Go on, you’re in Cambodia. You’ve got to have a massage. You can either have the traditional Khmer massage, which involves kneading and stroking various pressure points, or you can have an oil massage, which is basically like being rubbed all over with warm oil. There are others which apparently involve milk, which is quite impressive considering how hard it is to find a solitary glass of the stuff to drink, but I didn’t fancy smelling of cheese the next day so I went for the regular Khmer massage. It’s basically the same as the Thai one in Bangkok or the Vietnamese one in Saigon, I can happily report, although there are a few regional variations.
The three of us were ushered into a waiting room and were sat down and given a small perfumed towel like a wet wipe. As we sat there three Khmer girls came in bearing bowls of water and kneeling down before us, started washing our feet. This was all very pleasant, but then my girl took a large scrubbing brush and began vigorously scouring my insteps, which tickled. She patted my feet dry and beckoned me upstairs; I tiptoed along on my freshly pink soles. We were led into a dark room with soft lamps in the corners and mellow music playing in the background – a joss stick wafted coils of fragrant smoke into the air. I was told to undress except for my boxer shorts, and lay down on a mattress, the other two being assigned to mattresses on either side.
My girl approached me on hands and knees and began kneading my tingling insteps. Moving gradually northwards she pummelled the muscles in my legs, working the tension out of them. Occasionally she would pour oil over her hands which was redolent of some exotic spice, and would dab me with a towel when I became too slippery. She cracked my knuckles, rubbed my shoulders for a while and then grasped my ears firmly and waggled them back and forward, at which point I ruined the ambience completely by laughing out loud, which set off a chorus of sniggering from the other mattresses. I opened one eye to see a large white figure on the neighbouring mattress being manhandled by a tiny Khmer girl – she had bent his legs back over his head and seemed to be walking up and down on his back. She grabbed one of his legs and slapped it a bit, then hauled him up into the sitting position which led to a series of cracking noises like pistol shots. “Strewth, that bloody hurt!” he muttered.
My girl had been caressing my thighs for a while, which was rather nice, and then she paused, squatted at the end of the mattress and scratched herself thoroughly before seizing my left leg in both hands. Placing one foot on my hip she pulled my leg into the air at an alarming angle. It almost hurt, but not quite – she’d judge how far to pull and back it off slightly, and I felt the tension flood out of me. Finally, after being manipulated, kneaded, slapped and stroked for an hour, she motioned me to get up, which was when I discovered the adhesive qualities of the mattress – with a great tearing sound I unstuck myself, stood up and floated down the staircase to reception. The bill came to $5, and I left her a $2 tip for being so sweet, if slightly itchy. After heading into town for a drink we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel and I woke up 4 hours later smelling of coconut and vanilla with a soppy grin on my face. No happy endings, but it certainly chilled me out.