Photo Credits: Frangipani Wellness Spa
73 Aliwal Street, Singapore 199945
Get Directions

Passion For Healing


Name of business:

Frangipani Wellness Spa

Business location:

73 Aliwal Street, Singapore 199945

Business type:





Frangipani Wellness Spa keeps the Javanese heritage alive through traditional Javanese therapy. The spa provides massages that use home-made herbal and healing oils and offers tonic drinks that have medicinal properties. Mr Moe Salem, the founder of Frangipani Wellness, is earnest about carrying out his trade and hopes to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation.

When he was in his 20s in the 1970s, Mr Moe Salem travelled extensively and developed a passion for meditation and healing while in Medan, Surabaya and Cirebon. It was in Indonesia where he met local elderly folks who taught him about the Javanese tradition of wellness, such as herbal and healing oils.

30 years later, Moe founded Frangipani Wellness Spa, a traditional Javanese spa in Kampong Gelam. Run by Moe and his wife, Frangipani Wellness opened its doors in 2006, offering traditional massages that use home-made herbal and healing oils.

Moe—who is of Bugis and Indian descent—did not enter the spa therapy business immediately after his return from Indonesia. He took a job as a handyman elsewhere, but spent his time in Kampong Gelam, as his father had a shop on Baghdad Street. Kampong Gelam became his playground, and he got to know the people in the district, old and young. “So, there’s a lot of things that we learn from the old folks around here too. That was what brought me into this line.” he says, explaining how his experiences and interactions with the Kampong Gelam community led him to set up his own spa in the district.

Moe has always had a deep appreciation for culture and this is reflected in his choice to name his spa Frangipani. The frangipani flower holds a special spiritual meaning in many Southeast Asian cultures, as well as in several religions where it is used for worship and healing. Through the years, Frangipani Wellness has moved around a few locations within Kampong Gelam, from its first shop on North Bridge Road to Baghdad Street and Haji Lane. In 2022, the spa relocated to a shophouse at 73 Aliwal Street.

Moe’s business has also become his passion and money is not the main motivation for running the spa. When he travels to other countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, he makes it a point to mingle with the local experts, to learn about the plants and herbs in those places. “When it comes to healing, it has to be proper. It is not about money. We don’t want the customer to come in and [we] say, you have to come back three times, four times,” he scoffs, “If you can do it in one time, or two times, that is it.”

At Frangipani, their massages follow traditional methods with the use of home-made herbal and healing oils. For instance, the frangipani oil made from the namesake flower is imbued in strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory traits. The recipe for the oil is his trade secret, and the oil is not offered anywhere else in Singapore. Moe enjoys the process of mixing the ingredients to make his oils. “There is a certain oil that I mix. I will keep it for 40 days,” he shares. He elaborates that waiting for the oil to settle is a necessary step of the process, “You cannot use it immediately. The oil has to be preserved for 40 days, [so that] all the ingredients in there have already been soaked into it, then you can use it.” He is thorough about every aspect of the oil’s production, which allows him to make good, effective oils.

The spa uses traditional Javanese methods for its prenatal and postnatal massages and offers waxing and threading services. The traditional Javanese approach for massage—an ancient technique—is a form of deep tissue therapy where the massage therapist will use all parts of the hand, through highly intense strokes to push out the “wind” that is toxic to the body. This therapy technique is also applied in a Totok face massage, applying pressure on acupuncture points to improve the flow of invisible energy pathways and revitalise wrinkled skin. Moe says there’s always flexibility in the intensity of the massage and the massage therapist can easily switch to a Balinese style that is “smoother and more relaxed”. Their spa offerings draw in locals and have also developed a following among the expatriate crowd.

With the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic easing, Moe intends to recruit more massage therapists and open a jamu café within its premises. The business also makes its own jamu, a tonic drink with medicinal properties made from natural ingredients such as herbs, flowers, roots and spices. The jamus are different concoctions to address pains and problems like menstrual and obesity problems.

To ensure that the trade does not die with him, Moe is also toying with various ways to transfer his knowledge. For instance, he had considered conducting courses on how to prepare jamus and herbal oils, as there are specific techniques and skills required. “Like using honey; a lot of people scoop honey with a silver or metal spoon. You are not supposed to. Like turmeric, the actual turmeric is not on top, but you have to grab [it] from the bulb. All these things, you need to know.”

For Moe, keeping the Javanese massage tradition alive is just as important as preserving the history of Kampong Gelam. Moe takes great pride in Kampong Gelam’s cultural heritage, saying, “You know we have the Istana. [The] Malay Heritage Centre is at the Istana. We have the mosque. And we have the old shop houses here which used to be owned by the Bugis, by the Javanese, the Indian Muslims, the Arabs. They were all here. So, the history is here. This is the place.” He wishes to preserve the Kampong Gelam heritage and run his spa in Kampong Gelam for as long as he can. He also hopes that there will be more activities in the district, such as a regular bazaar for heritage products. His aspiration for Kampong Gelam is that it will become a place that draws young people’s interest and imagination, and that Kampong Gelam will become their playground too.

Interviewed by Alice Chua on 21 May 2022.