Before venturing to SE Asia, I’d only had a handful of massages in my life.
Think: Less than five.
And, even though massages weren’t a regular occurence in my live in the UK or US, I was very much so looking forward to having them as often as my budget would permit in SE Asia.
Largely because I knew they’d be a fraction of the cost.
Also because I know massage benefits, pending the type of massage you have, are far reaching- benefits for flexibility, posture, balance, energy, relaxation, calming of the nervous system.
I prefer aromatherapy massages- they’ve been a key part of helping me manage anxiety, and are fortunately cheap enough in Asia for me to justify having a massage almost weekly.
The most important thing I’ve learned after three months of getting massages just about everywhere I go: Every massage in SE Asia is not created equally.
This may seem like an obvious observation to anyone with a lot of experience getting massages, but it was something I learned only after being disappointed a few times.
-You get what you pay for
-Read the reviews- Google, TripAdvisor, travel blogs- people are honest
In reviews, look for mention of how the staff treats clients, whether there’s concern for theft of belongings, whether the staff washes oil off you if you have an oil massage, how attentive the staff is to your individual requests, and what the spa environment is like.
Sure, you can find $5 USD massages (foot or full body) across Asia, but they likely won’t be very good. Fear not, spend just a few dollars more and you can easily find excellent massage options.
On average, I spend £8-14 for an hour long massage. If the massage is longer or involves another treatment, like a scrub, it costs a bit more.
Foot massages are usually the cheapest option, followed by the local speciality (Thai, Lao, Indonesian). More elaborate massages, think aromatherapy, are on the more expensive side of the spectrum, but still very affordable in comparison to the US or UK.
If I’m having an aromatherapy massage, I prefer to spend a few dollars more to go to a place that lets me pick out the oil being used. There are certain scents I find especially relaxing- enter, eucalyptus.
One last thing before getting into recommendations, Westerners are way more uptight about nudity than Asian cultures.
With the exception of one spa I visited that was on the luxe end of the spectrum, most therapists didn’t really seem to care if the sheet was covering my breasts the entire time. They’re more focused on giving you the best massage possible- ensuring you’re ‘fully covered’ isn’t something most register as a concern. If this is something that bothers you, just speak up- chances are they’ll accommodate by being more careful or provide an extra sheet.
The Best Massages I’ve Had in Five SE Asian Countries
Thailand: No competition for Fah Lanna in Chiang Mai.
Yes, it’s one of the more luxe options, but back to my point about getting what you pay for, it’s worth it.
The massage therapists are top notch, and the entire spa experience is designed to relax you.
Fah Lanna offers pick up and drop off, so you needn’t worry about how to get there, or arriving a sweaty mess after a day of sightseeing.
Upon entering, you’re given tea, and if you’re having an oil massage as I did, asked to select a custom scent blend.
Each massage is done in a private villa (if you’re having a couples massage, you’ll likely be together in the villa), which was incredible. There’s space to shower, change, and the privacy cued ultimate serenity.
Afterwards, you’re offered hot tea to sip in their lush garden or indoor, beautiful cafe.
Aside from Fah Lanna, I had my best massages of Thailand in Chiang Mai.
I believe this is because all spas in CM ask you to fill out an entry form- name, what kind of service you’d like, any areas you want the therapist to focus on, type of pressure used, etc. This ensures your experience is fit to your needs before it even begins.
Another spa I enjoyed in CM was Arayana Spa. I had the best foot massage I’ve had in all of SE Asia there.
Different to most other ones I’ve had, they ask you to lie down, so you can fully unwind while the therapist works on your feet and legs.
Cambodia: The best massage I’ve had in all of SE Asia was at the Lemongrass Garden Spa in Siem Reap.
My only regret?
Waiting until my last day to go- I would have had many more treatments if I knew how good (and cheap) they were.
Here, I had an aromatherapy massage. Like, Fah Lanna, I was given a hot beverage upon entering and asked to pick my own oil, and then led to a curtioned section of an air conditioned room, asked to change and lock my belongings away.
Therapists at Lemongrass Garden Spa use the Khmer technique, which feels like little fingers pressing on all the right acupressure points. You walk away feeling like you’re floating.
It’s seriously dreamy.
Laos: Keen to escape the water soaked New Years celebrations, I sought out Frangipiani Spa in Luang Prabang.
Here, I had a traditional Laos massage, which is very similar to a traditional Thai massage. You’re given loose clothes to change into, and the massage itself is more about stretching and improving flexibility, than actually massaging parts of the body.
Thai massages are known to be rough touch (to Westerners) and this massage was no different. At times, it was too tough and I had to ask my therapist to go a bit easier.
But, I left feeling fully stretched out – even better than an hour of hot yoga.
Vietnam: On a rainy night in Hanoi, I decided to treat myself to a massage. Googling the best places in the Old Quarter turned up suggestions for Mido Spa.
I opted for an aromatherapy massage and was blown away by how great it was.
I didn’t get to pick my own oil, but the hot tea before and after the massage and incredible technique more than made up for it.
My only complaint- the spa was a bit noisy and massage therapists talked to each other a few times during the treatment.
Those very minor annoyances aside, I’d call this massage the second best one I’ve had in SE Asia.
Indonesia: Granted I’ve only been in Bali for a few weeks, and this may change, I very much enjoyed the aromatherapy massage I had at Chillax in Canggu, and plan on returning.
I loved they had multiple oil scents for me to choose from, and the therapist I had did an excellent job on my neck, shoulders and back- as requested.
There’s no hot tea before or after and I didn’t feel like I had total privacy- they’re quite liberal with letting other therapists come into curtained rooms while massages are happening. I also didn’t like the lack of a safe space for me to put valuables- an easy enough thing to solve with small lock boxes.
Fresh Spa! in Ubud has also been a good experience so far. For a busy spa, I’ve been impressed with how private and quiet the individual rooms feel. It’s a calm reprieve from the busy streets.
While in Seririt, I had a private beach massage at our villa, which was also quite good. Normally, I shy away from beach massages because they’re not private enough or tranquil enough- too many people often walking by and activities happening all around for me to truly enjoy the experience. Also, usually, it’s pretty hot outside since you know, Asia.
Bonus Asia Spa Recommendation for Korea: Albeit not a massage, visiting a jimjilbang while in South Korea should be a must visit for every traveler. The soak and steam rooms are the epitome of relaxation.
Itaewon Land in Seoul has pine and salt steam relaxation rooms, which were so tranquil, I almost fell asleep. Interestingly, these relaxation rooms aren’t too hot- I’d compare the experience to an infrared sauna at its starting temperature. I ended up meditating for a bit in the salt room.
One thing to note: Steam rooms in jimjilbangs are nude. No swimsuits allowed. For that reason, they’re same sex. Westerners are usually the only ones who have a problem with this- Koreans and other Asians won’t even give you a second look.
Itawon Land had two steam rooms that I really enjoyed- the red clay room and stone room. In both, I could literally feel the toxins leaving my body. I know that sounds a bit much, but I’m always surprised how great I feel after visiting a steam room.
In the relaxation rooms, you wear loose fitting clothing- you can rent some from the spa if you need to.
Have you been to Asia? On your trip, did you indulge in any memorable massages?
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