I just came back from a trip to Vientiane in Laos – and there are many massage shops, particularly in the town center. The prices are very low, you can get a one hour massage starting around 25000 Kib (around $3), and maybe even cheaper if you look around more – for which I didn’t have the time.
But I’m not really someone who likes cheap massages – I am someone who likes GOOD cheap massages. And that’s a different. There are plenty of places all over the world where you can get cheap massages, but it’s those kind of “you get what you pay for” places, and in the end, you’re mostly happy when you’re through with it.
And rest assured, there are places like that in Vientiane too, and I’m gonna get to that a bit later. But for now, I want to talk about the GREAT massages I got there.
Vista Wifi Cafe is directly in the heart of the tourist centre, and there you can get a 1h oil massage for 35000 kib – and it’s great. My masseuse was “Mimi” (or Meme?). Small girl, very strong hands. Her movements are rather fast and hefty, not the slow gentle kind of oil massage – and usually I don’t like that. BUT in case of Mimi, I absolutely did like it – it was intense at just the right points, and afterwards I always felt great.
You can also use the internet in that cafe for free when you get a massage.
Then, there is another place just down the road (in direction of the river), on the same side of the street. I think it’s “Dao” massage? The prices here are rather upscale, and so is the clientel. Upscale by Laotian standards I should say though – a foot massage for 45000 kib. It’s located in a nice wooden teak house – at least the part upstairs. The foot massage was good, but not awesome. The woman didn’t speak a word of English, was around 50 and rather reserved. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate her foot massage skills at 6. Given the prices, I’m not going to go for a foot massage again.
Another place is called “Happy Land”, and they do traditional massage. It’s a rather weird place I must say. When you walk in, it’s a cafe/bar. The reception ladies wear heavy makeup. I was kind of wondering whether this is a special massage place. I requested a massage, and a unhappy looking woman came out and brought me to a place to wash my feet and then into the massage room. She seemed to have a cold and was constantly coughing. The massage was… well, I got up early, paid the 40000 kib and walked away.
Then there is another massage shop in Rue Setthathilath, at the western end of it. Outside, you can see a mutlicolor neon-lit sign that says massage, and when you walk inside, it’s a rather dingy and choatic looking place. The reception woman was friendly though, and guided me inside the room were old massage mats where laid out, separated by think makeshift walls from each other. She started to massage me. The aircondition was too cold, but they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – adjust it. In the middle of the massage, she walked out and said that she had a headache to one of hear colleagues, who then continued to massage me rather mechanically and with an obvious lack of interest in her work – she seemed to just watch the time. I don’t remember exactly how much for the massage, I think 40000 kib.
On Rue Samsenthai, in the vicinity of Rue Chao Anou and Boulevard Khounboulom, not far from a small gas station, there was another massage place, but the sign read “MASSAGE & KARAOKE”, and I skipped that. I guess this is a sexy massage shop in Vientiane.
And then there was another place somewhere around Rue Samsenthai where I got a foot massage for 45000 kib. The shop was nice and clean, the staff very friendly, and the massage was good.
Here’s also a promotional video from Champa massage – I haven’t been there, but look for yourself to get an impression of the place.
The traditional Laotian massage is kind of similar to traditional Thai massage, although a bit less “hard” I’d say.
Update from February 25, 2011:
I’ve been to Vientiane again. This time, I went to another shop that is near HomeIdeal. When you’re walking out of the corner entrance of HomeIdeal, and you walk down towards the Mekong river, it’s on the right side of the street after about just 20 meters or so.
The staff is very friendly and chatty, young and pretty and in good spirits, but the massages are not of the best quality. It’s a good place to go if you’ve got the “lonely blues” and just want to kid around and chat with the locals a bit, but if you want a relaxing foot massage (which was what I tried) I’d rather skip this place.
The price of 50000 kib (around $6.20 USD) doesn’t help to increase the value you get for your money either.
Another place you can try is directly by the Mekong river on Quai Fa Ngum Road, nearly the Minimart and the LV City Riverine. There are actually two places directly next to each other.
One is a fancy looking, big money spa type feeling massage salon, and the other one is a cheap looking massage salon.
And in this case, you really do get a lot better massages at the fancy looking one. I forgot the name. A foot massage is around 50000 kib I think, but they do it very good, the surroundings are nice and you just feel comfortable and relaxed.
The shop right next to it, the one that’s looking really cheap has a lower price – I think 35000 kib for a foot massage. But the quality of the massage is so-so. My masseuse was: a) rather unmotivated and seemed to focus more on the passing of time rather than an actually good foot massage and b) sick. She had a cold and was constantly sniffing and sneezing. In my opinion, a shop owner shouldn’t let staff like work in this condition, and a good massage therapist should know not to work when feeling like that too.