Thai Square Spa has moved from its old premises in Covent Garden to close to Trafalgar Square. Set in a building that used to be a Victorian Turkish bath, you can still see signs in the brick arches of its previous incarnation. Most of the actual spa is downstairs in a twilit basement area, heavily scented with jasmine and decorated with pleasing symmetry – rows of stone oriental figures hold flickering candles, there’s a line of heavy metal bells, and silk Thai drapes hang like giant lilies falling from the ceiling.
So far, so Thai, you might think. And you’d be right. But then there are other more surprising decorations – Roman columns and murals showing Roman soldiers wielding swords. There are more Romans in the form of bathing beauties reclining while slaves play lyres to entertain them. And, of course, help them to relax – a major theme at Thai Square. So having come in from the thundering West End traffic, you spend a while unwinding (they suggest around an hour) before you start your treatment. Even more surprising, as I arrive in the relaxation area, the charming Thai receptionist who is showing me round smiles and asks, “May I offer you a glass of champagne? Our aim is to bring you total relaxation.” Now, it’s 11am on a Monday morning but in the interests of relaxation, it seems rude to refuse.
Most of my first hour, though, is spent in the hydro part of the spa. Having put on my swimsuit in a glittering metallic red changing room I spend a while moving between sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi with a short break at the ice fountain in between (sharp intake of breath). In here, it’s very warm. A massive bronze horse’s head stands on a plinth by the entrance. There are dark gold tiled beds in the steam room and the very vigorous Jacuzzi is under a wide arch tiled in pale gold. Being a Monday morning, I have the place to myself but I can already see that this is a spa that would be fun to come with friends or a partner and – if you wanted to make a party of it – there’s a vast VIP suite with its own relaxation zone and steam room attached.
By now, it’s time for my treatment and, whether it’s the heat of the hydro spa or the champagne, I am feeling quite relaxed. My therapist, Ima, leads me down to the treatment room, where there is a heated massage table and dim lighting to keep that relaxed feeling nicely topped up. So it’s a bit of a surprise when the So Sen Uplifting Ritual Massage begins because Ima has thumbs on steroids. Given the reputation of Thais as a gentle people, their massage techniques can come as something of a shock. Their hands, their elbows and often their feet and knees are used as weapons against knots and stresses. They will submit – and so will you.
So as I lie face down covered with a towel, Ima begins on my feet and applies plenty of pressure as she makes her way using all of her weight up my legs and on to my back. Here, she uses the heels of her hands and her elbows and there are moments it feels like all the air has been pressed out of me. This is not, though, a traditional Thai massage in which you wear cotton pyjamas and have the kind of manipulation you might expect from an osteopath – think of someone doing yoga to you.
Instead, Ima applies an oil blended from Thai jasmine flowers with Thai rice bran, sweet almond and safflower oils for deep hydration, plus extra vitamin E for its antioxidant benefits. The massage then continues getting deep into long-held tensions throughout the body and finishes with a truly superb head and scalp massage. I think it’s the longest scalp massage I’ve ever experienced and it starts with Ima pressing down on the front and tops of my shoulders. Then she cradles my head and manipulates the neck until I really am back in that wonderfully relaxed state. Her thumbs find pressure points all over my scalp, across the brow and along the jawline. The sides of my nose and cheekbones – even my ears! – are manipulated. She helps me back into my robe and, while I’m still sitting on the massage table, she chops and claps on my back, before leading me back to the relaxation area for tea and dried and fresh fruit while I recover.
There’s one last surprise – a room, strangely enough, that’s rather like a beach. This is, in fact, the Himalayan salt room and it’s salt rather than sand that forms the beach on which three deck chairs sit. Himalayan salt is a pinky-golden colour and “tiles” of it line the room, along with the raw salt itself on the ceiling and the floor. So what do you do in here? Well, basically, you breathe. It is known to be beneficial for problems such as asthma but is also good for anything related to the respiratory tract – so it strengthens the immune system against allergic reactions (such as hay fever), it prevents colds and flu, reduces snoring and even improves sleep.
As well as a range of massages and facials, there are plenty of super-glam treatments here – known as the “royal treatments”. You could try the Siamese Courtier’s Remedy, a traditional therapy of the Thai court, or the Temple of Jade using hot jade stones in a four-handed massage, or the Golden Maharani Facial that includes a 24-carat gold collagen mask – there’s a male equivalent, too, the Majestic Jade Facial. Afterwards they’ll do your hair, make-up and nails, too. So you can leave looking like royalty. Another glass of Bolly, anyone?
Thai Square Spa, 25 Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5AP. + 44 20 7240 6090. For more information, visit www.thaisquarespa.com.