We all know the story of Goldilocks. The famous “Goldilocks Principle” can be applied to a vast number of situations. It is that search for something that is neither too extreme nor too tame, neither too much or too little, but “just right”.
Southeast Asia is famous for massage. In Phnom Penh, you can find massage parlors averaging about one every two blocks. When we were on the beach, my sister and I thirsted for a massage every afternoon. Generally, you can expect to pay between $7-10 in the city for an hour massage. In the local places, the prices drop down to $2.50, and in the luxury hotels, they can rise to $50. Your basic Cambodian massage is much different than any massage you will receive in the States. For example, your massage is not complete until you’ve been hoisted into the air on the shins of your masseuse:
(Photo courtesy of Champei Spa on Tripadvisor.)
This position is also signature in a traditional Khmer massage:
The Khmer massage involves a lot of partner stretches and movements that use the masseuse’s body as a hinge. In a Khmer massage, you are always fully clothed in loose, cotton pants and tunic that they provide.
This weekend, I tried out my third place here in the city. Having been to three separate parlors, with three VERY different experiences, I can say that I now have the Goldilocks Principle for massage in Phnom Penh.
Location #1: East West Healing Massage
East West Healing Massage, on street 53 in BKK, was recommended to me by our school nurse. She told me she didn’t like “wimpy” massages. I told her I couldn’t agree more. She said that East West REALLY massaged you deeply, and that you would certainly thank them afterwards.
I arrived at East West, and they asked me if I wanted Khmer, Chinese, or Vietnamese massage. As they were a Chinese parlor (I deduced this only by the artwork and signs on the walls…) I asked for the Chinese massage. I was pretty sure our school nurse gets the Chinese massage, so I decided to go for it.
To be brief, I was glad I was face-down for much of the massage, so that the women could not see the expression of sheer agony on my face. I was actually gripping the legs of the massage table, which were conveniently (or purposefully?) within reach. This woman was INTENSE. The picture above is the best likening I can find that captures the experience. Every movement on my back was as hard, fast, and penetrating as her muscles could muster. And it wasn’t just simple pressure points—she would find a tendon, and then with her elbows she would twang the muscle back and forth like she was in a fiddling competition. She would press her thumbs into my veins to stop the blood flow to my hand, then swing my arm around in a circle like a rag-doll having a seizure. She would oscillate my shoulder/wrist/ankles back and forth, hearing the crunching of bones and cartilage between every push and pull. I don’t think she was satisfied until my cartilage was dislodged from the area and floating freely around my circulatory system. With every grip, every stab, every contorted manipulation, muscles were begging for mercy. Up until that day, I never thought it was possible to break a sweat during a massage.
East West Healing Massage? Goldilocks Says: Too Hard!
Next up, we have:
Location #2: One Day Spa & Beauty Salon
One is in my neighborhood, and was one of the first parlors I visited in Cambodia. Near the Russian Market, they pride themselves on giving struggling women dependable and positive employment.
At One, I have had a back/neck/shoulder massage as well as a 90-minute traditional Khmer massage. To begin, their ambiance is fantastic. Cozy, dimly lit rooms, scented candles, and smooth acoustic music filtering through the air. All of their employees are very sweet and polite as well. I always feel very comfortable at One. However, whenever I am having a massage, I am waiting for that spine-tingling-“aaah” moment, but it never seems to come. They are very delicate and smooth in their movements, but leave me always wanting a little bit more. It’s hard to describe in words, but they consistently seem too gentle for my liking. My sister, on the other hand, loved One. She loved the light pressure massage, as opposed to anything heavier or more forceful, which she had in Thailand. For me, it is too easy to start daydreaming during the massage—I need a massage that is gentle enough not to cause pain, but strong enough to give me a sensation I cannot get by massaging my legs or my head myself.
One Day Spa? Goldilocks Says: Too Soft!
Lastly, I happily present to you:
Location #3: Seeing Hands Massage Center
Located near Wat Phnom, all of the masseuses at this parlor have visual impairments. I would say 90% of them are completely blind. The other 10% have visual impairments of different sorts. Luckily for them, they found a professional that fits their skills perfectly. To massage the human body, one can “see” in many different ways.
THIS was the ideal massage. Set in an older building, it is a much different atmosphere than the other two parlors. This had a communal setting; you walk in, pay in advance, and head upstairs to the massage room. You enter a room and see ten massage tables set up with people getting massages all in the same room. They hand you your cotton clothes, and you changes behind a curtain and put your personal items in a locker. Then, you lie down on a bed, and wait. Eventually, you feel someone approach you, and touch you from your feet up until your head. He smiled and said, “Hello”, as he touched the four corners of the table to get his bearings. Then, he draped the massage sheet over my body (as all massages here do), and began to give me the best, firmest, most controlled, most effective, most professional massage I have had in Cambodia. This guy knew where to massage, how hard, and for how long. He really made it an art! Luckily, they have all of their employee’s pictures at the front desk, so I plan on asking for the same guy when I go back next time. It was a GREAT massage: perfect in every way. No contortions, and plenty of, “Aaah, that’s the spot” moments.
Seeing Hands Massage Center? Goldilocks Says: Just Right!