Hoi An is a fabulous place to experience a Vietnamese massage. You’ll find high class versions in hotels and beauty parlours, and cheaper options on almost every street corner.
Of course, the quality can change depending on price and location, but prices are so cheap compared to Western massage prices that you’ll lose little even if your massage only turns out to be average. By contrast, even in the cheapest spas, there’s many a natural-born masseur, and a fabulous massage can often be had for as little as 250,000VND.
If you’re new to Vietnam, find out about the unique Vietnamese massage experience below.
What is a Vietnamese Massage?
A Vietnamese massage is unique, but elements may be familiar to those who have had massages in other parts of the world. Based on Chinese traditions, a Vietnamese massage aims to de-stress your body and focuses on removing knots and working on pressure points.
A masseur will likely ask you in advance how strong you would like your massage to be, and if there’s any language barrier, then the words ‘soft, medium or strong’ will always be understood – as will the words ‘softer’ or ‘stronger’!
A Vietnamese masseur will often use a combination of their hands, knuckles, elbows, knees and feet to work on your body, and a good massage will make you feel wonderfully ‘ironed out’, relaxed and rejuvenated.
A full-body massage will usually last an hour, although there are longer options. Most spas have a range of other massages, such as those purely for legs and feet, or shoulders and back.
The Vietnamese Massage Process
After a foot wash, you’ll usually go into a private room or be on a bed separated from others by curtains. Don’t be surprised if your masseur waits while you undress and keep your underwear on, this is completely normal, so leave any shyness at the door! You’ll usually be asked to lie face down on the bed and then be covered with a towel.
The Vietnamese massage process tends to begin by treating the back and shoulders, before focusing on legs, feet, and finally your head. Once you’re down to your underwear, you’ll be covered with a towel. Your masseur will remove sections of this in order to work on different parts of your body.
The process can be different depending on the spa. In general, you’ll start face down and a masseur will begin kneading your back with their feet and knees. A deep-tissue massage with oil will then begin, covering the length of your body. Halfway through you’ll be asked to roll over, and the process will begin again with your chest left untouched.
Some masseurs will incorporate some stretching or pulling of your legs and arms, although this is never as vigorous as you might experience in a Thai massage!
How does a Vietnamese Massage Compare to Other Types of Massage?
Most spas in Hoi An specialise in a Vietnamese massage, but you can find other options if you’re looking to find something else.
If you’re looking to feel relaxed, a Thai massage may not be what you’re looking for! Although relaxation follows, the process involves moving your body into a series of assisted yoga-style postures, stretching and pulling your limbs as well as some deep tissue massage. Masseurs will adapt the treatment to match your age and flexibility, but if you’re just want to drift off into nirvana, a Thai massage is far too active for that.
Elements of Swedish massage crossover with a Vietnamese massage, as both are aimed at relaxation. This is the most common form of massage found in the West, and involves kneading body tissues with a little stretching.
Vietnamese Spa Encounter
‘Why is your body massage 315,000, when just next door the spa is offering 258,000?’ I enquired to the girl approaching me. The other one had run away when I started speaking in Vietnamese.
‘What you want?’ said the girl, peering at me.
‘I was just wondering why you’re more expensive than the spa next door.’
‘Pardon’, I said.
It was quite a discount but my intention hadn’t been to barter. ‘No, I mean, what’s the difference? What’s better about your massage, I’d like to know?’
‘Yes, yes, yes’, she said while trying to bodily usher me into the spa.
‘I mean, you are so close to each other and a tourist will probably go to the cheaper so I just wanted to know what it is that makes yours…’
‘Different oils. massage different.’
‘In what way?’ I pursued, genuinely interested.
‘Done!’ I trumpeted, ‘Done!’ I boomed again, now bodily ushering her out the way as I strode towards the inviting footbath and chair.
After ascending the stairs, my feet sliding precariously in over-sized flip flops after the oily footbath, I was ushered into the prettily decorated green and white massage room of three beds, all set off by a large, freshly picked blood red rose on the pillow.
‘You all take off’, said my petite masseur staring with an unbridled fascination as I did just that. (If you are self-conscious about your body do not visit one of these salons. Privacy is an alien concept so get used to their inquisitive, invasive eyes or flee. For 200,000vnd I wasn’t going anywhere!)
Whilst there was clearly no discernable training in massage technique, nor understanding of the skeletal /muscular structure, the massage turned out to be a pleasantly relaxing experience even after she virtually tried to press my entire body through the bed when I said I liked it ‘strong’. So, in-between leg up the back manipulations, rubbing and body chopping slaps, I found myself drifting into that floating, nether world where sounds become distant, consciousness drifts in and out and time becomes interlaced with oneness. Bliss!
But… like all things nice, all too soon, my bliss was roughly taken from me by someone shoving eye-watering menthol oil under my nose. I shouldn’t have wondered whether I could get off the table or not because this rough application, over my face to the point my eyelids turned inside out, did the trick.
If you’re looking for a great spa experience see our Best Spas in Hoi An. If not, go into the street, close your eyes and turn around 360 and point. In that little spa could be your one in a million natural masseur.
Whatever, who can complain when it’s all so sweet and cheap?