Whenever the grey and cold get a bit too much, I let my mind wander back to this:

The stretch of sea between Phuket and Koh Yao Noi was smooth and still as a lake. I’d read about Six Senses years ago, somewhere in the pages of a glossy magazine. The article described villas perched high on a hill, cooling private pools to linger in, a butler to care for guests’ every need – the sort of place, in short, I could only afford in my most indulgent day dreams.

I’d been restless about the trip for weeks. I’d quit my job the week before, and it marked, for me, the symbolic end of my stay in Singapore, an end to the weeks and months of anxiety, the endless hours in the office, my wretched health. I sighed as the boat curved before the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga bay, heading for the private pier of the resort.

How can I describe perfection? The villas were beautiful, little nests of day beds and mosquito nets, hidden behind bamboo walls and lush vegetation.

Every thing was quiet and welcoming. It would be so easy to never leave the resort. There is simply too much to enjoy. I could have spent half a day selecting a pillow from the extensive menu, or trying out the scented toiletries (lemongrass? aloe vera? unscented?), or playing chess, or learning to thai box or kayak or snorkel or…

I settled for eating my body weight in charcuterie and strolls along the private beach. The water itself was a bit disappointing, silty underfoot and not the clear turquoise of my fantasies. But the view was beautiful, the perfect place to watch the large, graceful hornbills who nest at one end of the beach.

The view was at its best from the Hilltop Reserve, a luxurious private residence that had just recently been converted to a restaurant and pool area for all the guests. I’d never quite understood the term “infinity pool”, until I floated in the hilltop pool, its crystalline water blending into the bay beyond, so that I was simultaneously towering above and part of the endless sea.

On Friday night, a large screen materialised behind the pool, with the moon illuminating the bay behind it, and the smiling staff brought round little bowls of popcorn to enjoy with the film. I sipped a lychee martini and watched The Devil wears Prada, acutely aware of how utterly, utterly spoiled I was. Did I mention the all day all you can eat free ice cream buffet? There were also cakes, biscuits and macarons if delicious home made ice cream in exotic flavours is not your thing.

I could kick myself for not having taken a camera to the spa, because it was glorious. Huge stone tubs large enough to stand in, massage rooms filled with sunlight and orchids and waterfalls, expert masseuses almost managing to send me to sleep.

When I returned to the villa, the staff had left a new bookmark in my opened book. “Slow Life”, it said, and this is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever been given. I’d struggled that morning at the yoga class, my lungs constricted with the effort of clearing my head and forgetting about my daily worries, unable to fully appreciate the stunning view from the purpose built platform.

But as I sped away from Yao Noi, rushing in the dark towards the spectacular sunset, life suddenly seemed full of calm, and possibilities.

 

Where: Six Senses Yao Noi, about halfway between Krabi and Phuket. The hotel arranges speed boat transfers from either airport.

Tip: The list price for one night at the resort is a ridiculous £600+. I went during the rainy season in October, at a fraction of the price with an Agoda deal. The weather was stunning. If you’re a neurotic mess like I am, stay for a week if you can afford it, three days is not long enough to unwind and enjoy all the facilities.

 

It is official. I am old and arthritic. Possibly also hunchbacked. Today I woke up stiff, achey, and perplexed. Had I run a marathon? Been in a boxing match? No, I’d done a little bit of housework. This, apparently, is enough to send my muscles into spasms.

Thankfully I live in a city where every other building seems to be a spa. I wandered a while downtown before settling on Luck Nuvo, a newly opened and bizarrely named spa on Street 06. I was a little bit surprised at first because it’s very obviously aimed at Japanese tourists, and I hadn’t come across a Japanese spa in Siem Reap before. The brochure is full of charming engrish:

 “This traditional Swedish style massage will lubricate the skin with the special massage oil that warm up and work the muscle tissue.”

I chose the Japanese Hogushi massage, designed to “ease away the days’s stresses and strains”, with a slightly cynical snigger. I love massages, but I’m the sort of restless idiot who starts thinking about spreadsheets, to-do lists and other irritations the minute my head hits that massage table.

The prologue was pleasant enough: a choice of herbal teas, a cold compress, a very thorough foot wash, and then I was asked to change into some very soft cotton garments. This is when the magic started. I have no idea what the massage therapist did, but within minutes I could feel the tension leaving my body and brain. This was unlike any massage I’ve ever had. There was no kneading or long strokes, but a lot of precise pressure, expertly applied, that released warmth along my limbs. There was a lot of stretching too, of the legs, back and arms, using her knees and arms as counterbalance to my movements. Unlike many local massage ladies, she was very attentive, paying close attention to my reactions, adjusting her technique as we went along, expressing concern at my relieved sighing. About half way through I was so comfortable and relaxed I started hoping she would just wrap me up in a goose down duvet and leave me to nap for an hour or so. She could have slipped an apple in my mouth, roast hog style, I didn’t care.

You must excuse the slightly crappy images, because I was too busy feeling like a giant marshmallow, all soft and light, to take decent snaps:

The charming receptionist told me they only opened a month ago, but that their therapists had previously been working in a hotel. It’s a bit dear (by local standards) at $35 for 60 minutes, but they’re currently offering a $10 discount, as well as a 10% voucher off Senteurs d’Angkor and a Blue Pumpkin ice cream voucher. FREE ICE CREAM. AFTER THE MASSAGE OF DREAMS. I die.

This may all sound a little bit hyperbolical, but I want others – YOU – to partake in this heavenly experience. When I left the spa, I headed for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Within minutes I felt my eyes closing, and then I was fighting the urge to fall asleep face down in my chimichanga. In your face, overactive brain.

Where: Number 693/695, Street 06, Siem Reap (round the corner from Canadia Bank)

Website: There’s a Japanese website of sorts, or try their facebook page

Opening hours: 10 am to 11 pm

View Luck Nuvo spa in a larger map

Those who know me know the fraught relationship I have with my hair. It is thick, curly, unruly, and regularly threatens to throttle me in sleep. It has been particularly badly behaved since I moved to South East Asia, developing a surly, frizzy personality and the appearance of an angry nest of spiders. In the past year I’ve approached hair salons with a  mixture of healthy fear and rampant optimism, with varying results.

In Siem Reap the choices are varied. Fancy getting your bicycle serviced or shirt tailored while you’re getting a trim? Head for the little streets behind L’Hôtel de la Paix. Don’t mind the smell of raw meat, or catfish making a desperate flop for their lives at your feet? At Psar Chas you’ll find tiny salons in the market’s dark alleys, inches away from the fresh  produce and fly ridden butcher stalls. Or if you’re feeling flush, you could try Soul Hair Design, the Western owned hair salon above the Wild Poppy Boutique.

My recommendation? The (ahem) originally named Angkor Salon & Spa, a cheap and sanitary alternative to the above. It sits on the little no name street by the side of the Angkor Trade Centre, near Psar Chas, in a little shophouse that’s just been renovated.

The genius of Angkor Salon & Spa is in the washing of the hair. It’s a prolonged, relaxing affair that takes place in the back of the salon, at washing stations that are like little beds. The hair gets washed twice, thoroughly, and they give you a very pleasant head, ear, and neck massage too. Is there anything more relaxing than thick soapy foam on the back of your  neck when you’ve been battling the sweat and red dust of the roads?

I like the retro charm of this place. There’s a lot of plastic and leatherette but the girls are handy with a blowdrier. It feels like a neighbourhood salon, the sort of place where women go to pamper themselves and gossip while getting their hair done. They also offer spa services – there’s a mysterious large jacuzzi in the back – as well as manicures, pedicures, and something called “spa hair”, which seems a bit dear at $15.

The hairdressers don’t speak any English, so make sure you bring a picture of exactly what you want, or a Khmer speaking friend. During my last visit a miscommunication resulted in the boss lady attacking my bangs with thinning shears, so beware. But for $5 a haircut, who can complain?

Where: Opposite Angkor Trade Centre

Opening times: 7.30 am to 9.30 pm

Do you know any good hairdressers in Siem Reap?


View Siem Reap Angkor Salon & Spa in a larger map