Cambodia is one of my favorite countries for both travel and massage. The people are super friendly and food and accommodation are very inexpensive. A beer costs as little as 50 cents! Furthermore, the massages are cheap and the masseuses are cheerful and fun-loving! There is an innocence about the country that I love. When I make eye contact with people, most of the time the first reaction is a warm smile. The people are less complicated than their Thai and Vietnamese neighbours. They’re generally less pushy and seem happier. They like to have fun! (And thankfully, they’re much less prone to using their cellphones during a massage than their Vietnamese or Thai sisters!).
Women tend to be younger in Cambodian massage shops than in Thai massage places. The age range tends to be concentrated in the 20 to 30 year old category (with some a bit younger and some older). The vibe in Khmer shops seems to be more relaxed and nicer than Vietnamese spas and there’s a lot less pressure. The girls are simpler and less devious. I don’t have to fend them off from unwanted ‘extras’ (although there are exceptions!). Cambodian girls are often playful, often joking around and chatting to each other during massages (which may annoy some who want a peaceful massage!).
There is a constant barrage of ‘Hello, Tuktuk’ from tuktuk drivers but very little ‘Hello, Massage’ from the girls as you get in Thailand.
Many masseuses want to learn English so that they can get a better job elsewhere. Sometimes, I’ll give them a small cheap English phrase book or dictionary for a tip instead of cash. It’s always appreciated and is a nice surprise.
Prices for massages are generally cheaper in Cambodia than in neighboring countries and you can often get a discount of a dollar or two if you ask, especially if business is slow.
Khmer Massage is a milder, more relaxing version of a Thai massage. It involves lots of squeezing and pushing of muscles with the palms and hands. The movements are often in a rhythmic series, applying pressure for a second or so, then releasing, and moving up a bit and repeating. There are a few stretches involved but they are not as intense nor as convoluted as some of the Thai movements.
On some Khmer massages, you might be provided with a pair of shorts and sometimes a loose shirt to wear but it might also be a ‘naked with towel’ affair.
- Get undressed, put on towel or provided shorts.
- Lay on back, legs put together and feet bent over each other and flexed back and forth. She moves up and down the front of the legs with the palms of her hands, pinching and applying pressure.
- She works on individual legs with a combination of finger and thumb presses, palm presses, and pinches. Then she lifts your legs up over hers, bending your knees and moving the bent leg over the other leg, allowing access to other parts of leg while getting a bit of a stretch in.
- Massage the arms and hands (this may be done while you are lying on your back or on your front)
- Turn over and have some more leg work done.Get a thorough back massage
- Sit up and get upper back and shoulders massaged. Flex arms in various positions over head.
- Finish with a head and neck massage.
Khmer Foot Massage:
The Cambodian Foot massage is much like the Thai Foot Massage but rather than using a special stick to poke the various pressure points in the toes and soles of the feet, masseuses usually use their fingers and thumbs.
- Sit in a special reclining chair, remove footwear.
- Masseuse brings out washtub with warm water and scrubs feet
- Masseuse begins with some pressure work first, getting the blood flowing to feet, ankles and calves
- Foot is massaged with cream or oil.
- Each foot is massaged at length with accupressure-like moves with fingers and thumbs.
- Various creams, sometimes mentholated, are applied to feet and calves.
- Dry the feet with towel
For oil massages, you are sometimes required to keep your underwear on or wear provided clothing but almost always, it’s a ‘naked with towel covering’ massage. The oil massages are mostly ‘complete body’ meaning chest and belly rub as well as buttocks. There is often a hot moist towel rubdown afterwards to remove much of the oil. There are usually showers available if you ask and want to get some more oil off.
You can get lots of variations like aromatherapy and herbal massages but I just stick with the basic oil massage.
Phnom Penh is full of good massage shops. In the tourist district, massages usually range from $5 to $10 an hour for Khmer/Thai style and a couple of dollars more for an oil massage (American dollars are used here!). Higher end spas will be slightly more expensive. There are lots of massage shops in the tourist area (two blocks nearest the river between streets 118 and 284). Massages are cheaper ‘inland’ and a little more on the waterfront. Lots of the older French colonial buildings have high ceilings and ornate decorations and moldings. Wall painting and carvings of elephants, Angkor Wat and other Khmer themes abound. Ceiling fans and hopefully, air conditioners complete the equipment list.
Most massage spas in the Riverfront area are legitimate but occasionally, men will be offered happy endings. Lots of boys are doing massages there as well.
Siem Reap is one of my all-time favorite places to get a massage. The massages aren’t necessarily better than anywhere else but I’ve found the ladies to be genuinely extra-friendly. I’ve had some amazing experiences here. Furthermore, the massages are among the cheapest available. A regular Khmer/Thai style massage costs around $5-7 an hour while an oil massage will add a dollar or two. Foot massages can be as little as $1 for 15 minutes, $5-8 per hour.
Hot or cold moist towels are often involved in some way at the beginning or end of a massage. With oil massages, for instance, there is often a washdown with a warm wet towel at the end to wipe most of the oil off. It’s quite a pleasurable sensation, getting cleaned off, and it only happens with the oil massage. In an other place, the girls gently waft the hot towel over the skin before wiping down. Some girls kid around and pretend to be wiping down their big babies.
There are lots of massage shops here and some of them are very, very good. The large number of tourists, especially ones who have tramped across ruins all day, require a lot of good massages so the girls get lots of practice. Most shops open between 10 a.m. and noon and it’s always better to get to them earlier than later as the girls won’t be so tired.
With oil massages, one usually gets a full massage, meaning tummies and chests, and buttocks. A new technique I experienced at a few places was the foot flip. While you are laying on your back, the girl takes your foot which is pointed to the left, say, flips it up into the air 180 degrees to the right, then back again.
Near Pub Street and the Night Market, you can get a very cheap foot massage right on the street. It costs as little as a dollar for 15 minutes and feels great. You get to watch tourists stream by and chat with other tourists or the massage girls. It’s a lot of fun. They used to throw in a free beer with your massage but in 2016, I didn’t see this anymore!
Watch out for the massage joints on the little street that runs through the night market (opposite the ‘Triangle’). You’ll see gangs of really young women (late teens or younger) trying to drag you back into private rooms. The price may be as little as $1 for a massage but it’s a scam. They often wear red, orange, or yellow shirts. What will happen probably is that you’ll be led into a less than perfectly clean massage room and you’ll be accosted by two girls (or more). They begin applying a four-hands massage. If you don’t want two girls, they’ll start whining and putting on high pressure tactics. The massage quickly turns into a groping around your privates. They will want to give you ‘extra’ services and then demand a lot of tip money with threats of calling in some muscle if you don’t pay up. Don’t fall for it. If young girls are applying high pressure with price cards right in the alleyway, it’s not going to be a professional massage. Stick to the nice shops on the main streets where girls are dressed in uniforms.
Kep and Kampot:
Massages in Kep and Kampot are very conservative. Never did I experience any offers for ‘extras’ nor was there any extraneous ‘accidental’ naughty touching. I didn’t get any belly rubs here either. In the Kep crab market at Lido Massage and some of the others in the area, you can lie on mats right over the ocean’s edge. There are slatted floors on stilts over the sea where you can see and hear the water lap up underneath you and it’s a lovely environment for a massage. After the massage, you can go to restaurants right next door for fresh crab encrusted in green Kampot peppercorns.
There are several massage places in Kampot as well, close to the river in the main tourist section. On the street one block away and parallel to the river, there are three or four massage places that look a bit seedy; they are definitely offering ‘extra services.’ The shops right on the river (including the Seeing Hands blind massage) and Golden Hands Spa are reputable.
Sihanoukville: Massages here are generally conservative, cheap, and good. I even saw training certificates on some of the walls! Beware of the ‘Happy’ Pizzas in the area. They’re loaded with marijuana and I accidentally ordered one. I gave a slice to a beggar who was passing by and I’m sure that improved his lot a bit. I was high for almost 20 hours! I went for a massage while under the influence but it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. Massage is pleasurable enough on its own without having to get high!
About Cambodian Masseuses
Some women actually live in the massage shops (see Lives of Massage Girls). One girl, who shared a massage room with three other girls, told me that the owner wouldn’t let them have air conditioning or a fan at night, just open windows. The owner didn’t want to spend any electricity on them. Meals were gotten off the street from passing vendors, rice and soup usually.
Khmer girls are shy and traditional yet can be quite forward and engaging, in an innocent way. They are almost always single. They may be unmarried or were married and often have a child or two somewhere in a distant province being cared for by the lady’s mother or relative. Those who were married once had a Khmer man who was a ‘butterfly,’ meaning they were flitting around other flowers. Drunkenness and violence often aggravated the relationships.
Western men are perceived as being more faithful and offer better financial security. If you’re a man, it won’t be long before you’ll get some offers of marriage! You could do worse than marrying one of these charming ladies!
Here’s a link to some legitimate Cambodian massage places: http://www.tourismcambodia.org/activities/index.php?ccat=30#comp