Thursday, April 05, 2012

NYT: A New Day (Spa) in Burma

New York Times: Vain Glorious
A New Day (Spa) in Burma

By Julie Earle-Levine
Who: Inya Day Spa, Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar.
What: Thai massage, reflexology, body scrubs, facials, manicures and pedicures.
Where: 16/2 Inya Road, Kamayut Township; (95-1) 537-907;
Why Bother: In Myanmar, where tourists are just starting to venture as the country moves toward democracy after decades of military rule, Western hotel chains are scarce and spas really don’t exist — until now, that is. Yangon’s first day spa is attracting Burmese women (and even some men) as well as expats and tourists.
Let’s face it, in a country where women still wear thanaka (a white paste on their faces made from ground bark, to protect and condition their skin from the sun), it’s difficult to get Western products. That doesn’t mean people don’t want them: a used (that’s right — someone else’s!) Chanel lipstick is a precious find.
At Inya Day Spa, the facialists use French products (Thalgo), and the treatments are Thai influenced. Damian Lau, who is from Seattle, and his Burmese wife, Michelle, saw a need for a “nicer,” more Western-style spa. Inya is named after the bustling road where it is located and has simple d├ęcor with four private rooms, Thai massage beds and a nail salon. (The spa just started doing gel nails and uses OPI American polishes.) Inya’s signature spa product is a natural body scrub, in green tea, jasmine rice, papaya or tamarind. The papaya smells heavenly.
Inya is not luxe, but it is a sanctuary amid the streaming traffic — and a temperamental taxi with no air-conditioning and a flat tire! I arrived drenched in sweat to a cool, welcome retreat. You enter reception, then walk across a pond filled with hundreds of koi and surrounded by lush green palms. First stop is the new Boost Bar for fresh smoothies and juices. Try the Boba Berry, a thick smoothie made from blueberry, apple and banana. Guests change into plum-colored knee-length Thai sador pants, tied high above the waist. (You keep on your own shirt.)
I went twice: once for massage, once for reflexology. The basic massage was deep, hitting all my acupressure points, and I dozed off, my calves (made weary from temple-step climbing) melting into a relaxed state. The staff is Burmese, but Thailand-trained, since getting visas for Burmese to leave the country is still tough. The election Sunday of the longtime pro-democracy dissident Aung San Suu Kyi may change things, of course.
In the nail salon, Japanese men were sighing as their calves were pummeled. A British banker was tip-tapping away on his laptop. The spa has free Wi-Fi, which is a big plus since Internet service in Myanmar is sketchy at best.
Bookings can be hard to snag on the day. Lau plans to open a second location on the fourth floor of the Junction Square Shopping Mall, about a 10-minute drive from the current location.

How Much:
Thai massage, about $20 for 90 minutes;Thai foot massage, about $10 for 75 minutes.