The going rate for a one-hour massage in Cambodia is $5. Compared to Europe and North America’s $60-$120 averages, this seems amazing. And it is – to a point. What you can expect for your fiver:
- A masseuse with no certification and varying levels of training in massage, pressure points, etc.
- A massage table, usually without a hole for your face and with a sheet that’s unchanged between clients
- A talking masseuse: ongoing conversation between masseuses is common, and they often answer their cell phones while massaging you
- No music; you will hear the children screeching and motorcycles revving outside
- A non-lotion/oil massage: that’s a few dollars extra, and usually consists of spreading oil on your body (versus rubbing or kneading)
- A massage table that may be in a big public room with other people being massaged
- A makeshift bathroom, often without toilet paper
My goal isn’t to be negative. In my opinion, that $5 cost is worth all of these (less-than-ideal-to-a-Westerner) things and more. I’m just preparing you for the differences.
We didn’t try even a fifth of the massage places in Kampot, but we did try a few. Given the lack of recommendations – both online and even in-person, I thought to at least rate the ones we tried:
- Massage Place Next Door to Sela Vibol Guesthouse [Red]: This place got us off on the wrong foot. It was more expensive ($7), but not better quality. The room for the massage was a teenage girl’s bedroom with two regular beds, and lots of posters on the wall. My masseuse took phone calls, massaging with one hand while she did so, and then left for ten minutes mid-massage. Though we didn’t time it, we were both fairly certain that it did not last a full hour. My non-oil massage left me with bruises, as the girl pressed the same few spots repeatedly. B’s oil one was less painful, but not therapeutic so much as oil-spreading. Even at $7, this was overpriced and not a nice experience.
- Seeing Hands Place #1 [Blue]: This was better. It’s a common model in Cambodia for the blind to work as masseuses as a way of ensuring they have employment; that’s what “seeing hands” refers to. There seems to be a small device they listen to, either to remind them what to massage next or something else; I’m inclined to believe the former, since my seeing hand massages have been quite consistent and thorough.
- Seeing Hands Place #2 [Orange]: Ditto on this one, though B’s masseuse was better than mine here. He got a two-hour massage here that was among the best he’d ever had. The pressure here was too hard for me, in places where there should not be such pressure (e.g. directly on my spine). I was wriggling to get away, but I had limited bruises the next day, so still better than that first (red) place.
- Jolie Jolie [Purple]: The massages here are more Western-style, and more expensive. For $13 per hour, you get relaxing music, quiet masseuses, a table with a hole for your face, a relaxation-focused massage, a (flowered) robe, a warm shower afterwards (to wash off the oil) with nice bath products, and a hydrating drink. So, ignore everything I said at the beginning of this post; it doesn’t apply here.
- Golden Hands [Green]: This is the in-between version: partially-Western and at an in-between price ($9). The bathrooms are nicer, the room is private, a post-massage tea is provided, and there is a warm towel for the face massage portion. On the other hand, the masseuses talk, and my oil massage was an exercise in application, not kneading. (B’s was better). We came here twice: once for the full body massage (good!) and once for the oil neck/shoulders/back (which turned out to be mostly back) massage.
Post Script: No hanky panky was experienced in any of the massages, even when B went without me.