More misadventures in travel, this time I’ll share some tales from the spa. (Be sure to catch my misadventures in the back alleys of Bangkok.)

Ten Thousand Waves communal bath

Communal baths at Ten Thousand Waves. Photo credit: Ten Thousand Waves

I consider myself lucky that I can visit some of the world’s best spas. I’ve had incredible treatments, found places I will treasure forever and had some of the most moving experiences of my life inside spas. But, it’s not always relaxation, pleasure and pampering. There have been a couple of quite memorable spa misadventures.

What’s that smell?

I was on a spa trip a few years ago in which I visited several spas over a period of about five days. I was so excited for my treatments, but there was one that put a damper on the week. I arrived at well-known spa (no, it’s not in Arizona) and was excited about my scheduled hot stone massage. Normally, hot stone massages are incredible. There’s something soothing about having these warm, smooth stones on your back.

On a cold winter day light a fire and enjoy a ...

On a cold winter day light a fire and enjoy a hot stone massage. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew I was in trouble this time, though, when I stretched out on the massage table and realized it was hard and uncomfortable. I was face down, but the head rest was at a terrible angle so I had to sort of stretch to reach it. When the therapist returned to the room to start the massage, things got worse. The calming smells in the spa were completely wiped out by the stench of stale cigarettes on this woman’s clothing. She attempted to adjust the headrest and it only got slightly more comfortable. She shrugged and told me there was no more adjusting, so I settled in to try to enjoy the treatment despite the uncomfortable position and smell of cigarettes. The back massage went okay. Nothing special, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Then, it was time for me to turn over and my experience was about to get way worse.

My therapist placed three hot stones on my stomach and I literally yelled.  The stones had continued to sit in the heater and were, by then, extremely hot. I asked her to move them, but she insisted they were just fine. After a few minutes of arguing with her, I reached up and took the stones off and ended the treatment. Unfortunately, the damage was done and I finished the remainder of my spa trip with blisters on my stomach. I was just glad I hadn’t been able to smell burning flesh along with stale cigarettes.

If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not good enough

On another spa visit during that same trip, I had the most excruciating massage ever. You don’t usually refer to a massage as “excruciating” but this one was beyond painful. Now, I appreciate good deep massages, but this one moved beyond therapeutic into the realm of agony.

I had signed up for a deep tissue massage on purpose, so I was expecting to hurt a little. I needed to work out the kinks in my neck and shoulders. However, when this young man started my massage, he kept getting progressively more intense. By the time he started to massage my feet, he had me shooting up off the table in agony. While everyone else was complimenting their therapists, I spent the afternoon showing off my bruises.

A Kiwi soak and other funny spa encounters

Sometimes the experiences are just entertaining, like the one I had at the sulphur springs at Hell’s Gate near Rotorua in New Zealand.

Sulphur Spa at Hells Gate

Sulphur Spa at Hells Gate in Rotorua, New Zealand. Photo credit: Hells Gate Spa

I booked myself a one-hour soak in the mineral baths and it felt delightful. We were there at the end of their winter, so the weather was still a little chilly, which made the outdoor sulphur bath perfect. I even grew accustomed to the sulphur smell after the first few minutes.  Unfortunately, though, I had to throw my swimsuit away after that because I could never get the smell of sulphur out of it. I also discovered that sulphur turns sterling silver completely black. Fortunately, I was able to clean my silver ring, although I was certain for the rest of the trip that I smelled of sulphur.

Massage tables await on a tranquil beach in Mexico.

Massage tables await on a tranquil beach in Mexico. Photo credit: Brian Kieft/iStockPhoto

Right up there with funny experiences is when I booked a spa treatment in Jamaica. The massage was in an outdoor pagoda on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was a gorgeous location and great spa treatment, but getting there was hilarious. I discovered that the only way there was through the nudist portion of the resort. It was interesting to walk through the nudist area fully clothed. Never have I felt so out of place because I was dressed. When I got to the spot for the massage, the therapist instructed me to get undressed and climb on the table. I looked around and realized she was going to stand there while I disrobed and that the pagoda was open for everyone to see. I glanced at all the naked bodies around me, shrugged and dropped my robe. I figured no one would even notice.

That was in such sharp contrast to the treatment I had at Urban Retreat, the spa at Harrods in London. Not only do you have a private room in which to undress, they ask that you don little paper panties for the duration of your treatment. Honestly, I don’t remember that treatment at all. I do, however, remember hating those little paper panties.

What are some of the funny (or painful) experiences you’ve had at a spa? Fortunately for me, the great experiences far outweigh the mistakes. You can read about a selection of my favorite spas here.

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