Soothe those aching muscles
Published: 1st December, 2018
When it comes to massages in Luang Prabang, be cautious. We’ve been poked and prodded enough to tell you that it’s important to know where to go or risk a comically bad experience.
Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. However, there a few good-value spots worth seeking out and if you’re willing to spend a little more, you can have a top-notch spa experience for a fraction of what you’d pay in the West. Here’s your massage guide for Luang Prabang.
Laos doesn’t have a longstanding tradition of massage or skilful training like in Thailand or Indonesia. Southeast Asia backpackers accustomed to being spoiled by good, inexpensive massages will get a rude awakening if they get suckered into one of the town’s cheap massage joints, notably on the Mekong riverfront and some on the main street. Skip them. Hygiene and quality are dubious.
A Lao massage is done while wearing loose clothes or a sarong. The masseuse will focus on pressure points and the experience is more therapeutic (in other words: intense, deep tissue, somewhat painful) than relaxing. Looking for a soothing experience? Opt for an oil massage instead.
The following budget places have little to no ambience, less privacy and can be hit or miss, but more often than not you’ll have a pretty good massage. If skittish about hygiene, feel free to bring your own towel and sarong.
One of the more reliable places is Frangipani Spa. While it’s on the high side of all the budget picks, we think the few extra dollars are worth it since the rooms are private, restful and are equipped with air-con and an ensuite bathroom with shower. Treatments are done on a professional massage bed with face hole (so no twisted necks). A traditional Lao massage is 85,000 kip, a full body massage with oil is 120,000 kip. Find the two-storey building on a quiet side street running between 3 Nagas on the main road and the Mekong river. Open daily 09:30-21:00.
Silver Naga, opened in 2014 on the main street (Sakkaline Road) near Le Banneton Cafe, is another top pick for an affordable massage. The spa has some pleasant touches with decoration, music and lockers, making it a cut above the cheapies. We’ve enjoyed the aromatherapy massage several times. Silver Naga is popular so make an appointment in advance to avoid disappointment. A 60-minute Lao massage is 55,000 kip; aromatherapy oil massage is 100,000 kip.
A favourite with locals, the no-frills Peninsula Massage & Sauna is on the Mekong River road near the tip of the peninsula, close to Wat Xieng Thong. The staff have been trained by Mrs Somchit, an experienced masseuse and acupuncturist. Expect a strong Lao massage that can be chased with a turn in their traditional sauna. A 60-minute Lao massage is 50,000 kip; oil massage 60,000 kip. Open daily 09:00-21:00.
We do love that all proceeds of the Lao Red Cross Sauna and Massage go to the Lao Red Cross and their projects in the poorest villages of Luang Prabang and Udomxai provinces, but reports of the massage quality have been too inconsistent for us to give a solid endorsement. However, the traditional sauna aspect of the centre is recommendable.
The sauna is fired up every day at 16:00 and a ticket is only 10,000 kip. Whether it’s hot or cold outside, the Lao believe a visit to the sauna is good for your health. The steam is infused with an aromatic mixture of plants and herbs. There are separate rooms for men and women. Undress and wrap yourself in a sarong, sit in the piping hot sauna for five minutes, then leave and drink a cup of herbal tea. Repeat two or three times. The sauna is popular so sometimes is does mean having to wait your turn. You can shower after but the locals believe it’s good to leave that herbal residue on the skin for a while. A great way to loosen up and revive tired muscles. Find it on Visoun Road opposite Wat Visoun. Sauna open daily 16:00-20:00.
To guarantee yourself a quality massage with a professional massage bed and total relaxation experience, go for a high-end hotel spa. Compared to how much spa treatments cost in the West, getting pampered with all the bells and whistles here is good value. Just remember that tax and service charge will be added to the treatment price.
The best quality, best value spa in Luang Prabang is the Angsana Spa, part of an international hotel group Banyan Tree. An oil massage from a trained therapist starts at US$55 and includes all the true spa experience perks and a tranquil secret garden setting. This is also the place to indulge in body scrubs and facials with high quality products. The spa is located at Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel on the main road (Chao Fa Ngum) across from Nam Phou fountain. Open Mo–Su: 10:00-20:00 (T: (071) 254 609). http://www.angsanaspa.com/en/angsana-spa-luang-prabang-laos
Another top pick is Le SPA at Sofitel Luang Prabang, where trained therapists can expertly knead tense muscles. A one-hour Swedish massage is US$60 net. This is also one of the only places in Luang Prabang that offers hair removal with hot wax. T: (071) 260 777; Open Mo–Su: 10:00-20:00. http://www.sofitel-luangprabang.com/wellness/le-spa/
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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