On a sourcing trip to Phnom Penh in the New Year I decided to set myself a spa challenge because, as I like to say: why go hard when you can go soft? As it turned out, it wasn't all a cakewalk. There were tears, sweat, humiliation and yes, even pain in this week of spa-athon. Leave your Alexandria Main resort pjs on, because you'll be so zen at the end of this, you'll be wanting to go straight back to bed.
(Note: All prices are in USD)
Day 1: Sofitel So Spa
- Treatment: So Rejuvenating facial (60 minutes)
- Price: $60 plus 17% VAT and service charge = $70.20
- Address: 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh
- Open: 10am to 10pm
Situated in the Sofitel Hotel, the So Spa is a luxurious and zen space with the relaxation music and dark wood panelling you would expect from a five star hotel. I was greeted with chilled ginger tea and an iced face cloth in a quiet lounge. The menu is fun - you choose from Starters, Mains and Desserts. I was there for a facial which was relaxing and pleasant. After the facial I was given a macaroon and hot tea. It’s appropriate that the sweet treats are western in style because the bill that followed was western priced. For $70 USD it is probably the most expensive facial in Cambodia but if you are staying in-house it's a worthwhile indulgence.
Tip: Follow your treatment with fresh Vietnamese rolls and a pressed lemon drink served poolside.
2. Seeing Hands Massage
- Treatment: Body massage (60 minutes)
- Price: $7 US
- Address: 12 Street 13 (Wat Phnom), Phnom Penh
I was excited to get a massage from the famed Seeing Hands blind masseurs. After paying my $7 at the front desk, I walked up a couple of narrow flights of stairs and entered a dimly lit room with 6 beds. Everyone was wearing blue tunics and pants that resembled medical scrubs. Not going to lie, stories about tourists losing kidneys were starting to play in my mind (or wait, was that South America?) and I wasn’t feeling the most relaxed. The hostess pointed to a freshly laundered pair of blue scrubs on the bed and gestured to a curtain hung in the corner of the room where I could get changed. Signs on the wall asked for silence and advised that no responsibility will be taken for lost or stolen possessions. I changed quickly, placed my clothes in a locker and held the key tight as I sat on the bed waiting for my masseur to come in. She deftly placed a clean towel around the hole in the middle of the massage bed and pointed to me to lie face down in it. The silence was broken by the sound of talking clocks that alerted the blind masseurs to the time and a disturbing groaning coming from a bed in the corner. Occasionally the masseurs chatted to each other in Khmer and giggled. I try to relax into the massage, but it wasn’t for the faint hearted. In fact, it was pretty rough. The low point came at the end when she gave me a vigorous stomach massage that seemed designed to rearrange my internal organs. The litre of water I drank before the massage was now inhabiting my bladder and was not enjoying the pressure of a fully grown woman on it.
I wanted to leave a tip, lack of enjoyment notwithstanding, but it wasn't clear where to put it, so I left feeling a bit mean. Karma got me in the end - as soon as I dressed, I developed a horrendous headache, which left me confined to a dark room waiting for pain killers to work for the rest of the day.
Tip: More adrenalin raising than cortisol lowering. I’d go back just for the adventure of it, but will stick with a foot massage next time.
3. Bodia Spa
- Treatment: Anti-ageing and firming facial (55 minutes)
- Price: $34 (plus $5 tip)
- Address: Corner Sothearos Blvd and St 178 (above U-Care Pharmacy)
- Open: Daily from 10am to midnight
The entry foyer is an organic curved space with slatted walls, hardwood floors and sisal stools. I was presented with a tray of cool ginger tea, an ice cold facecloth and a pretty pink lotus flower.
In my cocoon-like treatment room - all dark brown painted walls with splashes of green - gentle hands applied soft, sweet smelling concoctions of avocado, egg white and lemon juice to my face and massaged my hands and feet. I decided I was never going to leave the room.
Tip: Bodia offer complementary tuk tuk pick up from any hotel in Phnom Penh.
4. Bliss Spa
- Treatment: Traditional Lulur Scrub (45 minutes)
- Price: $26 (plus tip of $4)
- Address: #29 Street 240, Phnom Penh
- Open: 9am to 9pm every day
To get to the Bliss Spa you step over a worn wooden doorstep onto a beautiful patterned tiled floor and walk past the racks of washed cotton confections that line the walls of the Bliss clothing boutique. An urn of lotus flowers and batik covered couches signals you have arrived in the spa. I booked online and didn’t bother to select the box that asked whether I wanted a man or a woman, largely because I didn't think I cared. Until… I was greeted by the Cambodian equivalent of George Clooney and suddenly self-consciousness took on a whole new meaning. While I stop blushing at the memory, let me tell you about the massage: it was a scrub of crushed rose buds and fresh jasmine flowers, blended with tumeric powder and rice and finishing with lavender oil massage. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to eat all up then I don’t know what does.
Tip: Take extra cash because you’ll never get out of the Bliss Boutique without buying something.
5. Friends International Nail Spa
- Treatment: Gel manicure
- Price: $16 (plus $2 tip)
- Address: #215 Street 13, Phnom Penh
Friends International is one of the poster children for successful social entrepreneurship in Cambodia. Through their nail spa, shop and restaurant they train and employ the most vulnerable children and give them skills and employment. The Nail Spa is in a small room next to the Friends ’N’ Stuff Shop. With only two nail technicians I couldn’t get an immediate appointment and was asked to come back in an hour. This left me just enough time for a short tuk tuk dash to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for a cocktail, where I discovered it was Happy Hour and everything was 50% off! I was in a sparkly mood by the time I came back to the nail bar so I chose a pretty silver glitter polish.
Tip: Look at the gorgeous recycled football wallets in the Friends Shop - they look just like shagreen, except no stingray had to die for them.
6. Phnom Penh Airport Plaza Premium Lounge Wellness Spa
- Treatment: Foot Massage
- Price: $20 (plus $2 tip)
- Address: Phnom Penh International Airport
Well, hello! I thought the challenge was finished until I walked through airport security and saw signs pointing to massage rooms. There’s nothing sweeter than an encore when you think the show is over. Sheryl Sandberg would have been proud - I leaned into that massage chair faster than you could say Boarding Gate 7 and let my feet feel the love for 30 minutes.
Tip: Business class travellers and members of reciprocal airport lounges get complimentary access, but anyone can use the lounge for $35 USD for 2 hours. (Massage price is additional)