Before visiting SE Asia, I didn’t do any research on the whole area of beauty and pampering. I knew from hearsay that there would be excellent, low-cost massage, manis, pedis, and so on. I didn’t give it much thought before the trip and I didn’t give it much thought as I popped into salons everywhere I went. So I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what I think you need to know about the salon experience: Every salon is a ‘spa’ even if it’s just a simple room at the front of someone’s home. The front of a salon may look fine but when you are taken to the back room or upstairs for a massage it may be really grubby or shabby. Or you may be sitting on really old tatty sofas that are older than you. I’m not a clean freak but I can’t relax if a place isn’t clean. This might not bother you at all but if it does you should take a really good look around before you agree to get something done. Better still, only go to a recommended salon and pay a bit extra. I probably should have done that.
Manicures and pedicures
Every manicure and pedicure I had was excellent. One or two nails smudged in the heat and they don’t have the little nail dryers that you see in western salons so take your time before leaving to let your nails dry. Sometimes the nail technician’s kit will be dirty. Again, you mightn’t care but just letting you know.
Beyond Bangkok, I didn’t see Shellac anywhere but it didn’t matter because the manicures were so cheap and of such a good standard. I got quite addicted, and because I wasn’t doing housework I had great nails at the end of it all. Super happy about that.
When it comes to facials, their techniques are excellent but the quality of the products is variable. If you have sensitive or intolerant skin, you need to do some research and be very cautious. Most salons I went to used brands that I didn’t recognise. Some of them looked cheap and nasty. One salon had pictures of Dermalogica on their menu and TOLD ME they did Dermalogica facials and I believed them! When I got the facial done, I was pretty sure it wasn’t Dermalogica as the smell was different. I checked the products after the girl left me alone in the room and guess what – it wasn’t Dermalogica. I was really annoyed because my skin could have had a bad reaction to whatever they were using. When I challenged the boss about this she lied to me again and then backed down and made up a silly excuse. Blatantly false advertising as well as lying to my face. Luckily, my skin was fine so whatever they used was probably OK but there’s no way I’d walk into a salon on spec there again. As I said earlier, if you’re remotely concerned about product quality, get a recommendation or seek out a 5-star hotel/salon and enquire about the product range in advance.
Getting your hair shampooed in Vietnam is a luxury experience that involves lying on a recliner and getting a very good, prolonged head massage. However, a blowdry does not mean they will brush or style your hair. You need to specifically ask for ‘brushing/straightening/styling’ or whatever. I didn’t see sterilisers for the hairbrushes. The brushes and combs were in jars with other people’s hair on them. I sound like I’m being fussy but I really want to come home with head lice so I had a problem with that. On the other hand, friends of mine went to some amazing salons in Ho Chi Minh and had fantastic experiences so just do your homework before you go for a hair treatment. Set aside lots of time for whatever you are getting done. The staff are quite meticulous and will give you all the time in the world.
Like any of the above services, the quality of massage is excellent in Vietnam and Cambodia but some of the salons are rather shabby so you may want to take a good look around before you decide to get one. Alternatively, you could go straight to 5-star hotels and book treatments/massage without actually staying there. Then you will be guaranteed a super high standard of hygiene and service, and it will still be much, much cheaper than at home. If you’ve been backpacking or sleeping on overnight buses, your back will thank you for it!