Photo: Burning incense at a Cholon pagoda.

While everybody raves about the low prices of massages in Saigon, fewer people know that you can find great prices for other wellness treatments. Acupuncture, called cham cuu locally, is just one you can get at pennies on the dollar compared to what you’d find in the West. Here’s what to expect in HCMC.

Geez, put some pants on.

You won’t have to stand like this during your treatment, promise.

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicinal practice of stimulating points on the body by sticking them with needles, is a popular form of treatment in Saigon but most practitioners are in tucked-away shops and a little hard to find. Head to any shop selling herbal medicines, or thuoc bac, and they may have an acupuncturist on hand — or know where to find one nearby — or cruise through HCMC’s Chinatown or Cholon and ask around.

Cures for everything.

Cures for everything.

I’d always been curious about acupuncture but was a little too chicken to go. A friend finally helped me put my big boy pants on and took me along to one. A typical session begins with a chat to the practitioner to describe your ailments; a treatment exists for nearly anything that may be bothering you, from anxiety to a bad back, but be warned that not many acupuncturists speak a huge amount of English here. If you don’t have a translator, prepare to describe your symptoms in charades. Next, you’ll be led to a room where you’ll be instructed to bare some skin and lay on a table.

You can smile through the pain.

You can smile through the pain.

The fun really starts to begin as you are needled up — the needles are removed from sterile packaging as they are stabbed into you. I told the practitioner that my back was sore and got two needles at the base of my neck, two around my shoulder blades, two on my elbows and two between my thumb and index finger. It doesn’t exactly feel like you’re getting stabbed [ed: well that’s a relief!], it feels like more of a pinch, but you can definitely feel when you’re stuck.

He's either getting acupuncture or interrogated.

He’s either getting acupuncture or being interrogated.

Once the needles are in, the acupuncturist brings out the big guns — a small box that conducts electricity. Each needle is hooked up to a small clamp, which is then given a small charge. Each is individually controlled and you can demand less or more juice depending on how you feel. The electricity produces a weird feeling; it made my muscles involuntarily twitch, and is kind of like a really deep massage except no one is touching you. While your muscles twitch, the acupuncturist will use a heat lamp and roam over the treatment area as an added bonus. Once he’s done, a 20-minute timer is set, and you’re left alone with your thoughts while the low levels of electricity pulse through your body.

This is the only place I've gone and I'm not dead yet.

This is the only place I’ve gone and I’m not dead yet.

A 20-minute treatment starts at around 80,000 VND. I’d recommend Tran Thai Duong on Pham Van Hai Phuong in Tan Binh district. It’s a little bit of a drive from downtown, but it’s clean, the needles are sterile and the acupuncturist seems like he knows what he’s doing.

Tran Thai Duong
388 Pham Van Hai Phuong, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
T: (08) 3842 1402


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