Massage upselling, Saigon style

After two nights on planes and six days in conferences and meetings in the past two weeks, I felt like I needed a good massage to loosen up my stiff back.

As the next two festival concerts are not until Saturday and Sunday nights, I headed down to Dong Khoi in the evening where I knew there were a couple of reputable massage places. In fact there turned out to be six or seven now, and all were using attractively dressed hostesses in colourful ao dais handing out brochures to attract customers to the competing establishments.

One of the hostesses approached me to offer a one hour massage for US$11. That sounded like very good value for money – even for Vietnam – so I said okay.

As I followed her towards the entrance of the nearest massage place (which was where I thought she was from) she beckoned me to carry on walking past. We then crossed the road, and went around a corner to another place. It seems some of the massage places plant their hostesses near the entrances to their competitors to draw customers away.

As we walked down the street I became a little concerned about where she was taking me, but the place we ended up at was very well equipped – clean and modern with showers and lockers and proper massage tables.

When we arrived in the reception the manager greeted me and asked me if I would like 60 minutes for US$20 or 75 minutes for US$25.

I replied: “But your hostess just told me that one hour is $11.”

The manager then said that the $11 was for a ‘hard’ massage without any oil, but the $20 massage was for a ‘more relaxing’ massage with genuine aromatherapy oils.

“Chinese men like the hard massage because they like pain,” she said. “But foreigners like you don’t like pain.”

“But your choice”, she added. “You can have the $11 massage if you like,” beckoning towards a heavily built middle-aged masseuse who was sternly staring at me as if to say “you’ll regret it if you choose the $11 massage.”

“Or you can have the relaxing $20 massage,” this time beckoning towards a slim and very attractive young masseuse who was smiling sweetly at me.

I imagined the heavily built woman kneading her knuckles into my muscles muttering “pain, pain, pain” as she dug deeper. And then I thought of the slender young masseuse running her soft fingers over my body and the relaxing aroma of the essential oils.

“I’ll take the $20 massage,” I said.

It was a good choice. It wasn’t quite my fantasy of the soft fingers running over my body, but she was a very good masseuse. She had an unusual style – a sort of cross between Swedish massage and Thai, and she did a lot of stretching of the muscles. In fact I would say it was one of the best massages that I have had for a long time, and I felt very energised after it.

Massage in Ho Chi Minh City is very good value for money and those places along Dong Khoi are clean and reputable (I expect there are some ‘dodgy’ places around like there are in any big city, but I don’t think you’ll find them along Dong Khoi) but beware of the prices that are quoted by the hostesses on the street – it’s just the ‘Asian way’ of getting customers in the door before they start the ‘upselling’.

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