Monday, December 19, 2011

Massage in Hanoi

Massage in Hanoi

A couple of weeks ago I went to Hanoi for the weekend, the main reason being that my computer broke and couldn’t be fixed in Yen Bai, and the other reason being that after a month in Yen Bai, I start going a bit crazy and need a weekend away! It’s five and a half very painful hours to Hanoi, but worth it once a month as it is an amazing city. My usual itinerary is to have lunch with the VSO staff (as I arrive at lunchtime) and then do some shopping, stocking up on all the things I can’t get in Yen Bai. There are quite a few volunteers who work in Hanoi, so I spent the rest of my time meeting up with them and eating all the food that I miss. The last two times I’ve been in Hanoi, I’ve also had a massage, as all the hand-washing over my bathroom tap kills my back!
The first time I went with a friend who’d been recommended a place by another friend. It was, quite literally painfully naked! We were in a small room separated by a partition, and we both opted for the hot stones massage which is good for muscle ache. I should have ran the moment I heard my friend scream in pain, but no, glutton for punishment, I gritted my teeth and wriggled around as boiling hot stones were put on the soles of my feet – I kid you not! The massage lasted a painful hour and a half, during which time, boiling hot stones were put on various places on my back - ouch!

As I said, it was also a very naked experience for me, something I feel quite uncomfortable with being from prudish England. I find it strange that Vietnamese women, who are so conservative in dress and behaviour, seem fine with nakedness, particularly in a very confined space. I am used to non-naked massages in the UK, where I get down to my underwear and put a towel round myself before the masseuse enters, and the towel covering me at all times. Therefore, when I strip down to my underwear here, and she tells me to take everything off, and put a small pair of men’s boxer’s on, imagine my horror!

However, I felt it unfair to be put off by one bad experience, and my back was aching a bit, so I decided to have another go but at a different place. I regular go to a cafĂ© near my hotel, and I’ve seen Thai massage advertised in the hotel next door, so I thought I’d give it a go. Thai massage is the closest thing to what I have back in the UK (how I miss Mr. Hersey!) as it involves massage and then cracking of the joints in my back. It sounds painful but it’s actually a big relief.

It seemed quite professional as it was in a big hotel, and I paid beforehand and was then led into a room with a friendly Vietnamese girl. I have accepted the fact that nakedness is obviously something I have to expect from a Vietnamese massage and just try to jump face down onto the bed as fast as I can (I can’t help it, I’m conditioned this way!). She gave an excellent massage although I was slightly perturbed when she started using her feet and knees! She cracked all my joints and I felt a lot better. We chatted a bit in a mix of Vietnamese and English, and I was planning to come back here again. Getting dressed was a bit of a nightmare as she attempted to help me put my underwear on – this way exceeded my comfort zone. I intended to leave a tip and I felt that she expected it as well, which is fair enough. I paid 100,000 dong for the massage. This is quite a lot of money for a massage but the going rate in hotels. I planned to leave 10-15% tip and I was given a piece of paper to give my opinion of the massage and a place where I can write the tip I want to leave. In my purse I only had a 10,000 dong note some very small change and some 100,000 dong notes, so I looked in my purse and took out the 10,000. When I gave it to her and said thanks, she peered in my purse and asked if I had anything bigger! She told me that apparently most people leave 50,000 dong as a tip. I replied that most people must earn more money than me! At which point, she left the room, never to be seen again – a shame because I really wanted to go back there again, but a 50% tip seems quite excessive. Oh well, the massage saga continues, I’ll keep you informed!