Getting a spa treatment in China is a wonderful luxury. Unlike in many parts of the world, spas and massage parlors are very common in most neighborhoods of major cities across the country. While there are high-end options, there are also many local shops that provide clean, comfortable, and excellent services for natives and foreigners.
For first-timers, a visit to a spa in China can be a stressful experience as they are unfamiliar with the customs and etiquette. Never fear! Knowing the answers of how to act and what to expect before heading into the spa, will allow you to focus on the important part—relaxing.
Clothing at the Spa
Should you disrobe entirely at a spa? The answer depends on where you are and what you're doing. Most Chinese massages, e.g. foot massage, traditional massage, at small spas like Dragonfly or even the local ones, will offer pajamas to put on.
If the spa caters to Westerners, the outfit should be larger and you shouldn't have any trouble. If it's a local place, and you're a big person, then you may want to ensure it will fit before disrobing.
Generally, your therapist will lead you to your therapy room and point out where you are supposed to change and what they would like you to wear. If not, have a good look around the room and take stock of what's there. Don't be shy and ask questions if you're unsure.
Other types of spas and specific treatments like a full-body oil massage, require nudity. When in doubt, ask. You'll have to be a little immodest and brave, but you can mime to the therapist and ask if you should take everything off. You'll be guided to the robe, paper (disposable) underwear or other garments to wear. Your therapist will discreetly leave the room and knock before entering to give you privacy.
Bathhouses like Xiao Nan Guo Spa in Shanghai require you to walk around completely nude except for slippers and a locker key. You'll leave your clothing in a locker and then be guided to a shower area to wash away the day's grime. Some bathhouses and hot springs carefully monitor the cleansing part of the routine. Then strut your stuff around to the various soaking pools, steam rooms, and scrub rooms. You will not be alone in your nudity and you'll get used to it fast. For the public areas, visitors are given cotton pajamas to wear.
Many English-language spa websites have lists of rules and frequently-asked questions. To prepare for your spa adventure, go over the information on the websites and plan to arrive early to ask any questions you may have.
Tipping in China is different than in the United States. Unlike spas in the West, you are not expected to tip at spas in China. If you have a treatment at an international hotel, there will be a hefty service charge added, but an extra gratuity is not expected.
Depending on what kind of spa you're visiting, you don't always need to book in advance. If you're in the middle of a shopping trip or walking tour and pass a reflexology spot (there will be a giant image of a foot on a sign outside) you can easily pop in for an hour’s foot massage without booking in advance. At hotel spas and popular spots chains, it’s better to book in advance.