Vietnamese streetside massage shops offer everything from foot massage to manual stimulation, but do not offer full service, in sexual terms. Read on, as our handy guide will help you to navigate this labyrinth of services and to get what you’re paying for.
Streetside stall massage shops typically offer body, face, and foot massage, at extremely reasonable rates. For body massage, you’ll remove your shoes and shirt (if a man), and shoes only if a woman. The massage is non-sexual, and pretty much the whole experience is in full view of passersby. During your massage, you’ll be asked if you’d like to buy a facial, manicure, pedicure, or a haircut, at affordable prices. Service is generally terrific, for these girls operating on commission only.
The bad & the ugly
Hotel-based massage parlors, and establishments dealing in massage only cater to males exclusively. Here, you’ll pay an entry fee, typically 60,000 VND ($4 USD), which includes steam room, sauna, shower, and a one-hour body massage. Three-star hotels and above charge different fees for Vietnamese than Westerners. A typical hotel we know charges $15 USD on the rate card. Flip the rate card over (if you’re savvy), and you’ll see the same service offered for 75,000 VND (equal to $5 USD).
It gets worse. As a Westerner, you’ll be given the oldest masseuse in the establishment, because younger masseuses are reserved for Vietnamese men, who would complain if offered otherwise. Your massage room will have a window on the door that allows management to monitor your masseuse. Since many massage parlors are government-owned and controlled, girls are under threat to be fired if caught doing anything naughty. You will get your 45 minute massage, after which your masseuse will ask you if you’d like “special service”. She’ll quote you up to $30 USD for a hand-job. Prices can usually be bargained to 100,000 VND (roughly $12 USD), but service is uniformly poor throughout the country. This activity is illegal in Vietnam, and its practitioners rarely provide “service with a smile,” as they are constantly watching the window in the door to see if they’re being spied upon. To provide additional cover-up, they will place a large towel over their hands, and you. Girls in this line of business are relatively unsophisticated, sexually, and they have mixed feelings about being in this line of work.
We’d suggest you opt out of any sexual peccadilloes, and finish your legitimate massage, without sexual services. Masseuses will expect a tip, and 50% of the entrance fee, where no sexual service is obtained, is considered fair. Expect a grumpy face when you give your 50% tip, (plus or minus 30,000 VND, depending on entry fee), as you were expected to tip the going rate for sexual services.
Do take a look around as you exit to see if dodgy characters are following you. Occasionally, girls will phone their boyfriends loitering outside, telling them about the Westerners who didn’t live up to their financial “obligations.” If you notice nefarious persons, stick to well-lighted, well-traveled streets, and don’t telegraph the whereabouts of your hotel.
In our opinion, sexual services in Vietnamese massage parlors are rip-offs. Do go for the massages, steam rooms, and saunas, which are relaxing and wonderful. Stick to the published price sheet (remember to ask for the Vietnamese price sheet, when there is one), and have a great experience. If you take the bait and go for the dubious “sexual services,” it’s a good bet that your experience won’t be a satisfactory one.
Terminology used in Vietnamese massage parlors
Phòng thư giân = massage room
Phòng xông khô = sauna room
Phòng xông hơi = steam room
Phòng thay đỗ = dressing room
Phòng tăm = shower room