Image: Galos Caves
Valerie Wadycki
You no longer have to visit Poland to experience salt caves built with crystals from the Black Sea—thanks to the Polish and Ukrainian specialists who came to Chicago to construct the first U.S. salt-iodine caves (opened in 2005). Visitors spend about an hour in the dim caves, listening to calming music, and breathing in the salty air.
updated 5/9/2011 9:26:46 AM ET 2011-05-09T13:26:46

You're lying on a massage table, but instead of the masseuse's hands, snakes slither along your back. They weave through your hair, nibble on your eyelashes, and curl around your toes.

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You can get one of these odd massages on a farm in northern Israel. There and at the rest of the world's strangest spas, you'll be immersed in unforgettable, oddball situations that all somehow share the same common goal—to help you heal and relax.

Slideshow: World's strangest spas

The spa industry has exploded in the last decade: there were 20,600 spas in the U.S. in 2009 compared to 5,689 spas in 1999, according to the International Spa Association. Storefront nail salons also increasingly offer massages and facials. To stay competitive, spas try to stand out through unconventional treatments and locations, such as a Czech brewery that specializes in hot-beer baths.

"Spas have become experts at offering treatments that let spa-goers experience what the local area is all about while still getting the results they crave," says International Spa Association President Lynne McNees.

Taking this strategy to the extreme, Chiang Mai Women's Prison Spa lets you experience what life is like for local inmates, who are trained in the traditional art of Thai massage as part of a prison rehabilitation program.

Story: Canary Island spa simulates life in the womb

Prisoner-style uniforms are required for patrons at an entirely different kind of oasis: the five-story, 100,000-square-foot Spa Castle in outer Queens, in the shadow of New York's LaGuardia airport. It's easy to spend the entire day exploring this theme-park-like space, which includes jade and gold igloo-shaped saunas, plunge pools, and a food court dishing out authentic Korean barbecue.

Teri Cunningham appreciates Spa Castle for both the relaxation and the entertainment value. "After making the rounds from the dipping pools to the hot saunas to the ice room, we love to hang out on the lounging sofas upstairs watching the planes land," she says. Brooklynite Jonathan Ames was also won over by Spa Castle's quirky charm; he featured the spa in an episode of his HBO cult favorite Bored to Death.

If you find yourself bored of choosing between Swedish and deep-tissue, you know the cure: an appointment at one of the world's strangest spas. Just be prepared to travel for it. Israeli farm-owner Ada Barak would like to bring her snakes to us in America, but the FAA says: no snakes on a plane.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Explainer: 'Womb room' and 8 other crazy beauty treatments

  • Monica Rodriguez  /  Getty Images stock

    In the quest for youthful beauty, no treatment is too outlandish.

    From lying in a room designed to look like a "human womb" to plastic surgery for the nether regions, here are some of the craziest lengths people have gone for beauty.

  • The 'Womb Room'

    Image: The "Womb Room"
    Gran Canaria Wellness

    Restless sleepers and weary travelers who miss the warmth, security and comfort of their mothers’ embrace should consider visiting The Corallium Spa at the Lopesan Cota Meloneras resort on the Canary Islands. Here, visitors can relive their in utero experiences by entering the “womb room.”

    Accordingly decked out with water beds, dim lighting and a color scheme of pink and red, the “womb room” is designed to lull guests into a state of relaxation comparable the start of life itself, augmented by atmospheric music intended to re-create noises heard inside during the prenatal state.

  • Is that poo on your face?

    Ivan Hunter  /  Getty Images

    Women (and let's be honest, some men) have always scoured the globe searching for the Fountain of Youth. Exotic facials were one way to turn back the hands of time, to help uncover that baby face hidden under the wrinkles and acne.

    But desperate times indeed call for desperate measures. From human placenta and snail secretion to bird poo and spermine (a substance discovered in human sperm -- hold the dirty jokes), people are ready to put anything and everything on their faces in the name of beauty.

    These treatments don't come cheap. Spermine facials can cost up to $250 and a little nightingale excretion will set you back $115 to $150.

  • De-stressing snakes

    Uriel Sinai  /  Getty Images

    For most people, snakes elicit a sense of panic. But the owner of Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm near Tel Aviv, Israel, believes she's harnessed the relaxing power of the slithering creatures.

    In 2007, she made headlines for her new spa offering: For $70, spa-goers can get a massage from six non-venomous serpents, which are placed on different surfaces of the body.

  • Feet-feeding fish

    Jacquelyn Martin  /  AP

    Salon owners have found a whole new use for fish: fish pedicures.

    Customers plunge their tootsies into a tank filled with tiny fish that nibble off dead skin, resulting in softer feet. This pedicure, which uses fish imported from Asia, costs between $40 and $60 for 15 to 30-minute treatments.

    Unfortunately, cosmetology regulators were not so enthusiastic about the treatment, and at least 14 states have banned the procedure in 2008 for being unsanitary, since the fish are re-used by different customers.

  • You smell like lunch

    Vanilla, cocoa, fruit -- the essences of sweet foods have long been present in personal care product fragrances. But this decade, some companies have looked to the savory scents of our favorite processed foods for inspiration.

    In 2008, Burger King came out with "Flame," which they describe as a "scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat." Craving a snack? Cheetos has a scented lip balm, or if you're looking for something more substantial, sells a pizza fragrance oil.

    Related link: Appetite for seduction: BK’s new fragrance

  • 'Baby got back'

    Sergey Borisov  /

    Sir Mix-A-Lot was way ahead of his time when he wrote his ode to the big booty. It wasn't until the combined forces of Jennifer Lopez's ample behind and Beyonce's "Bootylicious" anthem that the butt got off the back burner (the word "bootylicious" was even inducted into the Oxford English dictionary in 2002).

    While curvy women rejoiced, those with flat backsides scrambled to join the club. The solution? Butt augmentation, or butt implants, which is exactly what it sounds like. There's also the Brazilian butt lift, which involves transferring fat into the butt.

    The number of people surgically enhancing their derrieres is very small when compared to more popular procedures like breast implants, but according to the American Society of Plastic Surgery, butt enhancement was one of the few procedures that increased in popularity, even with the bad economy. Between 2000 and 2008, butt lift procedures increased by 162 percent.

  • Nips, tucks ... down there

    PHILIPP GUELLAND  /  AFP - Getty Images

    The '00s ushered in the $2.5 billion boom of the Internet porn industry as well as the "leaking" of celebrity sex tapes (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Screech from "Saved by the Bell" -- eek, let's try to forget that one), and of course, the pantyless crotch shot (Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears).

    For the everyday woman, that brought a whole new consciousness about how they measured up down there, and plastic surgeons were quick to provide a solution: "designer vaginas."

    Labiaplasty, the most established of the vaginal plastic surgery procedures, is the reduction of the vaginal lips. The procedure was even highlighted on the reality show "Dr. 90210" in 2007.

    Though it's still not a very common surgery, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which started keeping statistics on vaginal rejuvenation in 2005, saw a 30 percent increase in the number of patients by 2006. Depending on what the patient is looking for, a designer vagina can cost $3,500 to $18,000.

  • Bathing drunk

    MARK RALSTON  /  AFP - Getty Images

    For those with money, spa soaking options are endless.

    Soak in a sake bath or one of several other options, including green tea, red wine or coffee, at the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Hot Springs Amusement Park and Spa Resort in south-central Japan.

    Beer more your thing? No problem! Beer spas in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic offer baths in lagers and Pilsners, starting at about $52.

  • Wrinkle reduction

    Ron Heflin  /  AP file

    Frozen foreheads barely raise eyebrows (literally) these days, but there was once a time when injecting a toxin produced by bacteria into one's face would have been considered odd.

    The Botox trend gained traction in 2002, when it was approved to be used for cosmetic purposes. Botulinum toxin (trade name Botox) injections work by weakening or paralyzing certain muscles or by blocking certain nerves, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

    The treatment wasn't a tough sell: By 2006, it was the most popular cosmetic procedure in the United States. In 2002, 1 million people went under the needle, and by 2008, 5 million people got 'toxed, as women around the country (and the world) tossed the Tupperware in favor of Botox parties.


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