Spa, from the mountain to the sea

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"Spas" abound in Vietnam. It seems that every new resort has a room full of white beds that are touted its "spa."

Few of them, however, succeed in awakening your body. A real spa experience ought to activate your five senses and rejuvenate you through top-to-bottom pampering.

Thanh Nien Weekly was invited to explore treatments from four prominent spas in Vietnam. The treatments took me from the mountains to the rivers and finally to the sea - a fantastical journey through the country's paradisiacal treatment spots.

A growing reliance on local herbs and products has made some of these experiences genuinely Vietnamese.

Zen Spa is located on the bank of Hong River, just 10 minutes from the heart of Hanoi.

After passing the Yen Phu Dike, travelers on the road to the Zen Spa find themselves surrounded by small fields of corn and sunflowers. To access the spa, visitors make their way through a bonsai garden filled with flowers and Zen stones.

Sharp pink Lotus petals peek out of the pond that surrounds the spa's traditional thatch roof bamboo structure. A Lau Vong Nguyet (a traditional lookout tower meant for moongazing) juts out of the building offering visitors a splendid view of the Hong River.

Zen Spa Red River Ha Noi
310 Nghi Tam Alley, Tay Ho District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3 719 9889

Life Spa
Life Wellness Resort Quy Nhon
 Ghenh Rang, Bai Dai Beach, Quy Nhon Town, Binh Dinh Province
Tel: (056) 3 840 132

Cochinchine Spa
Ana Mandara Villas Dalat
5 Le Lai Street, Ward 5, Da Lat Town, Lam Dong Province
Tel: (063) 3 555 888

InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel
39 Le Duan Blvd., District 1, HCMC
Tel: (08) 3 520 9999

The herbal aroma from dried roses and jasmine immediately lifts me up as I enter the building. With the exception of some facial treatment products, Zen Spa relies on a traditional herbal concoction known as thuoc nam.

The potpourri combines elements that can be found everywhere in Vietnam: ginger, lemon grass, lotus petal, grape fruits leaves and peppermint leaf most. Purists continue to use thuoc nam to treat headache, colds, fever and mild insomnia, particularly up north.

You can smell the freshness of these ingredients wafting through the corridors of Zen Spa.

Road weary travelers may want to welcome themselves to Zen Spa with a chuom nong - a massage in which a small bag filled with steamed herbs is gently pressed to the body in order to relax tired muscles and improve blood circulation.

"When I was a child my grand mum and mom used herbal remedies to nurse me through minor aches and pains," said Ms. Huong, the owner of Zen Spa. "I was inspired by this tradition way to open [the spa] in 2002."

Zen Spa has put together a special weekday package for visitors. For US$120++ for women and $130++ for men, this package includes an exfoliating coffee body scrub, a herbal flower bath, a body massage and a facial treatment.

Cochinchine Spa at Ana Mandara Villas Dalat draws its inspiration from the flavors of Da Lat's hills and forests. The spa is located in the old colonial villas constructed by the French to escape the summer heat.

The holiday spirit of this place continues to permeate the lively old buildings. Warm paintings line the walls and charming silk curtains frame the windows. The special fragrance of this spa reminds me of a romantic holiday in Provence.

But the treatments at the Cochinchine are very much anchored in the mountains of Da Lat. Wild honey, rose, raspberry, cucumber and strawberry collected from local farms are rubbed into the skin during massages giving one the feeling of literally absorbing the landscape.

Until the end of August, there is a special Get Away promotion ($78) which includes a 50-minute body massage and a 50-minute Da Lat facial. The get-away comes with your choice of a half-hour foot or an exfoliating coffee massage.

Vietnam's beach border has attracted a glut of coastal spa resorts. The Life Spa at Life Wellness Resort Quy Nhon features the remnants of an ancient Cham tower. From the resort's unspoiled beach, you are surrounded by oceans and the lush mountains of Binh Dinh Province.

Those in desperate need of attention should consider the four hands massage in which two massage therapists work on your body simultaneously. Imagine feeling as though every square centimeter of your body is being rigorously attended to. From the bamboo windows of the seaside massage bungalow you can just make out the small blue fishing boats that dot the ocean horizon.

For the time being, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the spa offers a 10 percent discount for guests. The spa also offers 60- or 90-minute steam and salt saunas.

Out in the garden, visitors can plunge into a mound of hot salt. Burying yourself in the piping-hot bean-sized grains is said to be good for circulation but the sensation is reminiscent of playful childhood visits to the beach where loving friends and siblings would conspire to bury you in the sand.

If you live in Ho Chi Minh City and can't get away, try the spa at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel. With the press of a button, a seamless wooden wall panel in the hotel lobby opens to reveal a galaxy of luxurious Clarin products. After drinking a glass of corn, dwarf sugar cane, and screwpine needles, I selected a hydrating facial treatment ($66) and a relaxing aroma indulgence to relax my body ($89).

I slowly unwind in a velvet chair as a therapist begins gently massaging my feet with a mixture of warm water and cinnamon powder. Following that, she begins to apply raw salt. After that she starts to knead my body with the dry soft cotton towel and begins to apply pressure to key points all over my body.

The body massage lasts for 180 minutes. On a hot summer's day you can choose a detoxifying massage and re-shaping massage (both $89). Those who are short on time can opt to receive a facial and body massage simultaneously.

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