Stefanie, The Making of Fivelements Hong Kong

“Bali, reinvented for Hong Kong”

Bali meets Hong Kong

In 2010 when I arrived in Bali, I was looking for a new opportunity and I was lucky to find it. Lahra and Chicco had just finished building Fivelements when my husband and I had lunch at Sakti Dining Room. We met Chicco who told us about the concept of Fivelements and his ideas on how to develop the Wellness Retreat.

I realized that I arrived at the right time. I had the opportunity to open the doors of Fivelements Wellness Retreat after collaborating closely with Lahra and Chicco and a wonderful team of truly dedicated Balinese therapists.

I felt truly honoured to be part of a team that was rewarded just a year after opening with the most wanted title “Destination Spa of the Year 2011” by AsiaSpa magazine!

All the retreat’s treatments have been specially crafted after researching what has been traditionally used in Bali. Plant-sourced ingredients have been perfected with innovative methods for deep nourishment, long-lasting health and anti-aging beauty. The live ingredients are sourced mainly from medicinal gardens and our own Sakti kitchen and are freshly prepared in our on-site laboratory.

This wonderful foundation of treatments was combined with more research conducted by Dr Gerard Bodeker, former professor of Oxford University and advisor on traditional (indigenous), complementary and alternative medicine and wellness. He conducted a research on wellness and healing traditions of Bali, across three generations, including children and youths, adults and the elderly.

As a result, our treatments are mostly entirely based on traditions, with just a few adjustments for comfort and luxury. We experimented and trialled all the treatments for skin reactions and how they felt and their effects.

This wonderful foundation of treatments at Fivelements Bali was our foundation for Hong Kong too, where we also combined some of the traditions and ingredients with those found in China and Hong Kong. We want to bring our guests back to nature, invite them to appreciate the power of fresh ingredients while taking time for themselves.

I love to add precious flowers to a bath soak. Flowers are used in Bali daily for ceremonies and rituals. Yes they are precious but I believe we are all precious, so in fact they are the perfect complement.

Main treatments in Hong Kong

Our signature treatment in Hong Kong is the Spice Island Tribute. Highlighting the spices traded between China and Indonesia, of course today it is normal to have these spices on demand, but this wasn’t always the case. This treatment reminds us of the old spice trade, and the value of these ancient, healing spices.

Step back in time and experience the richness of these highly sought after spices, loved for their wonderfully fragrant culinary and potent medicinal properties. Our treatment begins with a deeply relaxing traditional Balinese massage, followed by an authentic Balinese boreh scrub using powdered rice, clove and aromatic ginger. This is left on the skin to absorb, before being rubbed off making for quite a firm, warming therapy. This is designed to free your skin from dead cells and promote the circulation as spice-penetrating heat melts away your tension. Finally, allow the secrets of these time-honoured ingredients unveil as you immerse yourself in one of our natural stone bathtubs fragrant with freshly ground coriander, clove, star anise and cardamom. Relax, refresh and recharge with new energy.

The boreh brings a beautiful Balinese experience to Hong Kong. Good for every skin type, traditionally it was used by the rice farmers who after a day working in the paddy fields, would get home and raid the kitchen of rice, ginger and clove cooking spices, blend them together and apply to their aching muscles. They’d leave the mixture on overnight, and the next morning wash it off in the river. Used for centuries for purification, warming and healing muscular ailments, it kept them strong for the next day’s work.

One of our most popular treatments in Hong Kong will undoubtedly be the Balinese massage. The team in Hong Kong has taken on and improved the journey a lot, bringing it to a different level. They have started with the traditional techniques and created a more relaxing, flowing, connected ritual.

And for the baths we wanted to bring the focus back onto the spices again and show guests the traditional ritual. Fresh spices like clove, star anise and cardamom are ground in a traditional Balinese lava stone mortar and pestle. Then we pour them into a net that is done up like a teabag and added to the bathwater. We love the ritual of explaining where the spices come from, inviting the guest to see the fresh ingredients before feeling the effects on the body. We also add flowers and orange slices, and with the fragrance and the warm colours, they will feel a little like they are in Bali.

In Bali the bathing rituals are very important. Water is the elixir of life, a powerful healing force, and it has been used in combination with prayer, meditation, herbs and flowers for centuries. It is a great opportunity to slow down, relax and enjoy the bounty of nature. Beautiful

The Dan Tien Rejuvenation, an abdominal massage performed by Michael, for example, is an old Chinese practice.

The Bali Usada Muscle Release is very deep – you can compare it to a sports or deep tissue therapy but with different techniques. This is ideal for HKTGA as they have guests who exercise a lot.

What special preparations were undertaken for Fivelements Hong Kong?

As part of preparation for the new Fivelements Hong Kong, a decision was made by Fivelements Directors, Lahra and Chicco Tatriele, in conjunction with Fivelements Senior Research Advisor, Dr Gerard Bodeker, to systematically document a range of traditional practices from Bali designed to promote health and wellbeing through the lifespan. This approach was felt to be synergetic with the Chinese emphasis on three generations of a family living and flourishing together.

This was also designed to build on the Royal Balinese theme of Fivelements Hong Kong, focussing in part on exploring whether any Balinese royal practices followed unique or differing offerings to those of the wider population, as had been found in the sultanates, kratongs and isetanas of Malaysia and Java.

As a result, our Hong Kong menu focuses on welcoming families, offering a wide range of treatments for couples, expectant mothers and their babies, children, teenagers, and there are also specific treatments for men as well as for athletes.

In Hong Kong our Signature Ritual is the Spice Island Tribute, a ritual specially designed and unique to Hong Kong.

The Melati Pearl Rejuvenation is another ritual that is unique to Hong Kong. This tea ritual celebrates one of the oldest and most favoured aromatic healthy tea blends in the world, exported from China to Indonesia as early as the 16th century.

Similarities between the two?

In both wellness sanctuaries fresh ingredients are prepared in the laboratory and special elixirs from Sakti Dining Room™ accompany all our rituals.

We want to invite guests to go home and try out things they like afterwards. We want them to look at the ingredients they have in their kitchen and make a fresh infusion for their baths at home, for example. This is something new for Hong Kong.

With our massages we really want to give a treatment that allows our guests to go into a meditative state. We hope many people will choose the signature Balinese massage, as it is quite unusual. We also have the aroma massage, specially designed for Hong Kong. We focus on deep pressure but broad strokes with a meditative pace – it’s not just a physical experience, our guests are invited to connect to themselves and find stillness.

People who stay at Fivelements in Bali are already looking for relaxation and an experience that spans mental, emotional and spiritual healing. To give this possibility to people living in the city, just 30 minutes outside their home, is a great concept.

When guests come to Bali they really enjoy Fivelements and want to continue the feeling and take it home. In Hong Kong we have guests who will be repeat guests and they react differently. For them we need a bigger menu with more options.

How we worked on the Hong Kong wellness menu

We took what we had in Bali and thought about each treatment again and again. We thought about what we really liked about it, how we could improve it, and did we really want to bring it to Hong Kong? In a way it was our way of renewing and improving, and the team in Bali was very motivated knowing that the concept was being taken to another destination.

I worked on the concept, menu creation and recipes together with Michael and Lahra. We created the treatments, wrote the training file, trialled and trained with the therapists, while helping with suppliers, costing sheets etc. Michael tried the treatments and then wrote the beautiful menu with Lahra’s editing. I worked a lot with our Hong Kong team, who are familiar with other places in Hong Kong and how to make our treatments unique and show Hong Kong guests something new.

In Hong Kong we found that people’s skin was much more sensitive and we had to fine-tune a lot of treatments as a result.

And products in Fivelements HK?

In all our treatments we have a natural focus. We use fresh aloe vera for our manicures to soften cuticles rather than a cuticle softener as well as for pedicures and also facials.

The products are beautiful. They are created by Subtle Energies but branded Fivelements as the formulations have all been made exclusively for us. It’s very time consuming to do this but so special and I’m very happy with the results. Subtle Energies source the best essential oils from around the world and have high integrity in their development approach.

We have a choice of five oils. Lahra spent a long time on the aromatherapy massage oils, and they represent the five core values of Fivelements. They are Sathya (Truth), Dharma (Right Conduct), Prema (Love), Shanti (Peace), Ahimsa (Non-Violence). They are each beautiful products that convey a particular message. It wasn’t easy but Nick, from Subtle Energies did a great job.

In Bali, it has been wonderful being able to go back to a lady who has been our supplier for years, and tell her that we need to order more from her and support her business more. In Bali our senior therapist and trainer – she is Balinese – makes sure that the ingredients are all prepared with love, giving our Hong Kong guests a really special experience and an insight into how we do things in Bali. We have given some of our Hong Kong therapists a new appreciation for fresh ingredients. They are all so enthusiastic.

We worked very hard to bring the Bali experience to Hong Kong with a new expression and am really happy with our results. Bali is of course, still the mother ship of Fivelements. We would love to have people from Hong Kong come to Bali and experience the Fivelements world here!

What were any challenges?

There were so many challenges, I’m so proud of Chicco and Lahra and how they never gave up!

While we have brought a lot of things over from Bali, there are some things that are easier to source here, like vegan yoghurt for our facials.

In Hong Kong our therapists have better schools, their base skills are better and so they can move faster when we do our training. However we have to teach them the distinctly Fivelements’ style and the importance of bringing feeling and Love in action into each treatment.

What do you love about the HK destination?

When I first went to the site in Hong Kong I was very surprised about how green it was. All the rooms had beautiful lighting, the green walls are lovely, and windows connect to nature. The lab is nice to work in and Sakti Dining Room™ is a cocoon, a sanctuary.

Everything in once place and close by is great. In Bali everything is more spread out, and you walk through the gardens, a challenge when it rains. But in Hong Kong you have your tennis lesson or golf all there, your physical exercise and relaxation all in one spot. You can even go back to your room in a bathrobe. It’s a lovely retreat for city people.


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