“Massage? You want massage?” She called out to my fiancé Michael and I from her perch on the steps outside her salon, giving me the once over as she monotonously ran through the words.
“No thanks,” I quickly mumbled, barely breaking my stride as I continued past.
At the salon next door, another lady looked languidly at me from her seat. “Yes, massage?” she entreated, peering up at me from within an arm’s reach.
I shook my head, walking single file ahead of Michael down the narrow footpath.
“Massage!” she called out to Michael, grabbing his hand and trying to yank him into her store.
Grr.. Get the hint lady. And keep your hands off my fiancé, please.
Beauty salons run amok in Bali, and as a tourist, being asked if you’re interested in a massage/manicure/pedicure or other beauty treatment is as commonplace as seeing someone wearing a Bintang singlet down the street. Salon ladies (and occasionally men) prepositioning you for their services seem to have an uncanny ability to sense you coming from a few meters away, as the words “massage” automatically leave their lips as soon as you walk past.
Michael and I were keen to get massages throughout our stay in Bali, trying out a number of lower-end parlors and splurging on our last day. In Bali, two types of massage are typically offered – Balinese and stone massages. Balinese massage techniques are a blend of Swedish and Thai massage styles – Swedish due to their use of oil and long, gliding strokes, and Thai thanks to the emphasis on pulling and cracking the joints.
Starting prices for one-hour Balinese massage is from about 50,000 rupiahs, while a one-hour stone massage is from about 80,000 rupiah – although, of course, prices vary depending on how posh the salon is. A sign outlining a salon’s services and prices are typically lit up outside the store, while brochures are also available.
Balinese massages may vary slightly depending on the salon you go to, but typically you enter a section cordoned off with curtains with either one or two beds (depending of course if you are getting a massage with your partner), where you strip down into to your underwear.
Lying face down on the massage table/bed, the emphasis starts with long strokes on your back – for those who like hard, let-me-beat-you-up massages though, you may be disappointed – the massages are more relaxing than the deep tissue kind. You then get your shoulders and limbs kneaded before they turn you over and focus again on your limbs, fingers, toes, head, and face.
The only major difference I found was with a) one massage parlor not wiping the oil off me afterward and b) one salon massaging my stomach (making me feel rather queasy as I’d made the not-so-wise decision to just gobble up a massive dinner of fresh juice, steamed vegetables and nasi goreng topped with prawn crackers).
Meanwhile, stone massages are just that – hot stones are applied to your limbs, back and stomach, with the aim of relaxation and improving circulation. The stones are used to massage you then lined up in these sections one at a time, so that you have a line of hot stones placed on your legs at one point, which stay there for a couple of minutes before they are transferred to another part of your body.
For ladies wanting more pampering, you can also try and bargain to have a cheaper overall price if you want to also have a pedicure, manicure, or other treatment. Walking past a restaurant next to my hotel one day, a lady offered to give me a manicure and foot scrub/pedicure for the bargain price of 30,000 rupiahs and 40,000 respectively (about US$3.75 and US$5). Given that this was half the price of the salon I had been considering a few blocks away, I promptly said yes, although I was puzzled by the fact that there was no salon in sight.
She nodded at me to follow her, turned on her heel, and entered a little alcove within to the restaurant, up two flights of stairs and past a row of ramshackle doors that looked like they had seen better days. It turned out that this was a cheap hotel, with rooms hovering around US$20 per night (due to no hot water and basic amenities). Going into one of the rooms, it turned out this was the lady’s salon – she and a couple of other ladies worked here, providing simple beds, pillows and curtains for massages and modest seats and washtubs for manicures and pedicures amid the peeling paint on the walls and ceiling. Here my feet were freshly scrubbed, moisturized, and painted hot pink with little flowers dotted on with toothpicks, while my hands were similarly smooth and pampered. Although my salon surroundings weren’t glamorous I left feeling relaxed and refreshed.
The lady who pampered me, Ita, spoke little English and I didn’t speak Indonesian or Balinese, but with gestures, smiles and small talk, we got along swimmingly. I learned that Ita was 23 years old and was brought up in a village not too far away from Kuta. She had come to Kuta to earn an income, leaving behind most of her family and her boyfriend, who tried to come and visit her once a month. She lived with her brother in a small, one-bedroom apartment that included a kitchenette – but the toilet was a communal one with everyone else living on the same floor. For this, they paid 500,000 rupiahs per month (about US$62.50) – money trivial by Western standards but certainly not to the same level of comfort that we’d expect.
On our last day in Bali, en route to the airport, Michael and I went to Green Garden, a hotel that also doubles up as a spa, in South Kuta. Finding their brochure at the airport when we first arrived, Michael recalled that he had been to the spa on a previous trip. The spa has also been featured in a number of guidebooks and has been rated very positively.
We were indulging in a three-hour treatment that included a foot scrub, a 1.5-hour massage (Balinese for Michael, stone for me), a mini facial, body scrub and bath/shower. The experience started off with us being picked up by Green Garden staff and whisked to their hotel, where we were greeted with pineapple juice and selected what oils and scrubs we wanted to be used during the massage and facial/body scrubs. Our surroundings all illustrated a picture of bliss – here we saw a water feature of a nude couple forever looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, pots of water framed with fresh frangipani petals floating in them, a picturesque pool and manicured gardens, as well as soft calming music playing throughout the premises.
After choosing our treatments, Michael and I were guided to a private room enclosed in a bamboo face, which had natural light and fresh air seeping through. Rather than curtains, shells hung from the ceiling, while a mini tropical garden with smooth white pebbles lined one wall, next to the bathtub.
Once the three-hour indulgence was over, we were treated to a three-tiered glass of fresh pineapple, melon and papaya, and honey/lemon tea. Gliding back to the hotel’s restaurant afterward, my feet barely touched the ground as I had my last Indonesian dinner, topped with banana fritters and a banana split for dessert. Pure. Bliss.