Hong Kong has a wide range of sports clubs, country clubs and gyms for people who like to keep fit, and you’ll be able to take up almost any physical activity you’re interested in here. However, it’s also a city with a wide range of options for other approaches to health and wellness. Acupuncture and other alternative medical approaches offer a new way of healing. Affordable massage places are everywhere, and even the least expensive place will probably offer a massage from a trained practitioner who knows their craft. More expensive, spa-like places can be infinitely relaxing after a hard day. And this is Hong Kong, after all: as ever, if you’re willing to shell out a fair bit of local currency you’ll get yourself the kind of world-class pampering that’s easy to get used to.
Even though this is a city that prides itself on its modernity, a high proportion of the local population still sweat by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM offers an alternative to the Western medicine you’re probably used to, and may help with lingering conditions. Once you’ve sorted out your regular doctor, consult him or her about TCM recommendations – very few Western practitioners here have any qualms about taking advantage of what we consider “alternative medicine”, but here in Hong Kong it’s very much the mainstream. There are also complementary medicine specialists who cater particularly to Westerners living here.
You should also ask any locals you get to know if they have a doctor to recommend. No matter what, take the time to wander around a traditional medicine shop some time. They’re fascinating stores of roots and herbs and provide a sense of ancient tradition that can often be hard to find here.
You’re in an exciting new place, but sometimes you need to de-stress. Here you can combine being good to yourself with developing a cultural understanding of Eastern approaches to health. It’s a win-win situation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM has been practised for millennia, and has contributed immensely to China’s rich historical heritage. The sole source of healing and medical care for thousands of years, it has in recent times become a globally respected alternative (from the Western point of view) form of medicine, offering healing and relief to millions of patients all over the world. TCM is based on careful and detailed observation, documented, developed and passed down by generations of scholars and physicians and the most famous texts are more than 2,000 years old.
Based on the philosophies of Yin and Yang and the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water and wood), TCM works on the notion that the human body interacts with its external environment, meaning that wellbeing depends on harmony with one’s surroundings and with nature.
Western pharmaceutical companies increasingly acknowledge the medicinal properties of Chinese herbs and incorporate them in their daily supplement products. Even though it is classified as alternative medicine, TCM has gained respect and trust from many patients who have been cured of ailments which Western medicine could not help with.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
In acupuncture, fine pointed needles are delicately inserted into various points in the body that fall in the major meridian of the body; each point is connected to various functions of the body, and acupuncture can adjust the flow of blood, resulting in therapeutic healing. Acupressure employs the use of finger pressure rather than needles. Both help release stress and are also used to treat various ailments and diseases. Regular treatment also strengthens immunity against illness and promotes overall wellbeing.
The practice of TCM has historically involved detailed observation of patients’ condition and symptoms, unlike Western medicine where results are based on laboratory testing. This means a visit to a Chinese doctor is very different to what you’re probably used to. For one, a TCM doctor diagnoses patients through pulse-reading as well as enquiring about history and background. The doctor arrives at a diagnosis based on external symptoms experienced by the patient and by detecting through pulse-reading any Yin/Yang imbalance or incompatibility based on the five elements.
In addition to physical health, a Chinese medicine doctor is also concerned with the overall wellbeing of the mind and spirit, which determines the complete life flow of the patient. Therefore, a Chinese doctor normally prescribes a wholesome treatment program combining a number of therapies such as herbal therapy, acupuncture and dietary therapy, as well as tai chi and qigong exercises.
Spas and Massage
Chinese massage has been known to improve blood regulation, release emotional distress, strengthen flexibility of joints, relieve chronic pain, speed up healing caused by injuries and smooth away bruises and scars, as well as strengthen immunity against diseases or illness. It’s not solely meant to relax; it’s essentially a therapeutic practice aiming to heal ailments of the body by working on the deep layer of the body’s tissue and stimulating energy points.
Start with the basic approach. With a traditional Chinese massage, you keep most of your clothes on, removing only shoes and socks, belt and anything in your pockets. You either put them in a locker or in a small container under your massage bed. You then simply lie face down with your head in the hole in the bed provided, and follow instructions to turn around or to the side as they come. These massages can be quite painful until you get used to them, and the masseur telling you to relax doesn’t help – your first time may not be the idyllic experience you imagine. But when you get up an hour later, you’ll feel the difference as you sip the post-massage cup of tea.
Many people combine a body massage with another hour of foot massage afterwards, which begins relaxing, with your feet soaking in hot, herb-infused water while your shoulders are massaged. The actual massage can then be rather painful, again if you’re not used to it, or ticklish; once more, you’ll be glad you did it afterwards, and it’s less of an ordeal as time goes on. You can also experiment with treatments like candling (using lit candles to clean out your ears) and cupping (using suction to draw toxins out of your body).
However, you’re in no way limited to the Chinese type. You’ll see streetside places advertising all types of massage, from Thai to Swedish. Generally speaking, as you move up the price chain, things get more gentle and calming. There’ll be a quiet, dark environment, staff trained not to chat to you unless you want them to, special robes to wear and much better tea! The massage will probably aim to soothe rather than bite (unless you ask for more pressure) and there will be oil massage and other options. Prices are very reasonable.
And then you get to the last category, spas in high-end hotels. Here you’re paying for a blissful environment, a wide range of impeccably administered massages of any kind under the sun, facials, warm stone treatments and more. Saunas, Jacuzzis and private rooms are de rigueur.
Whatever you choose: you’ll feel better afterwards. Embrace the Hong Kong massage experience.
Practice run by a Harvard-trained family doctor, with therapies including TCM, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy.
13/F, Asia Standard Tower, 59-65 Queen’s Road, Central
Optimum Health Centre
Health center and shop which offers hydrotherapy, reflexology, health checks of various kinds and hosts events in a friendly setting.
Mon-Fri 9am-8pm, Sat 9an-4pm
Prosperous Commercial Building, 54-58 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay
A center offering integrated healing services including Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, tai chi, therapeutic yoga and aromatherapy.
801 Commercial House, 35 Queen’s Road, Central
Massage and Spa
Zhong Yi Guan
Acupuncture, Chinese tuina massage, foot massage and TCM services.
30 Yik Yam Street, Happy Valley
Element Skin Care
A skin care center for men and women, focusing on specialized treatments such as IPL, permanent hair removal, microdermabrasion and chemical peels.
21A Jade Centre, 98 Wellington Street, Central
Day spa in a colonial building by the sea for when you want the full-on relaxation experiment – massages, scrubs, pedicures and special pregnancy treatments.
Shop G106, The Repulse Bay, 109 Repulse Bay Road, Repulse Bay
This Sense of Touch-affiliated spa, as the name suggests, specialises in getting women in and out in 30 minutes when a quick bite of beauty therapy is needed.
Mon-Fri 10am-8:30pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 10:30am-6pm
83A Hollywood Road, Central
A chain for men that offers personal assessments and tailor-made fitness and acupressure services to get them into shape as naturally as possible.
Mon-Fri 11am-9:30pm, Sat 10am-8:30pm
14/F Eton Tower, 8 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay
10/F, 238 Building, 238 Nathan Road, Jordan, Kowloon
Sense of Touch
A chain of day spas with a total of six branches – massage, manicures, soaking in aroma-infused tubs and different signature treatments in each location.
52 D’Aguilar Street, Central
Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 10:30am-7pm
The Ovolo, 2 Arbuthnot Road, Central
Mon-Fri 9:30am-8:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-7pm
A full TCM assessment on arrival determines the treatments and ingredients of your pampering.
Langham Place Hotel, 555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok, Kowloon
Elemis Day Spa
Massage, facials, manicures and pedicures, detox, scrubs in a tranquil environment.
Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm
9/F, Century Square, 1 D’Aguilar Street, Central
Extremely high-end spa in Hong Kong’s most celebrated hotel, with huge range of facilities and services and the close attention of an army of masseurs and attendants.
The Peninsula Hong Kong, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Incredibly decadent luxury, complete with three infinity pools with underwater music, at arguably the world’s best hotel. They even have a specialised kids massage service so you can be pampered as a family.
Intercontinental Hotel, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon