The first time I had an authentic Thai massage – on a beach in Phuket – my limbs were pulled in all directions in a vigorous and far-from-relaxing hour that involved the therapist’s arms and feet as well as her hands. So I wasn’t too sure what to expect at Thai Square Spa, the only spa in the UK offering the traditional Thai spa experience, which opened in Covent Garden in December.
From the moment I stepped inside, though, it was clear that this was to be an hour of soothing, relaxing luxury, far removed from the £5 massages I usually indulge in on my visits to Thailand. Stunningly and expensively designed in classic Thai style, with orchids in tall vases, exposed brickwork, dark wood furniture and evocative smells of lemongrass and bergamot, this place certainly puts the ‘aaah’ into spa.
One of many tempting treatments on offer is a one-hour Thai herbal treatment, intended to be both relaxing and energising, which uses hot herbal compresses, known as prakhop – a practice dating back to the forteenth century. Medicinal herbs such as camphor, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric and tamarind are wrapped in a muslin cloth then steamed to release their potent qualities before being systematically pressed over the body.
This combination of herbs, pressure and heat is particularly beneficial for back pain, shoulder strain (ideal for those of us hunched over a computer all day) and any muscular strain. To be honest, I had none of those and it was still intensely relaxing and beneficial.
At Thai Square Spa, Erb products are used. Made in Thailand, this is a premium natural skincare range inspired by ancient Thai herbal remedies and rituals. Now recognised as one of the country’s top skincare brands, it uses traditional Thai herbs, flowers and roots designed for the wellbeing of the mind, body and soul. Luckily, you don’t have to endure an 11-hour flight to Bangkok to buy these products as they are sold upstairs at Thai Square Spa.
My therapist, Jar, is originally from Bangkok, where she trained as a therapist. My session started off with a floral foot soak; my feet were immersed in a ceramic bowl of warm water with rose petals floating on top. The soak contains mint and lemongrass to deodorise and revive tired feet. Jar gently exfoliated my feet and massaged them, kick-starting the process of relaxation.
Although you remove all your clothes for a Thai massage, the therapists are always very careful to keep you as covered-up as they can to preserve your modesty (and, unlike in Thailand, they don’t massage your breasts at Thai Square Spa). Jar began by using warm oils to massage my legs, back, arms and shoulders before pressing the hot herbal compress on to my body. At first it was too hot, but after a couple of minutes had cooled down to bearably hot.
It’s easy to see why this is such a beneficial treatment for muscular problems. Even though I don’t have any medical conditions, the sign of a good massage, for me, is whether it makes me sleepy and this one soon had me dozing….
The treatment room was as swanky as the rest of the spa, with sink-into cream leather chairs and massage couch and twin copper baths at one end of the room. The usual soporific spa music played, sadly rendered inaudible by the loud heating system in the room – my only criticism of the whole experience.
Thai Square Spa has just seven treatment rooms, so you always feel a sense of exclusivity and luxury: as well as massage and pedicure rooms, there’s a mosaic-tiled steam room which releases tropical rain after 20 minutes. Slippers, a robe, cotton top and fisherman pants are supplied.
It’s clear that the therapists at Thai Square Spa are highly trained; softly spoken Jar also had that quintessential Thai quality of charm, coupled with the desire that you feel truly pampered. Thais believe that everything you do should be fun, so even their work is imbued with a sense of wanting you to be happy.
At £85, my massage wasn’t cheap but if you want some pampering par excellence, it’s well worth it.
Thai Square Spa
25 Shelton Street and 40 Earlham Street
Tel: 020 7240 6090