My five most awkward spa experiences


I love a day spa. A darkened, quiet room. The chance to lie down…in silence…for an hour or so. Warmth. Exotic fragrances. Did I mention the lack of noise?

So, I’ll usually seek out a day spa, or a hot springs, or a bathhouse…or two…to try out wherever we are in the world.

I like to carefully peruse the menu and often I’ll choose something I haven’t tried before, just for the novelty of it. This has had mixed results.

But in among all these visits there are several that stand out, in most cases, for all the wrong reasons. So, in no particular order…my top five most awkward spa experiences.

1. The shoe fetish

It was a cute little day spa located in our Hoi An (Vietnam) hotel, with very reasonable prices (an hour-long massage was US$20). Queenie and I went together and shared a room. The masseuses were friendly and good at their job, and unlike many places, they didn’t chat to each other in Vietnamese the whole time, which was a relief, as Queenie and I are always convinced they’re talking about us – “Woah, look at the size of this Australian mamma’s butt!”  That type of thing.

Anyway. It was about 30 mins into the massage, and I was sinking nicely into the table, muscles slowly unknotting, when for some reason I opened my eyes. (I was facedown on one of those massage tables with the face hole.)

That’s such a coincidence, I thought. My masseuse has the same shoes as me.  Hang on…what are the chances of that??? I think they ARE.MY.SHOES. Geez. Why is she wearing my shoes?? Is that weird?

It was very disconcerting. It’s just a little bit creepy to know that someone is wearing your shoes while they are massaging you.

There was no relaxation from that point on, as I ruminated over whether to say something, or just pretend I hadn’t opened my eyes and seen them.

My shoes were neatly back in the spot I had left them by the time the massage was over.  As she handed them to me, the masseuse said, “Nice shoes!” and I just said, “Yes, I saw you liked them.”

She nodded and smiled. I think my meaning was lost in translation.dayspa3

2. Walk all over me

The main shopping streets of Saigon are lined with women handing out flyers for day spas, which are often located through the back of one of the retail shops and up some stairs.

In Vietnam you’re never quite sure of the legitimacy of a ‘day spa’ as opposed to a ‘massage parlour’ so we tend to give most of those places a wide berth. There was one flyer however, that seemed to be thrust in our hands multiple times a day. The prices seemed very reasonable…and on paper at least, it seemed straight up.  I checked it out on Tripadvisor and it had good recommendations. So we ventured in there for massages with an assortment of The Fairlie and The Britannia Entourages.

We were shown to massage tables in a darkened long room, with each table separated by flimsy curtains.

We all wanted ‘firm’ massages, and our diminutive masseuses tried to oblige. At one point mine asked, ‘The pressure? Is it good?’ I replied that she could be a bit harder.

Moments later, she sprung up onto the massage table and straddled my legs, sitting on the backs of my thighs and levering her body weight onto her hands. That then progressed to her using her knees into my glutes, and eventually standing on my back, holding onto the curtain frames and using her feet to work the knots in my back.

We have discovered since, through multiple experiences, that this is a fairly common technique.

But that first time? Having a tiny Vietnamese woman climb onto me? Awkward.dayspa1

3. Tropical rain and salad

We had stayed almost two weeks at the one beach resort inMalaysia and I’d already had a couple of traditional (i.e. relaxing) massages in the day spa so I was up for something a bit different.

Jumping out at me from the menu was a combination treatment: an almond body exfoliation, followed by a cucumber and aloe vera body wrap, and then a ‘tropical rain’ therapy experience.

The exfoliation? Not too bad. I could feel layers of dead skin just peeling right off, as promised.

The body wrap? Hmmmm. The cucumber and aloe vera mixture looked like something I would serve up as a dip with crackers. Big chunks of cucumber, in what appeared to be a yoghurty sauce. It was slathered onto my body, and I was totally wrapped in plastic cling film, covered with a blanket, and then the therapist left the room.

A blanket. In the tropics. Within minutes I started to smell like a salad sandwich left in a lunchbox on a Perth school verandah on a 40 degree day.

Then the therapist returned. It was the type fishermen would wear in the North Atlantic.  The euphemistically named ‘tropical rain therapy’ turned out to be a pummeling from multiple hoses with spray attachments. At times I was gasping for air.

At least it washed away all the hot cucumber.

4. Volcanic rocks

You know how lots of day spas advertise their services with photos of relaxed supine clients, a row of shiny black rocks placed down their backs?  Well I was totally sucked in by those photos. It looked so peaceful, and the idea of warm rocks seemed quite comforting.

So I gave it a go. This was actually at the same resort as the tropical rain and salad experience, but on a different visit. (Note to self…stick to the traditional massage options.)

Hot stone massage is an ancient massage technique where smooth hot stones are placed on energy or ‘chakra’ points during the treatment, and are used to massage the body to provide deep muscular stress relief. The heat from the stones is supposed to relax the muscles, and cause trigger points to release.

The therapist brought the stones into the room in their own special heater, and once we got going, she started to place the stones onto said energy points.

Yeeooooowww. I nearly shot through the ceiling. These rocks weren’t ‘warm’ they were hot. Like, volcanic-hot. I told the therapist that they were too hot, and she folded a sarong and put it between the stones and my skin. But even then, they were too hot.

We kind of persisted, with me wincing, and her attempting ‘cooler’ techniques. But seriously, big fail.

Relaxing? No way.dayspa2

5. The fish pedicure

In 2008, when we were in New York, we came across a salon in Greenwich VIllage offering fish pedicures. And the thought disgusted me. Who on earth would stick their feet in a pool of skin-nibbling Garra Rufa fish?

Just over twelve months later, we came across a day spa in Langkawi offering the same thing. But for some strange reason, this time, my thought process was Why not? That sounds like fun. Let’s give it a go.

We handed over RM18 per adult (about $6 Australian) and were then entitled to 15 minutes of immersing our feet in the awaiting tank of Garra Rufa (or Doctor) fish.

The tiny Garra Rufa fish originally come from warm spring waters in Turkey. The toothless fish nibble or suck at dead skin, removing it and leaving the feet smooth (hence the ‘pedicure’ tag).

It was an extremely bizarre experience. Small fish rushing at your feet as soon as you put them in the pool, then latching on and sucking/nibbling away.  A little bit weird, but kind of funny at the same time.

But that’s not the awkward bit. That came after we finished up, dried our feet and returned to the hotel. I made the BIG mistake of googling “fish pedicures”… to discover they had been banned in several US states – mostly on hygiene grounds, and because sometimes Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish that is often mislabeled as Garra Rufa are used, and those fish grow teeth and can draw blood, increasing the risk of infection. Plus there was the whole, multiple feet in the same pool, spreading infection through open wounds, thing.

Eeeeeewww! It was WEEKS before I was reassured that my feet weren’t going to turn gangrenous and drop off.

 Have you had any awkward spa experiences?


This post is linked to:

Weekend Wanderlust

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