How To Choose A Spa September 5, 2011

Spa massage room

Who doesn’t like a good rubdown surrounded by calming music and delicate fragrance to unravel all the tight knots in the body? A simple 15min foot massage, a pretty manicure, a freshly washed and styled hair – all these can dramatically improve your mood. Just ask Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. At the first sign of distress, she runs to the nearest nail spa for a manicure and a place to moan about her predicament.

Pop culture aside, in order to choose a spa that is right for you, experts suggest that you should take 3 things into consideration: treatment, money and destination (source: Times UK)


Before you start, let’s just recap the types of spas that are out there. The common ones are, but not limited to:

  1. Day spa is a spa offering a variety of professionally administered spa services to clients on a day-use basis. It is one of the most popular types around – you pop in, choose a treatment, get it done and then you leave. It is great if you have only 30mins or a couple of hours to spare; think of day spas as a quick, mini getaway to de-stress and de-compress. It doesn’t require you to pay membership fees or stay overnight, though prior appointment is advised to ensure that your masseuse or facialist is available. The Energy Day Spa, or the much simpler Arokaya House of Traditional Thai Massage, are examples of popular day spas in Kuala Lumpur.
  2. Destination spa, on the other hand, is a short-term residential/lodging facility that offers overnight packages and usually selected by those who want to go through a transformation of sorts. A major destination spa usually provide programs that include spa services, physical fitness activities, wellness education, healthful cuisine and even special interest programs like smoking cessation or weight-loss retreats. Historically many such spas were developed at the location of natural hot springs or sources of mineral waters.  In Malaysia, The Spa Village Pangkor Laut and Tanjung Jara Resort are two of the best, and highly recommended, destination spas.
  3. Medical spa is basically a healthcare facility that operates under the full-time, on-site supervision of a licensed health care professional. Its main purpose is to provide medical care and treatment but in an environment that integrates spa services, as well as traditional, complementary and/or alternative therapies and treatments. While medical spas are still an under-served market in Malaysia, our neighbouring country Thailand has some of the most sought-after medical spas in the region. For instance, the S Medical Spa offers laser and aesthetic treatments such as face lifts; and the Tao Garden Health and Spa Resort includes physical therapy and pain management as one of  its treatment packages. Keep your eyes peeled out for Damai SoulSpace Wellness Spa & Retreat as we pioneer this category in Malaysia!




“Do some homework. Think about what you want. Spas can be very different, from an express lunchtime facial to a week-long retreat. If staying in a hotel book your treatments ahead to avoid disappointment on arrival.” Miranda Allard – Times Online spa expert. She answers spa queries at

“Don’t pay anyone to do what you could do at home. Body scrubs are a waste of money, as is any treatment that involves soaking in a bath or where a therapist is not present.” Alexia Brue – spa expert and writer of “Cathedrals of the Flesh”, a book about Eastern European baths.

Typical treatments that you can find offered in a spa include, but not limited to:

    1. Aromatherapy
    2. Bathing or soaking
    3. Body wraps
    4. Facials
    5. Massage
    6. Nail care
    7. Nutrition and weight guidance
    8. Personal training
    9. Skin treatment
    10. Yoga and meditation
    11. Waxing
    12. Hair care
    13. Beauty care

While some guides suggest that you start with deciding how much you want to spend on a spa treatment, I suggest you start with deciding the treatment that you want. When I sprained my knee recently, I sought out traditional chinese massage at a day spa in Summit USJ that uses gentle acupressure techniques; I go to Arokaya in Sunway Pyramid instead when I want some serious kneading and stretching and pulling. Yes, all spas are not created equal. Aster Spring, for instance, is great for skin treatment and beauty care; while Tanamera Spa is suitable for  those who are looking for post-natal spa packages. Baliayu Spa Sanctuary offers traditional balinese massages; Siam Bodyworks, as the name suggests, offers traditional thai massages and herbal therapy.

Additionally, sometimes a spa is not what you want (or need) after all. The basic premise of a spa is that it provides relaxation and pampering, emphasis being on the pampering portion of the program. If what you want is a straight-up french manicure, a no-fuss nail care salon may suit you better. If you want an aromatic salt rub, hydrating mask, hot towel wrap, hand massage, paraffin dip, skin exfoliation and a soothing ginger tea to sip while your french manicure is being done, a spa is where you need to be.


“Choose a spa you can afford. Anxiety from overspending will negate benefits of relaxation.” Alexia Brue

Going to a spa is a personal treat so choose one that suits the health of your wallet and would not burden you financially. A lot of spas offer packages that combine two or more treatments for a special price, or promotions where standard treatments are offered at a discount, or annual membership packages that will entitle customers to a number of sessions for a much-reduced price. Do not feel pressured to sign up for any of these packages. Sometimes you may feel that the savings are too good to be dismissed, but before you sign on the dotted line, take a moment to honestly evaluate your time and lifestyle and wallet to see if you are able to enjoy these savings at the first place. I know many people (myself included) who signed up for annual packages only to have the treatments expire because they were unable to find the time to go to the spa.

A general guide for prices at a day spa in Malaysia is as follows:

  1. A 30min traditional massage on specific body part (foot massage, neck massage) starts from RM35.
  2. A 60min full body traditional massage starts from RM60.
  3. A specialty massage like hot stone therapy is more expensive, and may start from RM75. It may also run a little longer than 60min.
  4. A basic facial that consists of cleansing, exfoliating and moisturising regime usually starts at RM120. Adding special masks, serums or eye treatments, skin-type specific treatments (sensitive skin, oily skin) or beauty treatments (brightening, scar-reducing, anti-aging) and impurities extraction will make it more expensive, sometimes up to RM400 per 60min session. The duration of the facial also differs from one treatment to another
  5. A 30min body scrub starts from RM80, body wraps and slimming body mask treatments start from RM180.
  6. A 60min spa manicure or pedicure starts from RM80, intensive hand or feet treatment can start from RM120.
  7. Face waxing starts at RM20, while bodyworks (bikini line, half-body waxing, full-body waxing) can start from RM80.
  8. A simple wash-and-blow hairstyling service starts from RM80; special treatments like hair colouring, rebonding or curling may go as high as RM400 per treatment.

As a general rule, the above prices do not include taxes or tips. In Malaysia, tipping is not required nor expected. If you want to tip your spa therapist for an outstanding service, RM10-30 is sufficient. I usually tip my masseuse RM10 after a good, satisfying session. It is perfectly okay not to tip at all.

Prices at destination and medical spas are incrementally higher as it involves food and board on top of the spa package that you select. A 3D2N Spa Experience for couples at the Pangkor Laut Resort starts at RM2,190 (excluding food and beverage); a similar package starts from RM1,700 at the Tanjong Jara Resort. A 7-day weight-management retreat at Chiva-Som Health Resort in Thailand starts from RM10,300 for an ocean-view twin room during off-peak season; the same package costs RM18,120 during peak season.


“Think about where you are going. For luxury, the best spas in the world are in SouthEast Asia. They combine views, water, climate, and design. America offers the best body treatments, and Eastern Europeans give the best facials anywhere.” Geraldine Howard – founder of Aromatherapy Associates

One would normally pick a day spa destination depending on where you live and/or work. But sometimes, depending on the treatment and budget that you set aside, the closest day spa to you may not fit your requirements.  And sometimes you would like to pick a spa at the place where you intend to holiday.

To choose a spa destination and/or a destination spa (see definition above), you need to check these additional considerations:

  1. Can you give up caffeine, cigarette and alcohol? Some spas only serve ‘clean’ food and forbids negative behaviours such as smoking.
  2. What do you want to eat? Check the food and beverage policy. A weight-loss retreat may put you on a fasting diet, or a restricted-calorie diet. Other kind of retreats may not have any restrictions on diet at all. On the other hand, you may require special diet yourself if you have a health condition like diabetes or high-cholesterol or food allergies; or for personal or religious reasons like if you are a vegetarian or a Muslim that requires all your food to be Halal.
  3. Do you like indoor or outdoor activities? Decide if pilates and yoga, or rock-climbing and canopy-walking, is your thing. Some spas offer a combination of both, while others specialize in indoor or outdoor activities.
  4. Who do you want to be at the spa with you? Some spas are gender-specific or age-specific, there are also spas that offer couple treatments only.
  5. How do you feel about being lectured? Wellness retreats especially will have an educational component to it. Participants will be be given lessons on healthy eating, relaxation techniques, cooking and even grooming as part of the program.
  6. Luxury or rustic? Different spas are located in different geography. Not only that, the level of luxury also differs from one spa to another. If luxurious accommodation in a tropical setting is important to you, then head to the 4-5 star spa resorts in the tropics. If you don’t mind rustic, basic accommodation, well, anything will do. Do you want to be in the city or be one with the nature?  To put it simply, check out the facilities and star rating of the spa.
Helpful links:
  1. Spa Review Malaysia – a review site of spas in Malaysia.
  2. KL Spas – a guide to spas in and around Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
  3. Medical Tourism in Malaysia – the official site for healthcare and medical tourism by Ministry of Health, Malaysia.
  4. Experience Malaysia – a resource for Malaysian tourism information.


This post is written by using materials and information from Spa, wikipedia and “How to choose a destination spa” articles by CareFair and

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