George Town, Penang, is a bohemian city, situated on a fast-flowing body of water called the Straits of Malacca. Its colonial architecture is astounding and the reason why it was given a UNESCO Heritage listing in 2008. However, it’s the city’s delicious street food, cafes, museums, art galleries and its people, that give George Town a very distinct personality. And falling in love with it comes easily enough.
There’s a distinctly spiritual side here too and with such things come some excellent health and yoga centres that are all worth exploring. If stretching, floating, yoga, mind and body balance and relaxation are on your list of things to do when you visit, you’ll find it here in abundance.
So, with that in mind, I decided to put my body on the line and find the best of the best for you…
1. Herbal Sauna at Bodhi Heart
I came across this retreat by accident. After one of my many jungle hikes in the Penang Botanic Gardens I took a wrong turn and ended up slipping out of the jungle down a mud wall into a garden. As it happened, a beautifully manicured garden, with flowers beds, exotic orchids and sun chairs. It turned out to be a Buddhist retreat…and a very good one at that.
I’ve been back to Bodhi Heart several times since—using the conventional entrance, not the jungle—to use its aromatic steam bath. With separate male and female rooms, set in a simple building, it’s a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon. I know the idea of using a sauna when you live in a steamy, tropical country isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this is so worth it.
Stunning virgin jungle surrounds the complex itself. It’s peaceful, the outside lounge chairs are comfortable and Herbal tea is provided free of charge. And the cost? All donations are accepted.
2. Float for Health
Float for Health is Penang’s first—and only—floatation centre. Floating is described as the closest thing to drifting in outer space, and I have to say it was a surreal, relaxing, meditative, pleasing experience. I really enjoyed it.
Each of the separate, spacious, clinically clean flotation rooms, contain an extra large tub which is filled with 250 gallons of water, which is heated to 34 C. 500kg of Epsom salts are then added, which is what allows you float in the tub. It’s a little like sitting in the Dead Sea—and with that amount of salt in the water you can’t do anything but float. And once you know that, and surrender to believing that you can’t sink, it’s amazingly relaxing.
With the lights turned down and soft music playing in the background I was asleep in minutes. Tea and refreshments are provided after your float session, and all you need to bring with you is a bathing suit. Towels and earplugs are provided.
3. Sunalini Yoga
I’ve known Su (of Sunalini Yoga )for a long time, and after years of her pestering me to come along and try a yoga class in her studio I decided to give it a go.
I’ve played rugby all his life, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym over the years (not that you would know it to look at me), with little to no stretching, so I knew this was going to be tough. Yes, I can touch my toes, but that’s about as far as it goes and yoga had never been high on my list.
Classes, thankfully, are small and Su puts a lot of effort into helping each student achieve his or her best results. There is a lot of attention to alignment, strength, increasing the student’s flexibility, stability and peace of mind. This blend of mind and body follows the principles of Iyengar yoga, but if you fancy a different style, Kundalini for example, Tuesday mornings are for you.
I enjoyed the experience,and I did feel taller when I left, but I don’t know if yoga is for me. But, if it is your thing, this is the place to go. Situated in the centre of George Town, Su’s studio is perfect for first time visitors, or long-time residents of Penang.
4. Thai Odyssey
This is my favourite spa in Penang. Based in Gurney Plaza, with an outlet in Paragon Mall, it’s a mere seven minute walk from my apartment. And when I feel the need for a little rest and relaxation Thai Odyssey is my spa of choice.
Its simple, yet elegant surroundings immediately put you at ease. The staff are as chatty as you want them to be or not at all, depending on your mood. The customer dictates the level of conversation and if you don’t want to say anything at all they won’t be offended.
There is nothing complicated about what they do here either. Offering quality services such as traditional Thai massage, aromatherapy, herbal therapy and foot reflexology, they do it all extremely well.
5. Panpuri Organic Spa
The Panpuri Organic Spa kept on popping up in conversations and I kept ignoring it because it was connected to the E&O Hotel and I wanted to stay away from the large hotels. But in the end, I had to include it, as was the top of most peoples’ lists when I asked.
And I’m glad I did.
Located on the sixth floor of this ever so iconic hotel, this organic spa is renowned for its range of beauty, skincare and wellbeing products that utilises only the finest natural and organic ingredients.
It’s not cheap but I have to say that it’s worth every penny.