I went to the Double Rainbow blind massage place on Yongjia, but they have two more branches on Yuyuan and Huaihai. Inside there are three rooms, each with a few beds; everything looks clean, feels clean and smells nice. They only offer two treatments: a foot massage plus a herbal foot bath for 65rmb and a 45-minute full body massage for 50rmb. I went for the latter. It’s a Chinese-style massage without oil; you keep all your clothes on and get covered by some kind of bed sheet. The blind masseur asks right away which parts he should pay special attention to and he really knows what he’s doing, immediately finding every painfully cold, stiffened muscle.
My only quibble was the masseurs' speaking clock that constantly chimed out the time, but I can’t really complain about that, I guess. No one there speaks English but, probably due to previous communication problems, they have a sign up with commonly used massage phrases in English for confused foreigners to point at. You pay before the treatment but there's no need for a reservation, just walk in whenever you feel like it. Worst case scenario, you’ll have to wait a little bit. For the money, it was a no-brainer treat. Worth it just to get out of the rain.
This is the fancy option, for days when looking out the window makes you want to watch eight seasons ofGrey’s Anatomy all over again. It will surely raise your spirits. FLARE Spa is on the 42nd floor of the newly opened Four Seasons Pudong, offering staggering views of the Bund skyline. After asking me to fill out a questionnaire about every detail of my skin, I was led into a room with a shower, bathroom and a cozy bathrobe to change into. Before the facial, I was given a rose petal foot bath, then the 90-minute treatment began with a cleansing face massage and the gentle application of toner to get rid of the dirt and oil on my skin’s surface. After that, there was a round of moisturizing and more massage time while my face was steamed and every pore cleansed of all that old air conditioning gunk.
With my face nicely replenished, there was time for a head and hand massage while I lay back, listened to some smooth jazz and dozed, dreaming of a world with central heating. This is the only spa in mainland China that uses Guerlain products.
This is their signature facial and uses Guerlain's Orchidee series. The result is smoother, wonderfully moisturized skin, glowing and happy. For this treatment, definitely make a reservation. They just opened and aren't that busy yet, but it’s good to let them know you’re coming. Damage is 1380rmb plus 15 percent service charge. Expensive, but it might be exactly what you need, and better than spending that on another bottle and a late night.
Soft and gentle
Shiatsu is supposed to cope with issues such as stress, muscle pain, nausea, anxiety and depression. Perfect for curing our SAD then. Dragonfly on Nanchang did the honors. The rooms here are dark and private, with esoteric spa music and the background burble of fountains, and the staff are overly helpful. The masseur explained to me the difference between Chinese traditional massage and shiatsu, a type of pressure massage using fingers, knuckles, thumbs, palms, toes, feet, knees and elbows. In general, it's very gentle, a world away from the walk-in Chinese massage places, but also gentler than a normal oil massage. It feels like the masseur is just softly pressing parts of your body, a bit like the laying on of hands. They didn't use oil, but unlike the blind place, here I got to undress and wear a kungfu robe.
The treatment lasted 90 minutes, and while it started slow and not too exciting, I relaxed into it as it progressed and found that the sensation grew more and more enjoyable. By the end, and for the following day, I felt incredibly rested and relaxed. The price, 252rmb for one and a half hours, was also pretty good. All the Dragonflies are always busy with hordes of expats in need of some serious pampering, so you better make a reservation in advance.
Gua sha literally means “to scrape away fever” or "to scrape away disease by allowing it to escape through the skin”. It’s a Chinese medicine treatment that's supposed to cure a cold. That’s good. Who doesn’t have a cold in Shanghai? Most Chinese massage places offer it together with cupping, which serves a similar purpose.
At Yuanmei Massage the scraping is 50rmb, and maybe that’s slightly more expensive than at a Chinese hospital but the spa itself is really beautiful, plus they have free red bean soup after the massage. It’s in a small, two-story lane house with treatment beds divided by white curtains, which gives the whole place an opium den kind of feeling. I recommend following up the scraping with a massage. Gua sha is really painful and you’ll be pining for some type of more gentle treatment afterwards. They use a horn comb thing to repeatedly scrape the muscles on the back, which felt like they were trying to scratch off my skin. But Chinese medicine is not for whiners and the girl just ignored all my pained yowlings. Apparently pain is a good sign. After 20 minutes of rather unenjoyable scraping, I had half an hour of oil massage on my neck and head for an additional 98rmb. That was nice, but also a bit painful, though I'm not sure whether it was because of my already battered back or because my girl was just rough in general. Either way, it was nothing like the gentle strokes at Dragonfly.
The next day I woke up with a raw back feeling like I had been run over by a bus. But hey, there was a weird sense of satisfaction in that. They told me the bruises on my back were a sign that the treatment was successful. Whether you believe that or not, it certainly made me feel tough.
For a big list of spas in Shanghai, from cheap to high-end, go here.