>I'VE discovered a sensuous way to enjoy chocolate without the calories - at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort's Chi The Spa in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
For half an hour, I have been luxuriating in an invigorating pearl cocoa scrub, part of the signature Pulau Bayu Retreat treatment and the aroma of cocoa is intensely intoxicating.
|Chi The Spa is located on its own island.
Using a mixture of pulverised pearl, chocolate oil, ginger and pegaga leaf, therapist Nooraidah works her way over every square centimetre of skin.
The pearls come from Semporna in east Sabah. As the sandy beads remove dead skin from my body, I relish the thought of how satiny smooth I will feel after this.
After the scrub, a quick shower removes the earthy brown mixture and I step into a circular outdoor bath filled with sliced lemon, crushed ginger, lemongrass and daun sireh for an Uplifting Himalayan Bath.
Earlier, the two and a half hour treatment started with a foot bath with the same ingredients and sips of cinnamon pandan tea. Much earlier, I had fill out a questionaire to discover what element I belong to and if I suffered from any medical condition. Spa treatments here are based on the Chinese philosophy of the Five Elements - Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth - and questions include picking one's favourite colour, taste, weather and time of the day.
Apparently, I'm a toss between Earth and Metal and Nooraidah has decided to go with Metal, using the Metal oil for the Borneo Therapy massage. She hits a small bronze bowl and runs the stick around the rim to emit a low hum to put me in the right mood.
The Metal oil has strong scents of nutmeg, citrus, cedar wood and patchouli. It also contains coconut oil, betel leaf, red ginger, rosewood and lime.
The Borneo Therapy massage is based on the traditions of the bobohizan, the island's native healers and uses firm palm and thumb pressure to relieve aches and invigorate the muscles.
The restorative massage ends at the little tinkling sound made with miniature cymbals. With such total relaxation, it is hard to believe that two and a half hours have gone by but a quick check with my watch confirms it.
Longer treatments of up to four and a half hours include Paradise Found (Himalayan Bath Therapy, Relaxing Essential Wrap, Chi Balance Signature Massage and Chi Facial), Serenity Ritual (Borneo Volcanic Mud Wrap, an Asian Blend Signature Massage and Biodroga Oxygenating Facial).
Don't fret if you can't spare the hours. Even quick fixes leave you feeling on top of the world like the hour-long Asian Blend. Or a Mountain Tsampa Rub using a softer-than-salt Himalayan barley rub and essential tsampa oil.
I return the second afternoon for the Asian Blend and Chi facial. The Asian Blend massage uses a combination of Swedish and Chinese tui na techniques to stimulate circulation, clear energy channels, relieve tension and restore the smooth flow of chi.
Therapist Kamsiah Sabdin starts with a foot bath with orchid flowers. A little chattier than the more reticent Nooraidah, she tells me that they were all trained in the various techniques by a therapist from the UK.
She picked the harmonising Earth massage oil with scents of mandarin with safflower seed oil, sweet almond, caprylic, ginger, cardamom, frankincense, lime, black pepper and geranium.
|Ingredients for the Borneo Therapy massage.
Her petite appearance belies her strength as she kneads and rubs, teasing the joints and forgotten muscles into active harmony. I am so relaxed that I find myself falling asleep despite the continuous massaging action.
For the Chi Facial, she cleanses, tones and does a bit of extraction and exfoliation before she massages the facial muscles with Bio-essential products. Then she applies a mask for 15 minutes. While the mask is working, she massages my arms.
The 1hr 15min facial is said to use the synergy of herbs and oils to reawaken the energetic channels of the mind and body.
The spa at Tanjung Aru Resort is located on Pulau Bayu, a tiny "island" that's more like a promontory at one end of the resort, near the beach. A wooden walkway leads to the 4,161 sq m spread of eight villas with private treatment rooms, lounging areas, steam rooms, gardens and baths. Three of the villas are designed for couples.
Privacy is jealously guarded and from the outside, there is little hint of the island of peace within Chi The Spa.
There is also a Yoga Pavilion on the western side, with a timber deck built partly suspended over the sea and which provides a breath-taking view of the ocean and stunning sunsets.
Chi The Spa, Shangri-La's signature spa brand worldwide, can be found in Thailand, China, The Philippines, Malaysia, Oman and Fiji, with plans to open 20 more in the next four years. The name Chi, comes from the word representing the universal life force that governs well-being. For good health, chi must flow freely within the body.