Photo: Pak Ou caves.

Massage and spas

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When it comes to massages in Luang Prabang, be cautious. We’ve been poked and prodded enough to tell you that you have to know where to go or risk a comically bad experience.

Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. A few good-value spots are worth seeking out however, 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.

Yes please.

Yes, please.

Laos doesn’t have a longstanding tradition of massage or skillful 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 dime-a-dozen cheap massage joints in Luang Prabang, notably on the Mekong riverfront and main street. Skip them. Hygiene and quality are dubious.

You get a Lao massage while wearing loose clothes or a sarong. Your masseuse will focus on pressure points and the experience is more therapeutic (in other words: intense, deep tissue, somewhat painful) than relaxing. For a soothing massage, opt for an oil one.

The following budget places have zero ambience, less privacy and are far from perfect, but nine times out of ten, you’ll have a pretty good massage. If you’re skittish about hygiene, feel free to bring your own towel and sarong.

Peninsula Massage & Sauna, a favourite with locals.

Peninsula Sauna & Massage, a favourite with locals.

Peninsula Massage & Sauna is on the Mekong River road, close to Wat Xiengthong near the tip of the peninsula. This no-frills centre is popular with locals. The staff have been trained by Mrs Somchit, an experienced masseuse and acupuncturist. Expect a strong Lao massage that you can chase with 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.

The Lao Red Cross Sauna and Massage was fully renovated in 2014 so the rooms look bright and clean. The masseuses have all received training but the quality of massage depends on which person you get. We’ve had amazing massages from clearly very experienced female and male staff. We’ve also had a couple of sub-par mediocre ones with lots of irritating background noise (nothing to relax you more than screeching toddlers running around your room). We do love that all proceeds go to the Lao Red Cross so we suggest you give it a try. It’s your best bet for a cheap oil massage in town. They are on Visoun Road, Ban Visoun. For a 60-minute traditional Lao massage with oil you’ll pay 50,000 kip; aromatherapy oil massage is 80,000 kip; foot massage 50,000 kip. Open daily 13:00-21:00.

Silver Naga, a treat on the main street.

Silver Naga, a treat on the main street.

Silver Naga opened in 2014 on the main street of Sakkaline Road and it’s good. The spa has some pleasant touches with decoration, music and lockers. We’ve enjoyed the aromatherapy massage several times. It’s popular so make an appointment in advance to avoid disappointment. A 60-minute Lao massage is 55,000 kip; aromatherapy oil massage will set you back 100,000 kip.

If you want to guarantee yourself a quality massage, then splurge on a high-end hotel spa (or wait until you’re elsewhere in Asia). When you compare how much spa treatments cost in the West, you’ll realise that treating yourself here to an establishment with all the bells and whistles is still 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 Singapore-owned chain. An oil massage from a trained therapist starts at $55 and includes all the true spa experience perks and a tranquil secret garden setting. You can also get body scrubs and facials with high quality products. It’s found at the Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel on the main road (Chao Fa Ngum) across from the Nam Phou fountain. Open daily (T: (071) 254 609). Open daily 10:00-20:00.

Angsana Spa. Paying more does mean ambience, cleanliness and quality skin products.

Angsana Spa. Paying more does mean ambience, cleanliness and quality skin products.

The treatment rooms at Kiridara Hotel’s spa are a bit clinical but it has all the amenities you need for a professional experience. Basic packages start at $59++. The hotel is on the outskirts of town along Route 13 in Ban Naviengkham but you should be able to arrange for a free transfer when you book your appointment — T: (071 261 888). Open daily 10:22:00.

You may want to close your eyes when handing over your credit card, yet considering this is a Belmond (formerly known as Orient Express Hotels), a 60-minute oil massage for $76++ isn’t completely outrageous. At luxurious Belmond’s La Residence Phou Vao’s Mekong Spa, you can take your treatment al fresco in a private garden sala. It’s on the hill at the end of Phou Vao Road. Call (071) 212 530 for an appointment.

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