I decided to indulge in a massage, and the Khmer Relief Spa came highly recommended.
When I arrived I was given iced jasmine tea, with a lotus flower looking very zen in a little bowl on the tray. I was then invited to choose my massage, and opted for the anti-stress release, advertised as ‘a healing therapy massage’ with a ‘therapeutic touch’. Just what I need, I thought.
The massage room itself was even zenner, with low lights, soft music and a large massage bed. There wasn’t simply a face-hole cut into the bed, like the beds I’m used to; there was an extension at the top of the bed with a large face-hole and a padded surround. Very comfy, I thought as I lay face down. Then I noticed the bowl of lotus flowers in water on the floor underneath the hole, so I could admire them during my massage. How lovely, I thought – and that was the last positive thought I had for quite a while.
I realised that the masseuse was clambering up onto the bed with me, and while I couldn’t actually see what she was doing, I’m sure she was doing handstands up and down my back; I can’t see how else such a tiny woman could exert so much pressure. I bit the padding and tried not whimper.
Then I felt oil on my back. Ah, at last! This must be the therapeutic touch I’ve been waiting for. But no, she put all her weight on me again and started slithering up and down my back. As she got closer to my shoulders, my neck was being pressed into the rim of the face-hole and I felt as though I was being garrotted. If she slips, I thought, she’ll push my head right through the hole and they’ll have to call the fire brigade to get me out.
The lotus flowers failed to take my mind off the pain, in much the same way that the pictures of tropical fish stuck to the dentist’s ceiling never lull you into thinking that you’re snorkelling on a coral reef rather than having your teeth drilled.
Finally she pulled the towel right up to my shoulders and walked away. Thank God, it’s over, I thought – but she was only retreating to take a run up and land on my back again for some more pummelling … and a towel is no protection against a determined onslaught, I can assure you.
She did eventually leave the room, after sixty very long minutes, and I staggered to my feet, put my clothes back on with trembling hands and tottered downstairs. I was put into the recovery room with hot tea, fruit and more lotus flowers until I felt strong enough to walk unassisted to the door.
As I left, I suddenly realised the significance of the name Khmer Relief Spa … it refers to the feeling you get as you leave, having survived a Cambodian massage.