Vietnam Cylcing Tours - Biking Vietnam

A massage adventure in Saigon is the forth post in a series of Vietnam experiences storied by Rochelle Porper, for the previous ones please read these.

Ok – I promised I wouldn’t write anymore until we left Saigon, but I just can’t help myself. This is such a good story and I don’t want to forget it so, here we go again.

The Saigon rain

So we have the morning free before we leave and I want to get a massage. Some tourists I met recommended a place about a 30 minute walk from here. This seems reasonable so I plan to walk. Unfortunately, it is pouring when I come downstairs. Hmmm – this was not part of the plan. So I ponder. I have this really great $75 Gore-Tex raincoat that I paid $285 for on the top of a mountain last year in Switzerland when I discovered the one Charlie lent me was not waterproof (thanks Chuck!). And Long warned us about how the taxi drivers run up the meter for Americans, and if you think I am paying $3 for a $2 cab ride, think again.

So I decide to walk, and in fact, the rain seems to be lessening. I am interested to see how this city works itself in the rain anyway – since so many people are usually out in the streets. Off I go. I get about 3 blocks from the hotel and the rain begins to get heavier. And then it starts to come down in sheets, and I remember its monsoon season. I have actually never been in a monsoon, so I think this is really cool. But I mean it is coming down in buckets.

No one is on the streets walking (duh). It is raining so hard that rivers of water are running over my sandals. I am thinking I should have taken a cab because this is ridiculous. But now I get stubborn and soldier on. Even though no one is walking, the streets are still packed with mopeds. The drivers are all draped with those cheap plastic raincoats in a myriad of colors, and it is raining so hard that the rain has created a suction so it looks like hundreds of shrink wrapped Christmas presents topped with Chinese triangle hats are zooming down the road.

The rain is so loud that you can barely hear the honking. I have to take my glasses off because they are dripping wet and useless and then I come to a major intersection and I know I am screwed. The rain is so heavy that I am shrinking into my raincoat and I can’t look to the right or to the left when I cross the street, so I literally take a step off the curb, close my eyes, and walk slowly across. I don’t even care at this point. I keep walking and thinking to myself that I shouldn’t have been so cheap. I get as far as I can get without looking at the map and then pull it out of my pocket. It immediately begins to disintegrate as it’s pummeled by the rain. Now I am getting pissed at myself because I know I am close and I have a horrible sense of direction.

The Saigon Massage

I walk by the Continental Hotel where Graham Green wrote “The Quiet American“. I remember the street I am looking for has the work ‘Chi’ in it so I walk up to every intersection and get as close as I can to the street signs until I see one with Chi in it. I am hoping this isn’t a common street name. I am lucky because it’s the right street, and by some miracle, I actually turn the right way. In front of me is the Lotus Foot and Hand Massage Spa and I walk in.

So you have to imagine how jarring it is to walk from a torrent of rainfall into this quiet calming little house. The proprietor immediately sits me down and gives me jasmine tea and fruit, and hangs up my dripping raincoat. She shows me the massage menu and I throw caution to the wind and go for the 2 hour special – all of $21 with tip included. After the tea, I am shuffled upstairs and into a small room with a shelf full of plastic wrapped packages. The woman gestures to the packages and I look back at her. She gestures again and still I look back at her, not quite getting what the instructions are.

I don’t know what I am supposed to do and I start to have that feeling again. I am grateful there are no napkin holders around. She finally grabs a package and hands it to me and tells me in sign language to get into what turns out to be boxer shorts. I note that she has handed me XL and this bums me out. I kinda laugh nervously and hope I haven’t made an ass out of myself again. I was thinking massage – naked under a robe – but that is not the custom here. I am then led into a room that is right out of a novel. The walls are draped with bamboo shades and dark curtains and there are about 20 dark brown leather lounge chairs spread around the room. The lighting is soft, there are small bamboo plants scattered around and the scent of eucalyptus is in the air. A bamboo fan is whirling from the ceiling and I think this is really classic. Massages are public affairs here obviously because a father and his small son are already getting the works 3 chairs down from me.

My masseuse, who looks about thirteen and smaller than my right leg, tells me to lay down on the chair. She first puts strips of white cloth soaked in eucalyptus on my face and then starts to soak my feet in a wooden bucket full of warm water and then she starts to do things with my toes that I didn’t think were possible. This is nothing like any massage I have ever had – I can’t really describe it except that its a lot of rubbing and pummeling but in a gentle sort of way. This woman laughs because the boxers are so big on me, and I fall in love with her for that. She continues all up and down my legs and then my fingers and I am in heaven. The women all chit chat with each other rather than being quiet, and they try to talk to me too. One asks me how old I am and when I hold up my fingers to say 52, her mouth falls open and she giggles some more. She points at my face and says “Young young” and I fall in love all over again.

This is so good for my ego, even though I am guessing she is playing me. At some point, I turn over and this pitzel of a girl starts walking over the heels of my feet and then slowly up my legs and then on my back. She jams her knees into the right pressure points and this is painful in an exquisite sort of way. This goes on for awhile and then I turn over again. Now she gets behind me and starts using her knees to massage my neck. I don’t know how she does this but it works. Then, all of a sudden, she flips me over so that I am arching over her. I am telling you – this woman must have weighed 80 pounds but man – she was powerful. She keeps me in this position until I feel like I am going to melt, and finally she stops and says “You OK Madame?”. Yes, the Madame is ok.

The two hours went by so quickly that I am sure someone moved the hands of the clock. When I go back downstairs, I am greeted with another cup of tea and a plate of ginger and coconut surrounded by lotus buds. This is just too much. I am jelly. And of course, because you have to believe in the power of massage, I go outside and the rain has stopped and the sun is coming out. I can see the steam rising from the puddles and as I walk home, the women have all returned to their places on the curb, squatting just in front of the puddles of water and selling fruit and spices and whatever else. People are walking around and eating lunch outside, the moped drivers have stripped their raincoats and appear normal again, the honking is audible and all seems right in the city. Particularly because I am now dripping sweat. Again.

And so it goes in Saigon.

by Rochelle Porper from Boston, Massachusetts, USA

For the next ones among this Vietnam travel experience, you can jump to the following days.

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