By Hart Hagerty
August 14, 2014
Courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai

Spas are huge part of daily life in China. Some residential blocks in Shanghai have more massage parlors than convenience stores. Ubiquitous spas vary vastly in service and price, from no-frills foot rubs at Blind Massage to an exceedingly lavish couple’s treatment at a luxury hotel. Let’s start on the humble end of the spectrum. Treatments at Gubei Blind Massage aren’t just about releasing some kinks for less than cost of a cocktail; they offer a relaxing way to soak in a bit of Chinese culture. Guests can experience the Middle Kindgom’s ancient healing methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupressure, and reflexology. The other end of the spectrum belongs to top hotel spas, which are luxurious beyond imagination with elegant, sprawling private treatment rooms. I think the Mandarin Oriental Pudong Shanghai sets the bar highest. Here, I’ve alleviated the stress of choosing where to rest and recharge—consider this list a head start on your road to total relaxation.

Gubei Blind Massage

Officially sanctioned by China Disabled Persons’ Federation since 2006, Blind Massage is a government-supported business that gives masseuse work to the blind. At this sparse joint, the kind staff specializes in traditional Chinese foot rubs and massages (RMB78). Warning: this is not your sensual oil massage. Rubdowns – administered over your clothes - are a bit rough, but bang you right back into place.

Zen Massage

Zen Massage is in a romantic, candle-lit lane house in the heart of the French Concession on Wuyuan Road. Zen’s calming ambience and massages—from aromatic oil massages to traditional Chinese massages—are already a bargain, but paying discounted prices during happy hour (weekdays, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.) makes the experience extra blissful.

The Sanctuary

Dewy, well-heeled housewives swear by The Sanctuary’s fabulous facials administered with dermatological precision. But I also love this spa for its detoxifying and de-stressing massages ($75). The Taikang Terrace location is amid treetops and has a calming interior with natural wood and ambient lighting.

Green Massage

This upmarket spa chain has locations all around Shanghai. I like to save this one for special occasions. After I wrap big projects, I’ll treat myself to a hot stone treatment ($95), which is hands-down my favorite massage in Shanghai. While Green Massage is on the pricier side, it’s worth every yuan.