was beset with fears of turning myself into Rotorua.
Day Three saw a final two hours packed into a morning plus another yoga session, a Happiness Workshop and a very pleasant Wellness Consultation in which I was encouraged by Bhavini to think how I could up the wellness ante at home. (Recommendation: do more yoga for mental stillness and improved suppleness.)
At 3pm, I boarded the free shuttle and alighted in Hoi An, where I sat myself at a riverside bar to enjoy a tableau that was sparklingly, joyously Asian - a thing of boats, woodsmoke, strange fruit and constant noise.
Within my bubble of stillness, I'd had a total of 11 hours of massages and spa treatments, excluding the yoga and wellness programs, that would have cost between $1500 and $2000 in an Australian resort.
So is there such a thing as too much spa? There probably is, but I never found the limit. Indeed, I felt detoxed, balanced, fragranced, smoothed, invigorated, rejuvenated, yinned and yanged, and best of all, buoyed by meeting energetic people who delighted in helping guests to unwind and feel good about themselves.
I only needed one thing to make my world complete. "I'll start with a large beer, please," I said. "And don't spare the toxins."
The writer travelled as a guest of Fusion Maia, Da Nang and Flight Centre.
Singapore Airlines has a fare to Da Nang for about $950 low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne. Fly to Singapore (about 8hr) and then to Da Nang (2hr 45min). See www.singaporeair.com. Australians require a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.
A spa villa for two people costs $US390-$US425 a night, twin share. Includes breakfast (all day), all spa treatments (at least two a day a person) and shuttle service to Hoi An. Half-board package (lunch or dinner) $US35 a person; full board $65 a person.