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Wellness Rituals: Across Vietnam, Myanmar, and China

We’ve heard of China’s traditional medicine and wellness rituals, but what do we know about Vietnamese and Burmese well-being traditions? There’s more than meets the eye.

By Fabienne Lang
December 31, 2021

When it comes to wellness rituals, Vietnam and Myanmar are not as well-known as their neighbours. Think: China and Thailand. Naturally, this mysteriousness makes them appealing, and it hardly means their long-standing healing traditions are any less good. Pristine natural settings, abundant and fresh ingredients, and deeply embedded rituals are just a few of the reasons wellness-seekers are starting to look at these nations with more interest.

See also: Wellness Rituals: Across Northern Europe


Foot Reflexology | Photo: Conscious Design/Unsplash

Like much of Asia, Vietnam’s landscape is home to many bamboo trees, so it’s little surprise the country would incorporate this natural element into one of its wellness rituals. The bamboo roller massage uses young bamboo canes that have been dried and warmed in the sun before being rolled over the body to relax and soothe tight muscles. The feeling is a firm, warm pressure that kneads out knots and releases aches from tired limbs.

A Vietnamese wellness ritual that you’ve likely heard of is the cupping therapy, which originated in China. Silicone cups are placed on the shoulders and back to lift and loosen the skin and connective tissue. The result may look worrying as dark, purple circles are left on the skin, but it is in fact incredible for the body as the cups remove toxins, increase overall energy, and circulation in the targeted areas. And the bruises leave within a few days to up to two weeks.

China’s traditional wellness influence is not only apparent in Vietnam but also in nearby Myanmar. Similar to a traditional Chinese massage, a typical Myanmar massage embraces reflexology, and is carried out clothed using acupressure techniques, as well as stretching, cross-fibre friction, and kneading all along the body to balance its “qi”.


Vietnam’s hilly Sapa region has lush valleys and abundant rice terraces, but it is also home to medicinal plants that have been used for wellness by locals over centuries. Specifically, the Red Dao ethnic community uses herbs and roots for their herbal baths. Each bath may have 10 or more ingredients, including Vietnamese balm, elderberry, wild pepper leaves, cinnamon, and more. The herbs are chopped, dried in the sun, and boiled for hours over a fire before being poured along with warm water as a sweet-smelling, wine-red mixture into a tub. And it’s not just any tub, these are made by hand from Pơ mu wood, a type of cypress, which adds a grounding fragrance to the water.

Each Red Dao family creates its own herbal bath recipe, which is held by the women in the family and passed from mothers to daughters. Soaking in a Red Dao herbal bath was originally offered to women after childbirth, but is now generally used to alleviate joint and muscle pain.


Coffee Scrub | Photo: Monstera/Pexels

Vietnamese coffee is famous for its delightful, condensed milk sweetness and powerful energy kick, but its lesser-known use involves scrubbing the body to perfection. Body scrubs made from Vietnamese coffee grounds are used to improve blood circulation, reduce cellulite, and tone skin. The antioxidants in the coffee beans are absorbed by the skin, helping to keep it young and revitalised.

Another natural anti-ageing element used to ward off wrinkles, and that leaves the skin radiant and bright, is China’s pearl powder. Pearls are cultivated in Shanghai’s river basin, where oysters grow to roughly 10 inches long after four years, and each oyster has between eight to 10 pearls. The lower-quality pearls are chosen to be crushed into a powder for beauty treatments and applied to the face to keep smile lines at bay.

And over in neighbouring Myanmar, Burmese women and children have been covering their cheeks, foreheads, and chins with another powder as a beauty and health treatment for over 2,000 years: Thanaka powder. This powder comes from grinding wood and bark from the thanaka tree, and not only does it brighten the complexion, but it also shields the skin from harmful UV rays.

Thanaka Powder in Myanmar | Photo: Georgia Doglioni/Unsplash

Even though these wellness traditions are linked to specific countries, it’s clear to see they exquisitely blend the wider region’s long-standing medicinal and beauty therapies. And a number of local spas and resorts are picking up on these local customs. The magnificent HARNN Spa at the Intercontinental Phú Quóc in Vietnam offers a unique menu of bamboo treatments, including bamboo massages, and pearl powder facials.