Wellness Focus

Writer Joyce Ip

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

In it to Win

Much more than just high-roller heaven, the casino hotel Okada Manila offers hedonism of every kind

On my arrival, I’m told to look for a hotel rep in a plum-coloured blazer.

Curious about this fashion choice, I soon come to understand why. The car collecting me from the airport was plum-hued, as is the property logo, lobby centerpiece and a large part of the hotel. Rumour has it this shade is meant to uplift gamblers, reasoning I dare not question, as the hotel’s founder is ‘Pachinko King’ Kazuo Okada after all.

To call Okada Manila a casino hotel doesn’t do it justice. There is much more to it, namely a US$30 million musical fountain spanning the equivalent of 50 Olympic pools, a nightclub which plays host to world-class parties and gay pride celebrations, a children’s play area where jungle gyms run floor-to-ceiling, and a spa complete with celebrity manicurist.

Opened in 2016 but currently undergoing a largescale revamp, what is housed within this golden trapezoidal exterior is the first phase of three, sharing a taster of the F&B and wellness offerings to follow over 44 hectares.

Though luxury is in abundance, Okada Manila has something for every holidaymaker, with meals ranging from US$200 Japanese set dinners prepared by the head chef to corndogs from a cart. The same goes for shopping, with everything from Swiss fashion brand Bally to Sunday market souvenirs.


For therapy of a different kind, the 4,500sqm Retreat Spa comprises a 50s-style barbershop for trims with tipples, as well as an express beauty salon featuring eco brands like Davines, SpaRitual and Deborah Lippmann. A domed reception (it resembles a planetarium) garners much attention. Treatment rooms named after famous Filipino bays and vintage trunks lining the walls continue a travel theme.

The process of unwinding may begin with saunas, steam and Jacuzzi. Even better, visit the Wave Room to recline on anti-gravity chaises, with the sounds and projections of hypnotic waves in the background — an ideal spot to linger preor post-treatment.

Noting some serious tension in my shoulders, my therapist recommends an off-menu massage. I’m intrigued. It begins with a 20-minute Seaweed Bath, where algae swirls at the bottom of the tub. Said to detoxify, hydrate and nourish not only the skin, but also the scalp, the idea is to hold your breath and plunge all the way in. She recommends rubbing the green sliminess over tresses—and body—for plumped, smooth and glowing skin.

Dried off and happily sprawled on the chromopathy treatment bed, my therapist begins dry brushing in upwards strokes to promote lymphatic drainage and prepare the skin for treatment. The bristles are made from cactus thorns, yet the process is surprisingly painless.

With my pores open and ready for a deeper cleanse, I’m given an exfoliation using a  mixture of Voya’s sugar scrub and body oil. The adage ‘no pain, no gain’ is especially true, and  rigorousness leaves my skin impressively smooth. I feel and smell fresh thanks to the fragrant blend of lavender, rosemary, almond and sunflower seed oils.

Back on the treatment bed, my therapist slips an iPad under my face cushion. No emails pop up thankfully, instead calming scenes of blue skies and white beaches show up  accompanied by soothing tunes that play in rhythm with the bed’s vibrations. Fittingly, the Dance of Waves full-body massage follows, where each stroke is applied in sync with the on-screen swells. I give in to blissful slumber.

A seaweed eye mask—again made from real algae—is draped on to de-puff and ease dark circles. Having my face cushioned in this herbal cocoon is the most pleasant way to awaken and when bells signal the end of this journey, my mind is fully reinvigorated and ready to take on the day.

My Reading Room


Aside from full-body delights like these, The Retreat Spa is famous for genderspecific treatments. The Feminine Spirit, for instance, focuses on energy healing and the seven chakras, using Damask rose and sandalwood oil, and finished with the humorously named ‘offal pack’. This is when the body is sandwiched between hot and cold herbal packs to balance hormones and strengthen the kidneys. The massage focuses on the upper body, with long, slow and repetitive gestures to eliminate water retention, followed by chest openers and shoulders stretches. Interestingly, I notice my jeans fit better afterwards, so its effects are widespread. A similar offering is designed for gents, but includes the more invigorating Tibetan tapping-style massage and a ‘liver pack.’

Adventurous spa goers can opt for local treatments like the Duyan, meaning ‘cradle’ in Tagalog, which combines a warm banana leaf wrap with a traditional hilot deep-tissue massage to ease aches and swelling. In this treatment, the therapist works her way up from my feet with a series of knuckledigging, palm-press and kneading lymphatic moves. Some soreness is to be expected, but the therapist warns (and apologises profusely) when certain pressure points are more tender than others. My carpal tunnelplagued forearms seem to melt to butter thanks to her healing massage.

Aside from excellent treatments and interiors, The Retreat Spa also hosts monthly workshops on aromachology, nutrition and weight and pain management. Every effort is made so that guests feel welcome. Superstitious gamblers can even request staff change into different coloured uniforms should the standard be deemed ‘unlucky’. Those visiting in the fourth quarter will arrive in time for the opening of a Chinese wellness outlet that will feature dry massages and express treatments.


When not lounging poolside or sparring with your personal trianer at the gym, eating is another favourite pastime. Cantonese and Japanese teppanyaki restaurants will soon be added to an existing portfolio of 12 eateries.

The Medley Buffet is a casual, familyfriendly spot serving international an spread. We’re not talking about the usual egg stations—which there are—but also unique delicacies like yellow watermelons, local Maja Blanca and cassava rolls. Juice is freshly pressed, and if you get on the chef’s good side, he may surprise you with salmon sushi charcoal grilled right at your table.

For a more dynamic experience, the eight-course Signature Menu at Imamura, helmed by Michelin-starred chef Hirofumi Imamura, offers the freshest Japanese ingredients. Delighting all the senses, one fish salad is presented in a glass bowl that emits plumes of apple-wood smoke. Off menu, my 16-veggie salad looks like a sculpture of rocket, carrots, lotus root, Chinese yams and ice plants, while aged charcoal-grilled Wagyu beef melts in my mouth.

Leave time for a nightcap at The Piazza, which opens up to an unobstructed view of the colossal music fountain. If you have room for dessert, the art deco Trattoria offers an exquisite tiramisu and rum baba with orange compote, a perfect excuse to linger longer and order another glass of exclusive wine from cellar.

Seamlessly balancing the needs of gamblers, locals and discerning travellers, Okada Manila has it all. If my sneak peek is anything to go by, its new development is something to be extremely excited about. www.okadamanila.com