Who exactly are the massage parlors for? When is the most popular time for a rub down? For around $8 an hour, I could feasibly afford to get a massage every day. However, I am not a woman of excess so I opted for a mere 3 massages in 10 days. Mostly they sit empty, waiting for customers. On only one occasion was there another customer who hadn’t come with me. He was an Asian man who slept through his foot massage. Typically I walk in, not even sure if the establishment is open. One time the woman at the front desk called her colleague who rode up on a motorbike, massaged my friend and left right as we did.
The masseuses have been joyful, giggling women who speak little English and have a firm touch. I have always come to get a massage in the company of other women. We western women lie on thin mattresses on the floor while the Lao women stretch us, contort our limbs, stand on our hamstrings, and pinch our skin away from the muscles beneath. It is a active an sometimes near-violent technique. I’ve been prayed over, laughed at, and received disapproving lip smacks for the tightness of my neck and shoulders, as if I had some control of where my stress lies. Perhaps I do and I simply have to learn to control it.
In some of the parlors there are signs explicitly stating that they give massage only. No sex. While many Lao people being trafficked for sex end up working across the boarder in Thailand, certainly there is an underground economy of happy endings behind closed doors. In a country where the average salary is $230 USD per month, I would gladly pay twice the going rate. Here’s a rundown of the places I’ve visited.
Name/Location: I can’t for the life of me remember the name of this place, nor can I find it on the map. It’s near (17.967544, 102.603861.)
Treatment/price: 30 minute foot massage for $5 (which ended up being 45 minutes)
Outfits: wear your own clothes but be sure you can put your pants up over your knee
Hot Drinks: Hot tea with seemingly unlimited refills
Ambiance: Amy, Miriam and I sat in matching recliners against a wall. Masseuses chatted on their phones, the radio was on. It was busy, a bit on the cold side with the Air Conditioner.
Technique: Foot scrub followed by wrapping the feet in towels, foot and leg massage and then at the end of the time we got out of the recliners and sat on footstools for a quick head and neck massage
Overall: For a first go at it and when we were pressed for time, I’d say well worth it.
Click on the image to see more pictures in the slideshow.
Name/Location: Davanh Massage (17.964641, 102.62371)
Treatment/price: 1 hour Lao massage - 60,000 Kip ~$8 USD
Outfits: mismatched black shorts (mine were Uniqlo) and white tee shirts and plastic slip on flip flops, of which mine were too small and Amy’s were too big
Hot Drinks: Coffee with milk and sugar before the massage and hot herbal tea after
Ambiance: Upstairs was a row of six mattresses on the floor with curtains tied up on pipes that could have been let down to make three small partitioned rooms. The lights were dim and there were no windows to speak of. A radio played a mix of Thai and American pop songs and at one point a rendition of Happy Birthday played through the speakers
Technique: First, Amy, Corey and I sat on a wooded bench to drink our coffee, then came the foot scrub. We were lead upstairs to change. There were hooks on the wall for our clothes that we didn’t utilize at first but were then told in pantomime to hang our clothes. Between the ridiculous music and the fact that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what my masseuse was trying to get me to do, (I kept rolling over when she wanted me to scoot over,) it was an hour of a lot of laughter
Overall: Relaxing? Not so much. A super fun way to spend a rainy morning? You better believe it.
Name/Location: Ban Boulan Spa (17.952067, 102.62837)
Treatment/price: 1 hour Lao massage - 60,000 Kip ~$8 USD (which ended up being 70 minutes)
Outfits: Enomous brown pants that tied around the waist and white tee shirts
Hot Drinks: Hot tea afterwards
Ambiance: The place Corey and I originally planned to go (which we saw on a bike ride) was closed despite the large sign that said it was open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. We saw a sign for Ban Boulan and wandered down a dirt road into a beautiful little spa with an outdoor patio area covered in plants. The woman who greeted us immediately said, “No AC. Ok?” We agreed that it was fine that there was no AC. Two air conditioning units were lying on the floor in a state of disrepair. She sat us down in pink recliners for the foot bath part then we were led to a stuffy little room painted red with two mattresses for us. Eventually they brought in a fan. We had learned by now to hang out clothes, drink lots of water and lay face up on the mattress to begin.
Technique: These women were beasts. This was an aggressive yet incredibly skillful massage. They used some sort of fragrant oil and something minty that felt like Bengay and warmed my back as she dug into my knots and worked out the kink in my neck.
Overall: It was incredibly hot, sweaty and at times painful. I was bit my a mosquito on my elbow, but of the three this place wins hands downs. I will be back.