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De-stress in brewery, prison or underwater spas

De-stress in a brewery, a prison, even underwater — the world's strangest spas are in the last places you'd look.
Image: Galos Caves
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. Valerie Wadycki
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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.

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.

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.

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.