D-Club Spa, Shenzhen, China
There are endless options for spa and massage centers in Shenzhen, all offering a very different experience to a typical western luxury hotel spa. I teach at a private English language school in Shenzhen, and Sylvia, one of my lovely Chinese VIP students was keen to introduce me, my partner Ian and another English friend Chris, to one of Shenzhen’s high end spas known as D-Club, in the Futian district, close to Xiangmi Lake.
Sylvia informed us that we could stay for 24 hours from our time of arrival. All we needed to bring was a swimming costume. Everything else apparently, would be provided. I was intrigued and slightly fearful of Chinese surprises, so I decided to take a quick look online to see what we could expect.
Surprisingly the website had an English translation and I was instantly reassured by discovering that I would “slow down my always busy footsteps” and “surely be unable to control my joyance from the bottom of my heart”. OK, more Chinglish than English, but nevertheless I was impressed by the facilities and decided this Chinese adventure would be a welcome reprieve from Shenzhen city life.
Sylvia picked the three of us up at the appointed time and it wasn’t long before we arrived at what looked more like a Disney themed castle, just off the Qiaoxiang Road and close to the Xiangmi metro on the Shekou line. We parked amongst Lamborghinis, Ferraris and matt black Porsche’s before making our way to the huge elaborate lobby.
It turned out this venue is more like a luxury resort than a spa. D-Club is a multi-functional leisure club with golf, spa, catering, guest rooms, indoor and outdoor pools and even a beach area. It covers 90000 square meters and has an eight storey European style castle building housing all the indoor facilities.
I hardly had time to take in the immense, grandiose lobby before being quickly separated from the men and ushered into the women’s area. A locker was allocated, along with a device that could track my whereabouts – I discovered how useful this was later in the day! Then I was dispatched to the showers for a compulsory dowsing. This was followed by two locker room assistants sizing me up for the fetching salmon pink pajama outfit I would wear for the next nine hours! I do believe I was given a slightly larger size than necessary but thought it better not to complain at this stage of the proceedings!
I was really thankful for Sylvia’s presence and help with the language. On my own it would have been a little intimidating as no English was spoken. Negotiating the inner labyrinth was a bit like a visit to IKEA. Once in there was no way out! I managed to get lost between the showers and the changing area, after pausing momentarily for a glass of water. Fortunately a kindly Chinese spa assistant guided me back to my locker. I guess I stood out a little as a helpless foreigner in need of assistance.
Sylvia wasn’t keen on getting wet a second time, so we bypassed the women’s spa pools. I have to say these looked a little disappointing when later compared to pictures of the Romanesque bathing area that the men were enjoying.
Male Spa Area, D-Club Spa, Shenzhen
VIP luxury with tracking included
We took a quick tour of the facility before taking our places in a small VIP room that had four large recliners, three televisions and a personal assistant who brought us plate after plate of fresh fruit, all of which was included in the price. While we waited for our assistant to “track” the men, Sylvia told me stories of her childhood when she and her friends ran around barefoot, all of which was in stark contrast to the accumulated wealth she was now experiencing in booming Shenzhen.
The men finally joined us after evading their tracking devices for rather longer than we’d expected, and so now hungry, we decided to eat before succumbing to treatments. We spent a leisurely half hour with a “personal food planner”. She guided us relentlessly through the meals on offer from a never ending menu with photos. Between the four of us we seemed to select an alarming amount of food. This is something I’ve often experienced when dining with Chinese people – maybe because they haven’t yet fully adapted to the idea that food is now freely available and plentiful in the cities.
It wasn’t long before we were escorted to the restaurant. Rather strangely we were led down some back stairs along a sort of fire escape, before being led like interlopers into the back of the restaurant. I didn’t ever find out why this was, but was reassured to see that even the Ferrari owners were wearing their male and female, color coded pajamas! Some did look as if they had a more stylish designer option, but basically we were all comrades sharing a dining experience irrespective of class and money.
It turned out that we had indeed ordered a huge amount of food, but it was good and we enjoyed a variety of very tasty dishes. To work off the huge lunch we decided a few games of ping pong were in order. Maybe it was because we were Western, I’m not sure, but we were once again led down a back alley and fire escape to the snooker, pool and table tennis room.
By now I no longer cared how silly I looked in my pajamas, because my competitive streak came forth and I battled against Sylvia in a neck and neck game of table tennis while the men enjoyed a few games of snooker.
Then came for me the highlight of the day.
Finally allowed to use the same access points and stairs as everyone else, we made our way to the huge communal relaxation area, decked with more than a hundred recliners. I think there were also at least a hundred therapists of some sort or other, cleaning, massaging and generally tending to their client’s every desire.
Syvia and Chris enjoy the communal relaxation area
It was honestly like entering first class of a jumbo jet on a red eye flight with China Airlines! Each recliner had a set of cozy pillows, a blanket, a TV screen and a small table on which even more free fruit was distributed. The lights were dimmed and whole families seemed to be settling in for the night. Kids were tucked in as their parents contemplated a foot massage or manicure while watching a movie!
Chinese massage treatment – not for the faint hearted
It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced, but it was strangely OK and even comforting. Soon we were all engrossed in yet another menu, this time for spa treatments. Sylvia was very generous and insisted we have 90 minute massages, and I was now looking forward to a relaxing aromatherapy massage before an hour or so of sleep back on my bed.
What transpired wasn’t quite what I expected. My partner Ian and I were guided to a romantic room to prepare for our massages, side by side. You know, like you see in those lovely Thai spas in five star Asian resorts. Unsure of protocol we removed our spa “uniforms” and wrapped ourselves in fluffy white towels before lying down on the massage beds to await our 90 minutes of pleasure.
However, rather alarmingly, two young female masseurs entered the room and exclaimed in horror, covering their faces with their hands. The sight of two westerners in towels was clearly overwhelming and unexpected. Exclaiming something in broken English they handed us back our spa uniforms. Their actions spoke more clearly and it wasn’t difficult for us to deduce that our pajamas were to be put back on immediately and that no kind of undressing was at all necessary. We were left feeling slightly embarrassed with no way of explaining our awkward situation!
What then followed (maybe as punishment), was the most painful 90 minutes of my life. I’ve had many massages in many different countries but this was the most grueling I had ever experienced. We should have realized I guess after hearing cries of pain from adjoining rooms. I kept telling myself that it must be good for me, but in all honesty I had to take pain killers for the next two days! It turned out that we had been booked in for a Chinese massage and not the relaxing aromatherapy massage we were expecting.
A word of warning if you do visit a spa – the treatments are usually charged as extras in the more expensive centers, and you will be expected to pay a tip, something quite uncommon generally in China. We were presented with a sheet of paper to sign at the end of the massage with three tip options to choose from, the most expensive being 100 Yuan, 50% of the overall treatment cost.
The entry fee of 200 Yuan can seem quite enticing, and if all you do is use the spa bathing area and communal relaxation beds, then it’s not a bad deal. But it’s difficult to say no to the myriad of treatments all of which will cost extra. When you include tips, food and drinks then it starts to add up. Of course, if you’re a fruitarian you will easily survive the 24 hours on all the freely distributed fruit!
Both Ian and I were in somewhat of a daze when we returned to our recliners, where we found Sylvia and Chris succumbing to a slightly less painful leg massage. I spotted someone having their ears cleaned and surprised myself by volunteering for yet another session of Chinese torture. Actually it wasn’t so bad and I was able to sit and chat with the others while cleaning instruments disappeared into my ears. I found it best not to try and look sideways at what was happening but instead to stay very still so that there was no chance of a punctured ear drum!
With unbelievable pin point accuracy, the therapist inserts strange looking tools into your ears to extract whatever wax and debris she can discover. It’s an unusual sensation, like a slight tickle deep in the ear and I couldn’t decide whether I liked or not. But my hearing was definitely improved by the end of 30 minutes.
I was still fascinated by the overnight arrangements. It’s like a giant sleepover. Sylvia explained that some Chinese people use the spas like hotels when stopping over in cities or before flying out on vacation or business trips. They get five star (ish) facilities, for a fraction of the price and don’t seem to mind sleeping alongside 100 or more other people. It’s also very popular with people from Hong Kong who regularly hop over the border for a weekend spa visit.
With work looming the next day, we decided against the all night option and made our way sleepily at midnight back to the car park. What a great experience it was – so different to anything I had imagined and enjoyable being part of a Chinese day out without another westerner in sight.
What will it cost?
There are many different levels of Chinese spa available and D-Club is definitely one of the most luxurious. Most are around 200 Yuan for a 24 hour period which includes entry, use of the spa area and relaxation beds. Treatments will vary depending on the quality of the spa you are visiting and the facilities available, as will their cost. Our 90 minute Chinese massage was 198 Yuan plus tips and our ear cleaning just 68 Yuan. Some centres will include a basic neck and back massage, whilst others charge for all treatments. They will all expect tips to be paid. Remember as well that hygiene and cleanliness will usually improve the more you pay.
If you want to try a spa then see if you can persuade a Chinese friend to accompany you the first time so you experience a stress free induction. They’ll also be able to recommend you to the centers with better reputations.
For more information on D-Club, Shenzhen take a look at their website: D-Club Spa Website
And let us know if anyone has any other good suggestions!
Photo Credits: Photos by Vanessa Anderson