Laos is like Thailand’s innocent baby sister. Little Sister has been watching Big Sister do massages and sees all the customers come in and give them money and says “Hey, I want to try this, too.” The style and sequence is very much like massages in Thailand but often a bit simpler and more conservative. That said, I’ve had several wonderful massages in Laos, especially in tourist-oriented Luang Prabang.
Types of Massage Available:
As in Thailand, you can get a body massage which they call a ‘Lao Massage.’ It’s basically the same thing as a Thai massage but it’s in Laos! You can also get an oil massage, a foot massage, and many of the other variants that you find in Thailand, such as aromatherapy and herbal ball massages.
In Luang Prabang, for instance, the method is very much like Thailand’s in style but might vary in sequence and in other small ways. The massages are often more conservative. For an oil massage, you might have to keep your underwear on and you don’t often get a bum or belly massage like you usually get in Thailand (although I’ve asked for it and got it). Some say that the Lao massage is a touch gentler than the Thai version.
One of my typical traditional Lao massages began with being asked to put on some light ‘pajamas.’ I’m asked whether I like ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ pressure. The routine began with a foot massage with the usual reflexology type poking, prodding, and some creams rubbed into the feet and calves. Then it was up the legs and on to the head and back. Massages seemed to be similar to Thailand but sometimes the order of things is rearranged. Massages can be fairly painful so if you’re fragile, ask for the ‘soft.’
Regardless of whether or not you get to keep your underwear, you get a towel to cover up your mid-section. As in Thai oil massage, there are a series of long rubbing and stroking moves, much as in a Swedish style massage.
You can also get herbal ball massages which is a mass of aromatic herbs compressed into a ball and covered with a heated cloth. The masseuse presses the ball into your skin; it feels pretty darned good and herbal massages are reputed to be very good for you.
Around 40,000-60,000 kip per hour ($5-8 US) for Lao massage, 80,000+ for oil massage. A tip of around 10,000 kip is good, more for exceptional service.
There are several massage shops in Luang Prabang to cater to the large number of visitors to this lovely UNESCO town. I especially like the shops along the Mekong River. Some of the second floor rooms have open fronts where you can lie on your belly and look outside, hear the sounds of the streets, and watch the boats go sailing by, while getting a delicious massage for a few dollars an hour! The smell of fresh baguette gets into my nostrils and I know that, after my massage, I will be floating over to the bakery for a fresh Lao coffee and a baked treat.
I had a very harsh massage here, too, an oil massage that had very little oil. I thought she that she would take all the hair off my legs as well as some of the skin. Another massage used a strange, sticky oil that left an awful residue. Thankfully, both of those were isolated incidents and are all part of the rich pageant of massage explorations!
In the cheaper places along the river, there’s sometimes not much privacy. In one place, there were men and women getting massaged on side by side beds with no dividers at all. The others didn’t seem to mind but I like a little privacy!
There are many massage shops in the capital city varying in quality from high end spas to the dingier places. There are several places in the center of the city near the tourist area not far from the Mekong River.
Vientiane is a little less conservative than Luang Prabang. For oil massages, a tummy and buttocks massage is usually included and men can take their underwear off, covering the mid-section with a provided towel.
As with most cities, massages are highly variable; you might pay a lot in a more upscale place and get a mediocre massage or you could get a fantastic massage in a dingy shop for less money. It’s all a crapshoot! As always, it’s the person that counts. If you find a good masseuse, hang on to her and keep coming back for more!
If a shop sign says ‘Massage and Karaoke,’ it might be one of the naughty places.