The government has severely restricted the number of places licensed to give massages because of the concern that naughty 'extra services' might be offered (as indeed they are at many places). At present, you can get a good legitimate massage at the Hoa Binh Hotel (per hr US$7) and Dan Chu Hotel (Tel: 825 4937; 29 Pho Trang Tien) for about US$7 per hour, including some sauna time. The upmarket Guoman (Tel: 822 2800; 83A Pho Ly Thuong Kiet) and Sofitel Metropole Hotel (Tel: 826 6919; 15 Pho Ngo Quyen) charge nearer US$15 and US$25 per hour, respectively, for this.
It was 9 pm and the massage shop on Vong Street, Hanoi was crowded with customers. With an area of more than 10 m2, the shop was separated into smaller parts by thin curtains. Once in a while, shrill female laughter splashed all over the place.
Massages and spas are considered great ways to relax and improve physical as well as mental being. Hanoi is famous for its traditional massage streets in which the profession has been passed from generation to generation like Le Duan, Quan Thanh, or Cua Nam, not to mention excellent message centres at the Institute of Tradition Medicine, and the Institute of Acupuncture. At present, many massage shops are also popping up to meet an increasing public demand.
Dusk was falling and a small alley off Thai Thinh Street was being filled with more and more customers. Massage shops threw their dim pinky light onto the street. Girls with heavy make-up and short skirts stood in front of the shops, soliciting men.
Inviting customers to relax in massage shops is done with no less ardour than inviting them to stop for lunch on Ta Quang Buu Street or for a cup of coffee on Hang Hanh Street. No sooner do they catch sight of a customer than these female massagers wink their water eyes to lure him in. Some bold women even jump onto the street to stop passing motorbikes.
"Please stop for a little relaxation", said a male shop employee, smiling. Then he whispered, The whole package including tip is 100,000 dong. Youre the first customer so Ill charge you only 80,000". Seeing indifference on the customers face, another man in the shop jumped out to snatch his motorbike key and pulled him into the shop, saying, Please pick any girl you like.
Vong Street has tens of messages shops with names like "Sai gon massage" and 50,000 massage.
Massage from A to Z
On the second floor, dim light made the room look damp and dirty. Though it is only slightly more than 10 m2, the owner had packed into it 5 beds covered by old cloth and separated by flowery curtains. The sounds of massage movements and massagers' laughter rolled into each other. The busiest time is 8 to 10 in the evening. People sometimes even have to stand in lines.
In a sweet voice of a southern girl, Lan Anh said nearly ten women at her shop came from the south. For every customer, massage women earn 5,000 while the owner gets 30,000. "Well starve if we depend of the official fees. We expect much more from tips, said the experienced 21 year-old.
The girls often give customers several usual massage movements summarily before asking such questions as in which part do you feel most weary in?" As soon as customers answer, the girls will name a price.
Expensive hotels arent clean
Not only in restaurants and shops, but questionable massage is pervasive even in big hotels in Hanoi. Thi.nh, a regular massage customer, said that massage services at expensive hotels are delivered at two levels: VIP costs from 250,000 to 500,000/hour and a minimum tip of 200,000; and the common one is 150,000 to 200,000/hour with at least 100,000 in tip.
"Coming for a massage? asked the guard at a 3-star hotel on Nguyen Cong Tru Street, smiling, showing the guest to the elevator and saying, The 7th floor. Different from inexpensive message shops, the massage place in this hotel has 10 rooms, each of which is 6 to 7 m2. There is also a separate spa. Without a blush, the massage woman named Hoa smiled and asked the customer as he entered the room, Do you want me to massage your front or rear part?
This Tuyen Quang girl said, One has to do that in the profession. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody wants to relax.' People who want serious massages dont come here.
After trying her hand in nearly 10 famous massage shops, Hoa learned the lesson that every shop is the same, and the money owners pay daily is just enough to buy a bowl of noodles. And only girls who really love their profession earn big tips, added Hoa. She said that at her hotel a customer often gives a 100,000 tip. On slow days, there are just a few men coming in. In busy days, she can have 5 or 6 customers. And whenever a customer invites her out, she can earn a few hundred thousand dong. Basically, her monthly earnings are about 10 million dong.
More than massage
According to Hung, a marketing employee at a foreign company, at some massage shops in Hanoi, service girls are willing to increase their shifts if customers want.
In some online forums, there are attractive sections like "massage places in Hanoi, Hanoi massage report which give detailed info on the addresses, prices and qualities of different massage shops as well as reviews of regular customers. Some customers even post their comments on their latest trips so that others can learn from their lessons.
Many have learned hard lessons indeed. A young man tested HIV-positive because in an oral sex/massage trip, he couldnt control himself and had sex with the massager without a condom right at the shop.
"I spent the next 3 months after the incident in painful suspension. I couldnt take an HIV test right away because only tests taken at least 3 months after dangerous sex have accurate results. The waiting days were like hell to me. I prayed and prayed, and yet the result said positive. I cant get back what I have lost. I cant be a normal person any more, said the man.