One day at a five-star hotel in Cambodia that will remain nameless, my friend Ruth and I decided to celebrate her birthday with massages. It was a convenient excuse. Had it not been true, numerous other justifications would have sufficed.
But, it turned out, there was a problem: As we checked into the intimate spa, a staff member unapologetically approached us. “Since you are friends,” she said, “would you mind much if we put you in one room and give you a couple’s massage?”
Ruth and I are close, but we’re not really “get naked and run down the beach together” kind of comrades. As if that mattered, the spa had booked the other single massage room for a VIP and “hoped we wouldn’t mind.” Though a bit incredulous, we agreed. “We’re exploring a foreign land,” I thought. “Seize the moment: Have a couple’s massage!”
And, so we disrobed for a massage a deux in a tiny room with beds only a few inches apart. Mind you, this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill muscle-soothing massage, but the Cambodian precursor to Thai massage. The Cambodian style is more rigorous, with much more intense bending, pulling, and contortions involved. It doesn’t even pretend to be relaxing – it exists to test your body’s thresholds.
In our sanctum, I tried to concentrate on the torques and twists, and the realization that my legs were somehow being bent far beyond my head. Meanwhile, I kept silent.
But, Ruth did not. She groaned. She cried out. She swore. In our hour together, I heard her direct, lead, and order her therapist – and her gripes were monumental. All the while, I sought tranquility, wished for ear plugs, and concentrated on zoning out. When it ended, I was pleased – not because I felt sensational, but because it was all over.
Ruth and I didn’t speak as we rose from our supine positions and struggled to cover our naked bodies with tiny towels. “Well, was it good?” I asked at last, if only to make conversation. Ruth turned her big eyes on me, her hand poised over the towel as she readied to leap from the table, and deadpanned, “No, not really.”
We burst into mad guffaw, a hysterical kind of laugher. Needless to say, we were escorted from the spa posthaste, alarmed therapists daunted and concerned.
Spas dream up a bevy of options for travelers who want something beyond basic. I’m not here to cast stones: I’m all for seeking out new treatments. I’ve been rubbed with an olive branch, scraped with shells, wrapped in seaweed, covered with thousand-year-old peat, had my face sheathed in bird excrement, floated for hours in a dark saltwater-filled box as lonely as a prison, been buffed with precious gems, endured painful electric shocks on my face, and, yes, been worked over with hot stones.
I want to experience every bizarre, unexpected treatment again. But, sometimes, you just want to be alone in a room with a massage therapist who simply kneads away tension.
Sometimes simple (and solo) is all you need. Funny, it took a trip all the way to Siem Reap to learn that—but, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Top photo: Getty Images/kvkirillov.