Spas, Spas and More Spas
We pre-booked a room at My Home Guest House down a little alley, in the backpacking district of Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival we banged our roller bags up some stairs, squeezing past the parked bicycle on one side and the bins of rice on the other, to the narrow reception area. We learned the security-gated entry area doubled as a rice warehouse and second income stream for the innkeeper. After a long day of travel almost anyplace looked great.
Like many destinations catering to international backpackers and frugal older travelers like ourselves, District 1 in HCMC has cheap hostels, good cheap food and amazing people watching during happy hour, and later into the night.
The area is also home to lots of very, very friendly working girls, and massage parlors dotted the lane where we stayed. We got some offers we were able to refuse but obviously we had to get massages.
Walking down the alley and beyond, it was hard to tell whether the women inviting you into their place of business were just friendly or very, very friendly (we were looking for the very but not the very-very), so after we got back to My Home we decided to err on the side of caution and ask at the desk. Ken was elected to go down the four flights of steep stairs to reception and inquire as to the best place for a husband and wife to get massages together. The innkeeper’s daughter, a college student, suggested we try out the spa at the Vien Dong Hotel. “Many bad ones. This a good one.”
Vien Dong Hotel
After taking what turned out to be a rather scenic route to the hotel (getting lost inside a few blocks), we entered a large, clean hotel lobby filled with tourists who, based on appearances, were a cut above us and probably paying just a bit more for their hotel experience than we were. So far, so good. Not seeing a sign for the spa in the lobby, we were directed up a staircase where we found an elevator. Soon enough we arrived up another few floors to the spa. The well lit reception area had a marble counter with an English speaking hostess. We arranged that we would both have a Swedish massage and were told that it would be 240,000 Dong each, roughly $10 US. Perfect! Sounds great! Ken is instantly whisked off behind door number one. Theresa is told to take a seat. This is where it gets interesting…
Theresa’s Massage Experience
I ended up waiting in the spa lobby for 25 minutes, watching several men come out of door number one, pay their bill, drink their tea and leave. At one point, the front door to the spa opened and a stunning black woman, who I assumed was a hotel guest, stepped inside to make an appointment for a massage later that afternoon. But most of my time was spent twiddling my thumbs and occasionally getting excited thinking that maybe, just maybe, it might finally be my turn, each time one of the women in a green uniform came out. But no.
After 25 decidedly very boring minutes, a guy came out of door number 2 and gestured for me to follow him. He led me up a back staircase and down a hall to another hall which had a row of very tiny rooms with massage tables in them. He stopped at one and gestured for me to step inside. The table in the room was partially covered with a towel but nothing else. There were no robes or sheets so I was unsure what to do. Do I take off my clothes? Do I sit here and wait? While pondering my options, I realized that I needed to pee. Back in the eerily quiet and empty hall, I looked around until I found the guy who had brought me upstairs. He gestured towards a door, behind which I found – a toilet. Yay.
Soon thereafter I returned to the spooky massage room I had been assigned. Eventually one of the young women dressed in green pulled back the curtain and gestured at me to remove my clothes. Although I usually have no problem getting naked for my massages, I decided that this might be a good time to leave on my panties. Lying down, I then received the most lackluster massage of my life given by an obviously disinterested, somewhat surly masseuse. When she climbed onto my back, I finally realized how mini her little green mini skirt really was. Supposedly 50 minutes later I was handed a bill to give to the receptionist and pointed back the way I had come. Definitely the worst massage I had ever had. I then spent another 20 minutes sitting in the incredibly boring reception area waiting for Ken to come out. WTF?
Ken’s Massage Experience
On the other side of the door, I was given a locker and key, a robe and slippers, and a big terry towel. The courteous male attendant turned aside and waited as I changed. This will be great!. What amazing service!
The first stop is a small wet room with a new attendant. Only he’s holding a garden hose and standing next to a stainless steel veterinary examination table, complete with its own wet towel covering.
Climbing on board and lying face down, I think, “Ummm! This is different.” The young man turns on the hose with pressure and begins to wash me like I’m a hairless Mexican dog, quickly scrubbing me down with a loofa and soap, rolling me around to get to all sides, until I was well and truly debraded if not degraded, but slightly pink in either case.
Thanks, I guess, and gathering my wits, head on to the next stop, a large pool and spa area with steam and dry heat rooms, hot tub, cold plunge, pitchers of chilled cucumber water, the works. “Please enjoy for 15 minutes”. Okay, I can do this.
Next, I’m led to a well appointed lounge room with twenty or so cushy recliners, empty at 4 in the afternoon, each with its own side table, all facing the several flat panel tv screens mounted on the far wall, turned on with the sound down, showing sports at the moment. I am asked to take a seat, given more chilled cucumber water, and a cool wet towel is placed over my eyes.
And finally, the massage… through the glass panel set into its door I see a dimly lit room and hear soft music playing. There is a grab bar mounted in the ceiling over the table. The male attendant takes his leave as I get comfortable, face down on the table. I am very relaxed at this point, mouth-breathing, cheeks crunched together (no not those), looking down through that little terry-draped hole, just able to see the floor beyond the legs of the table. I didn’t think much about it when the door opened, the masseuse entered, and all I see is long legs and high heels…
And when we finally Meet Again
(Four letter words ensue.)
Ken came out of door number one clutching his bill in his hand and sat down beside Theresa. “It was a great massage, she even walked on my back, but towards the end she asked if she could massage the “baby”, promising for 500,000 Dong I’d get a “happy ending,” he whispered, “but I said no baby, just massage! Then she told me I had to give her a 300,000 Dong tip anyway and she wrote it on this receipt.” “Let me see that! No Fucking way!” Theresa hissed back, “she’s not getting shit. That’s bullshit!” “But she said I had to pay it,” the nicest guy on the planet responds. “Give me that! I’ll tell them what they’re getting paid,” hissed the furious, venomous, woman who had just gotten an incredibly shitty massage.
After paying (with no fucking tip), a door opened on the other side of the room. A brief exchange in Vietnamese occurred between a male attendant and what might have been a familiar female so we quickly made our way back out onto the street. No one followed. Our massage day was complete.
Theresa continued to seethe, “I don’t know what I’m more angry about – the fact that we ended up in a “happy ending” spa after trying to avoid it or the fact that I got a really shitty massage!” Theresa relays her experience to Ken who then begins to explain that prior to his massage he had a rub down, sauna and hot tub which were all overseen by his own personal attendant. “They charged me the same amount of money as you! What the Fuck? How dare they? Evil scum. Wait till I get online,” a now enraged Theresa spat.
Ken, knowing it was in his best interests, guided Theresa to the bar at the beginning of their alley. After much venting and a few glasses of wine, Theresa calmed down enough to listen to Ken’s suggestion that they get foot massages on the way home to try and compensate, a little, for her less than stellar afternoon. Foot massages were safe as we could have them in a place directly open to the street and we could get them side-by-side. The (very) lovely ladies at our local spa out-did themselves. Not only did they run down the alley and get us both a very welcome, very cold beer, but they also provided great leg massages and the only baby was a cuddly puppy.
1) Mind the mini. If the masseuses are wearing micro-mini skirts, there is probably a reason.
2) Pay attention to your surroundings. If the only signs in English say “the amount of the tip is in cash and agreed upon by the client and the masseuse”, there is probably a reason.
3) Make sure you marry a guy that you know, without a doubt, will decline the happy ending, and tell you all about it afterward.
4) Puppy love cures a world of ills.