Bangkok is touted around the world for its fantastic spa treatments, and both visitors and locals alike head out for relaxing massages as part of their endeavors in dealing with urban stress. However, it’s not only rubdowns and Ayurvedic oils that can put you into a more chilled frame of mind. These days, Bangkok offers opportunities a la Japan to soak your city blues away, as well as the chance to experience something truly unique, succumbing to the nirvana of a float tank.
Some 30-plus years ago, floating was all the rage in North America. The 1980s film Altered States celebrated the floatation tank, then known as “sensory deprivation tanks,” in which the tanks were used to reach altered states of consciousness, perhaps in the same vein as meditation or counterculture hallucinogenic drug use popular at the time.
Developed by neuropsychiatrist John Lilly in the 1950s, “isolation tanks,” as they were also called, were soundproof chambers that were filled with body temperature Epsom salt water, allowing the user to float effortlessly and peacefully without disturbance, giving a meditative and relaxing experience.
Research has shown that float tank experiences combat jet lag, provide pain relief, especially for pregnant women, help with dispersion of lactic acid buildup, and also help with positive imaging (NBA star Stephen Curry regularly uses float tanks as part of his training regimen).
For the novice, today’s float tank is a small comfortable pod, which has mood lighting and soft music enticing you as you strip down, get in, and make yourself comfortable in the pod. The lights then dim, the music stops, and you proceed to have only your thoughts as encumberments.
The Epsom salts render the tank water equivalent to that of the Dead Sea, meaning you can’t sink or drown, and your body just floats effortlessly above the surface. Air and water temperature are regulated the same as skin temperature, meaning your sense of touch is diminished, as is hearing, as your ears are just slightly submerged.
For those not wanting to relax in the dark, perhaps a Japanese onsen soak will help bliss you out. Meaning “hot spring” in Japanese, onsen are found all over Japan, as the country is home to plenty of volcanic activity and geothermal water. The idea at an onsen is to strip down to your birthday suit, wash off at a tap or shower, and then sit and soak in the hot water, which normally is around 39-42°C.
The whole onsen experience is a very Zen meditative one, closing one’s eyes while the hot water and steam soaks into every pore. Benefits from the hot spring water include alleviating muscle pain and neuralgia, reducing chronic fatigue and stress, and helping with skin problems, as well as reducing the pains of arthritis and lowering blood pressure.
Bangkok Float Center
These days, if you can bear to let go of your mobile phone for an hour or more, you can have a floating experience at the Bangkok Float Center in the Show DC Entertainment Mall, Bangkapi. The pods have plenty of headroom, so it is pretty tough to feel claustrophobic, and as you can’t see, you’re pretty much just enjoying the experience of being alone and at peace. Occasionally your body drifts against one of the sides of the tank, but most users don’t even notice this, as they either fall asleep or else drift into a very relaxed state of consciousness.
Upon finishing, most users feel a state of wellbeing, as well as usually craving more time (sessions tend to be 60 or 90 minutes), and I’ve found that the more one floats, the more beneficial it feels (I somewhat equate floating with Vipassana meditation, where beginners have a hard time getting their “monkey mind” to settle down, whereas one lets go of thoughts and the overstimulated brain much more easily over time). Ideally, once in the tank for a while, one enters a “Theta state,” where right and left brain synchronize in a deep meditative experience.
Bangkok Float Center
99/6-9 Show DC, 4th Floor, Bangkapi
Tel. 098 628 9599
The Japanese also believe that the nude communal bathing (although it is gender separated) breaks down barriers between folks (workers certainly feel a bit more equal to their superiors when neither one has a stitch on!).
In Bangkok, the first authentic onsen to open up was Yunomori Onsen where the owner sourced water from Wat Wang Khanai hot spring in Kanchanaburi. Here you will find hot and cold pools, bamboo and wooden tubs (even a teak bucket tub in the garden!), a jet whirlpool bath, and another one containing a carbonated soda water generator from Japan which mixes soda with water and promotes circulation and rejuvenation. There is also a steam room, sauna and massage facilities as well to complete the overall treatment.
A-Square 120/5 Sukhumvit 26, Khlongtoey
Tel. 02 259 5778
For something really pampering, check out Bangkok’s latest ode to Japanese bathing, Pañpuri Wellness, located up on the 12th floor of the swank Gaysorn Tower from where you can look out over the city while you let the stress drip away. Pañpuri features a pool with water sourced from one of Japan’s most famed onsen, Kusatsu (noted for 40 – 41°C water that has to be stirred by attendants to keep folks from burning!), as well as a soda pool, plus several other mineral laden soaking options.
Pañpuri Wellness also has organic spa treatments, where you can get skin scrubs, wraps and other wellness treatments. You can also book a private onsen room all to yourself as well, so you might want to think about Christmas gifts early.
The negative ions associated with water have long been held beneficial to the human body, mind, and spirit, so the next time you’re in the mood for some Bangkok detox, consider these alternative aqua options.
12th Floor, Gaysorn Tower, Ploencchit Rd.
Tel. 02 253 8899