Balinese massage is a full-body method that aims to create ‘body/soul harmony’ through methods including acupressure, reflexology, stretching and aromatherapy (great attention is paid to the scents of the oils used). It’s ideal for people who like variety.
Balinese massage at Dreamworks, Dhs200 for an hour
Best for affordable luxury
Experience: Our masseuse had a good eye for our trouble spots and proceeded to stretch them and get deep down to the sore nerves. The best part was when she worked down the spine vertebrae by vertebrae: shudder.
Verdict: This is the massage we’ve been waiting for. Normally we leave a spa feeling more could have been done to work the kinks in our back. Not here; the masseuse was perfectly thorough.
Dreamworks, various locations, from Jebel Ali to The Dubai Mall (800 37326)
Balinese massage at Body Talk Spa, Dhs395 for an hour
Best for tense areas
Experience: The friendly Bali-born masseuse started off gently, but applied more pressure on particularly tense spots (for us, our shoulders and left ‘typing’ hand). It was vaguely painful, but medicinally so.
Verdict: We entered the spa harried and admittedly uptight. We left relaxed and in a far better mood. Be sure to sup the peppermint tea afterwards.
Body Talk Spa, Mövenpick, The Walk at JBR (04 449 8888)
According to alternative Chinese medicine there are reflexes in the feet that correspond to every part of the body. Reflexology, or massaging specific points in the feet (and sometimes hands), is said to relieve tension and ‘promote the natural function’ of the related areas, from back and neck pain to digestive disorders.
Reflexology massage at Feet First Massage Centre, Dhs170 for an hour
Experience: Who would have thought that massaging our feet could affect our wellbeing? The whole experience was incredibly relaxing and our feet felt amazing afterwards. Certain areas were extra tender, signalling a body part that needed working on.
Verdict: We’ll head back when we feel our energy levels depleting again: we felt rejuvenated, but we’d have liked more emphasis on why a certain part of our body was affected. We’ve learnt more from past reflexology experiences, but this one relaxed.
Feet First, various locations from Mirdif to the Green Community (www.feet1st.com)
Chinese reflexology massage at The Grand Spa, Dhs340 for an hour
Best for spotting problems
Experience: After cleansing our feet, the therapist explained the theories behind reflexology, then began massaging the toes and soles with intricate movements. Strokes on areas that corresponded to problem organs were a little wince-worthy, but it was otherwise blissful (it’s surprisingly decadent to have this much attention paid to your toes!).
Verdict: We walked in with a headache; an hour later we felt calm, chilled-out and amazingly light on our feet. A big thumbs-up.
The Grand Spa, Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha (04 317 1234)
Massage from the Subcontinent has its roots in ayurveda, an ancient form of medicine that began more than 2,000 years ago. Herbs are a key ingredient – while the Thais like to bend you around and the Swedes prefer to pummel, Indians just aim to heal and relax.
Indian Herbal Massage at Maven Spa, Dhs260 for an hour
Experience: India is famous for its healing herbs, but this treatment is not ayurvedic or medicinal. Using a blend of essential oils (lemon, oregano, fennel and juniper mixed with almond carrier oil), it’s good for relaxation and an overall feeling of wellbeing. We expected our nostrils to be overpowered by the scented blend of oils, but the mix is actually very subtle.
Verdict: The therapist’s gentle yet firm massage re-energised our tired limbs, and for a fair price.
Maven Spa (note: this spa is predominantly Indonesian), Uptown Mirdif (04 288 8480)
Indian massage at Talise Spa, Dhs695 for 90 minutes
Best for relaxing
Experience: The drop-dead-lush Talise Spa offers what has to be the most relaxing massage in Dubai. With a soft stroke, the masseuse carries out techniques taught to her by an Indian ayurvedic doctor and, drizzling healing oils all over, works on your muscles, skin and state of mind.
Verdict: There are absolutely none of the usual ‘ouch’ points that awake you from your blissful state: just pure and utter pleasure.
Talise Spa, Al Qasr, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 366 6818)
Japanese healing massage is said to rebalance energy flow, correcting problems created by ‘disharmonies’ in an individual’s energy by massaging along meridians (or energy channels). Shiatsu massage generally uses no oil.
Shiatsu massage at House of Chi, Dhs200 for 50 minutes
Best for boosting energy
Experience: This is by no means a relaxing massage. The therapist kneaded us roughly enough to leave red marks, and stretched us so strongly that the massage table moved (causing her to burst into a fit of giggles).
Verdict: There may be no mollycoddling, but boy, does it feel good. Usually we leave a massage dopey and ready for bed. We left this one alert and ready for action.
House of Chi, 6th floor, Al Musalla Tower, next to Four Points Sheraton, Khalid Bin al Waleed Street, Bur Dubai (04 397 4446)
Shiatsu massage at Senso Spa, Dhs330 for an hour
Experience: Pressure here is á la carte – we opted for soft, but the experience still teetered along the edge of pleasure and pain. Massaging along the pressure lines without oil is not necessarily relaxing, but it does feel like your body has had a workout without you actually doing anything. Bonus!
Verdict: The spa was a peaceful haven in the bustling heart of Media City – after the treatment we felt rejuvenated and ready to take on the rest of the day.
The ubiquitous Swedish massage uses light to medium pressure to stroke and soothe away muscle tension. Long, gliding strokes and oils are used to relax, while muscle tension is battered out of you with tapotement (tapping with the side of the hand) and kneading.
Swedish massage at Natural Healing Wellness Spa, Dhs245 for an hour
Experience: After stretching us out and applying warm, unscented oil, the therapist immediately honed in on our problem shoulders. She upped the pressure by using her entire forearm – elbows included – to knead out the knots: yes, our face broke into involuntary Elvis Presley-esque snarls, but it certainly relieved the tension.
Verdict: The shoulder work hurt, but the rest of the massage was relaxation perfected: we were fighting sleep until the bizarre (and depressing) finale where she scooped up our excess tummy fat into her fingers and hung onto it while we giggled nervously.
Natural Healing Wellness Spa, Al Wasl Road near Interchange 4 (04 348 3896)
Swedish massage at Amara Spa, Dhs420 for an hour
Best for day spa experience
Experience: You get what you pay for at the Park Hyatt’s spa: the lush spot comes complete with tasteful interiors, a peaceful pool and private outdoor rain showers. The massage uses oil (ours was beautifully scented with bergamot and sandalwood) and involves kneading and long, luxurious strokes.
Verdict: The Thai masseuse focused on our creaky upper back (darned desk work!) and we walked out pain-free. The massage was great, but we were most in awe of the spa with its friendly staff, music menu and pool. Make a day of it.
Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 602 1235)
Thai massage was developed by Buddhist monks thousands of years ago and, despite monks’ peaceful reputation, this is not for the faint-hearted – expect knuckles, elbows and other pointy parts prodding and poking your tangled tendons. Your limbs will also be flailed around the room (imagine yoga, but with someone else doing all the work for you).
Thai oil massage at Relax, Dhs130 for an hour
Best for un-knotting muscles
Experience: As you’d expect, this was not the most soothing massage in the world, but it was nowhere near as invasive as some Thai massages – any yelps were met with startled apologies from our therapist and a gentler touch. The harder pressures were mixed with softer moments, with oil soothing the discomfort.
Verdict: Well worth the occasional jolt of pain, we were left feeling thoroughly unwound and loose-limbed.
Relax, Umm Al Sheif St, Jumeirah 3, next to Sasha Salon (04 394 8500)
Traditional Thai massage at Thai Privilege Spa, Dhs350 for an hour
Best for modesty; ladies only
Experience: The massage at Thai Privilege Spa is oil-free, so we kept our kit on: after a great back rub the focus moved to our legs, feet and hands for diagnostic Thai reflexology. Then there was a lot of stretching before an odd yet comforting stomach massage to stimulate the organs. The treatment ended with a head massage that cured our clicking jaw: respite!
Verdict: The masseuses here are trained in Thailand and it shows. The massage was at times toe-curling, but we left limber and satisfied.
Thai Privilege Spa, Al Wasl Road (04 348 9679)
Off the beaten back
Here are a few of the less obvious options...
In the 1930s, Danish physiotherapist Dr Emil Vodder developed a massage to increase lymph flow in the body: important because lymph fluid is what provides us with nutrients and removes waste (we have about 11 litres of it).
Lymphatic massage at Softouch Spa, Dhs420 for 55 minutes
Experience: This firm full-body massage invigorates and breaks up toxins, so it wasn’t particularly relaxing. Once each body section had been massaged by hand, the therapist placed a vibration machine called a G5 on our fatter parts – thighs, hips and stomach – and a great deal of tingling ensued, almost to the point of discomfort, to eliminate the cellulite.
Verdict: It felt functional and as though it was achieving something – those Danes are goal-oriented – although the facial massage at the end was heaven and our skin certainly felt smoother, if not a little sore.
Softouch Spa, Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates (04 409 5909)
Hawaiians traditionally used massage in much the same way we do today: to heal and luxuriate. Called Lomi-Lomi (which means ‘massage’), it’s defined by long strokes, an element of prayer during the ritual and the fact that forearms, feet and even stones are used to knead the body.
Island Bliss scrub and massage at SensAsia, Dhs695 for two hours
Experience: After being brushed to increase blood flow and scrubbed with coconut to remove dead skin, we were coated with an Elemis body serum and wrapped for 20 minutes. Then came the massage: deep yet not at all painful, it was sometimes hard to distinguish which body part the masseuse was using during her luxurious strokes.
Verdict: The indulgent smells of the coconut and piña colada oil transported us from a stressful Dubai to island life. Mahalo!
SensAsia Urban Spa, The Village Mall, Jumeirah and The Palm (04 349 8850). Open daily 10am-10pm.
‘Hilot’ means ‘healing’ in Tagalog, and the Hilot massage does just that. Its therapists use intuition and touch to find sore spots, before deeply massaging these areas with coconut oil.
Hilot muscle massage at the Shangri-La, Dhs450 for 90 minutes
Experience: After a gruelling workout the day before, the mere thought of having a deep-tissue massage on our jellified legs was dread-inducing, but we were pleasantly surprised. The therapist used warm coconut oil and both quick and slow hand movements over the pressure points along our back and legs, releasing the tension and stiffness found in these problem areas.
Verdict: After 90 minutes we woke up (yes, we admit we fell asleep) to pain-free legs and ginger tea. Would we do this again? You bet.
The Spa at Shangri-La, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 343 8888)
We’ve found you the next best thing in Dubai. But if you’re lucky enough to be heading to one of these exotic locations, you can experience the massage in its motherland…
Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok, Thailand
Famous for the giant reclining Buddha, Wat Pho Temple is also home to a massage school, where you can get amazing (but terrifyingly painful at times) massages. You’ll be crammed into a room with hundreds of other people and be made to wear traditional attire, but this is authentically good massage and you’ll walk out looser than Kirstie Alley’s jeans after lipo.
Open 8am-4pm. A one-hour massage is about Dhs40 an hour (www.watpho.com)
Japan Shiatsu College, Tokyo
This is another one that’s by no means exclusive or high-end, but this massage school has some of the most well-qualified practitioners in town. The school was founded in 1940 by Tokujiro Namikoshi and it is credited for the development and growth of shiatsu massage. Kampai!
Open 10am-8pm. A one-hour massage is about Dhs230 per hour (e.shiatsu.ac.jp)
Ho’omana Restorative Therapies, Makawao, Hawaii
Unlike many lomi-lomi massage specialists in Hawaii, this retreat centre and spa isn’t run by weird Europeans who call themselves Luau and put on fake Polynesian accents.It is proudly owned and operated by Hawaiians. The centre also has some cute cottages and holds a range of courses in the discipline.
In-house and call-out massages available. A one-hour massage is about Dhs350; an overnight stay starts at Dhs240 (www.lomimassage.com)