Massage for the masses

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One of the great things about visiting Vietnam is massage. Here’s why:

1. It feels wonderful.
2. It’s healthful.
3. It’s super affordable.
4. It feels wonderful.
5. It’s available everywhere.
6. It feels wonderful.

And did I mention that it makes you feel wonderful? Yeah. It does. Really. It does.

In Vietnam massage is looked at as a healthful activity and everyone partakes regularly whether you’re poor or rich, young or old, man or woman. And there are many different kinds of massage: accupressure-based also known as shiatsu, swedish (most typical in the U.S. and Western Europe), hot stone, and watsu, which utilizes hydrotherapy. Most Viet massage techniques are based in practices of Chinese medicine and therefore nearly all incorporate some accupressure-point work.

Since my arrival I’ve gone to get a massage every day. I know. Life’s rough, huh?

The first day I went for a medicinally-oriented accupressure-focused massage—basically, shiatsu. This place has been around for thirty years. It doesn’t have a brochure, it doesn’t market, and if you didn’t know where it was (way, way back in the alleyways off the main roads) you’d never find it. It’s known and used by locals in the same way they might visit the local pharmacist for assistance with a headache, achy joints or even for general health maintenance. It is not uncommon for folks to go several times a week. This place is open seven days a week and is always busy.

Now, this kind of massage brings you right to the edge of pleasure and pain. When certain points are worked it can hurt so bad that you let loose !@#$! in pain. But as the massage progresses you can feel the muscular lesions release. My friend Leah has been having trouble with her wrist for several months. Her practitioner was able to work the right pressure points and completely eradicate her pain. It hurt while he worked it (she claims to have gritted her teeth throughout), but afterward she felt like a whole new person—lighter, remarkably mobile and shockingly pain-free.

Just to give you some idea of what this local’s only experience is like …

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… upon arrival you remove your shoes at the door and take a seat in line. You’re handed a little piece of paper, which will act as your receipt once your practitioner has completed your massage.

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One of the things you’ll notice immediately is that there are all kinds of people waiting for service: young, old, men, women … it really is a service that is utilized by everyone.

When your number comes up you’ll be directed into a room that has three or more large wooden futon-like beds. Unlike traditional massage in the U.S. that is private and individual, these treatments are provided in a communal atmosphere. And you definitely keep your clothes on; they’ll be doing fixed-point accupressure work versus long swedish-style strokes that require you to remove your clothes.

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The massages are delivered mostly by men and they have fingers of steel. Holy cow do they have strong hands! And because services are provided in a communal atmosphere you’ll find that practitioners will jovially chat with each other, recipients may be checking their cell phones and folks will stop by to chat while you’re receiving service. The massage will typically last about 30 minutes (believe me, you won’t want it to last longer) and costs about US$1.85 including tip.

Yes. You read that right.

The cost of a shiatsu-style massage is less than US$2.

Can you blame me for wanting to go every day?

And did I mention that it makes you feel wonderful? And more healthy?

Oh, yeah. Massage for the masses totally works for me!

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