Vietnam: But I Thought We Were Getting A Foot Massage

When we left the Vietnam Women’s Museum, we mapped our way to the foot massage parlor, about a mile or so away.

After half an hour of swimming through streets filled with traffic and honking, we found our second destination of the day: Dai Cat foot massage. No one at the counter spoke any English and we didn’t speak any Vietnamese, but it didn’t seem to matter.

We pointed to the 1 hour 15 minute massage on the placard, each paid our 180,000 dong ($8.00), promised the woman at the desk that we’d tip our masseuses (apparently a requirement, perhaps the only way they get paid?) and the next thing we knew, someone had whisked away our street shoes and handed us each a pair of slippers.

I wear size 11 shoes, which are large anywhere, but they are ridiculously large in Vietnam, so my toes were hanging way over the top edge of my rubber slippers. We were led upstairs into a room with six reclining chairs lined up side by side, each with an ottoman. It had the privacy level of a pedicure chair, rather than what we’re used to when we get an American massage. In other words, none.

We were handed these pink things and told, via gestures, to go change in the next room. We walked into that other room and looked at the packets of clothing we’d been given…little hot pink shorts and to go with it, a hot pink halter top that gathered under the arms. We walked into our “dressing room,” nothing more than a second room with a line up of empty massage stations, and started cracking up. Can you see why?



Joanie and I just couldn’t stop laughing. What was going to happen next?

We went back into our main massage room. Joanie and I sat down next to each other. On the other side of Joanie, just a few inches a way, a man was deep into receiving his massage; he had a young Vietnamese girl walking on his back, then digging into his shoulders with all her strength using her elbows. On the other side of him was his girlfriend. There were two more clients at the other end of the room.

Weren’t we here for a foot massage?

We were assigned two young men and for the next hour and a quarter, they worked us over. At first they had us soak our feet in what looked like dark hot herbal water. Then they leaned us back in out chairs, climbed beside us, and massaged our arms and shoulders.

Using nothing more than a reclining chair and a foot rest and some very clever maneuvering of our bodies, they worked over our backs, shoulders, feet, legs, thighs, and faces using a combination of massage, acupressure, pounding with a rubber mallet, slapping, smacking, pounding, knuckling and snapping the joints. Both of them did the exact same moves in the exact same progression. At times it sounded thunderous. Always, it was fun. And it felt great.

My masseuse kept using the one word of English he seemed to know, “Okay?” And I responded with “yes,” sighs, deep breaths, and the deep and utter relaxation of my body. It was a very strong massage, completely unexpected, and I felt myself going completely limp.

It was probably the middle of the night in California while we were getting our massages, and my body was still definitely on west coast time. I could feel myself slipping into a deeper and deeper relaxation, almost asleep, but then he’d pull out a bucket of hot stones or those rubber mallets. And I’d wake right back up again.


I think we’re definitely going back tomorrow, for the two-hour massage this time.

On our way back to the hotel, we caught this guy lounging on the street:


And this guy driving a pink tree through traffic on his scooter. In Hanoi, you never know what you’re going to see.


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