Vietnam is well known among tourists for massages. Across the country, there are a plethora of places where anyone can get a decent priced massage to their liking. But one type of massage service goes a little beyond 'Just a Massage' and takes us to a whole new world of the true spirit of the Vietnamese culture and community.
For decades, blind massage businesses have been operating across the country. They employ mostly vision-impaired people as massage therapists. These charities and businesses do wonderful things to help visually-impaired people develop skills.
Although it has been many years since I first experienced the pleasure and inspiration of the Blind Massage Association on Cong Quynh Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, my experience has taken me far and wide.
Blind massage spas can be found in almost every province in Vietnam. A little online search or asking your hotel will quickly locate one in any major center throughout the country.
Whilst all blind massage venues have their own unique heritage, there are two basic types of centers that usually stem from the same source. During Vietnam’s development, people realized that blind children were not being given enough opportunities because of the lack of services available to cater for their needs. This is where the idea of blind massage began.
Community leaders, religious groups, and caring supporters came together to open blind associations across the country. These nonprofit organizations gave opportunities for young visually-impaired people to learn skills and become an active member of the community. And one of the skills they found that these young people had natural abilities in was massage.
Caring and skilled massage practitioners took these young people and taught them the skills of massage. Buildings and businesses were set up to allow the young people a place to practice their skills and earn an income. Quickly, they became an icon of the spirit of this country with their commitment and tenacity to learn and be the best at what they do.
Recently, I took the time to visit a blind massage business not far from my home in Ho Chi Minh City. The business has been there for over 10 years and it has been many years since I last visited the spa. But my interest in them took me back and I wanted to learn more about their inspiring stories.
At the business, Massage Người Mù Kỳ Quang Minh, I met Miss Huong. She has been blind since birth and is in her mid-20’s. Unlike most of the staff at this business, Huong was taught by others back in her hometown in the central region of Vietnam.
Most of the staff in the Go Vap spa are trained by the business. They are brought from rural and regional areas where they were unable to obtain specialist education, and experience a full-time training course, first in a pagoda and later at the business. They receive all their training and support for free, by skilled teachers, to get them to the level of a professional massage therapist.
As they begin their career at the spa, and many similar spas across the country, they are able to develop an independent life outside of the business. Huong lives in Hoc Mon District, about 20km from the spa, and travels to work every day by xe om (motorbike taxi). Even the xe om drivers support these amazing people by often giving them free travel to support their development and career.
Huong tells me that she is paid a monthly salary by the business and any tips given to her by a customer is hers to keep. She has no requirement to share it or split it with the business. This gives her the motivation to deliver the best service to every customer.
Importantly, tips given by customers are very much cultural here in Vietnam. Salaries of the working class, generally, are rather low, so a tip is an important part of their survival. This is even more so for the amazingly skilled blind massage therapists. Personally, I don’t work by any general rule when tipping but for a massage in these businesses, I would not go below VND100,000 (US$5). To a tourist, it is not much but to them it feeds them and their family, so be generous because you will make a life better by giving a little more.
Whilst the days vary, with weekends being much more popular, Huong may have four or five customers a day. Between customers, she has a room set up where she gets together with her colleagues. They talk and spend time together which she says “makes the job more fun.”
Although Huong spoke no English, and my Vietnamese is basic at best, from the moment I met this young lady I could see, and feel, a confidence and pride in every bit of her being. She was dressed perfectly in her uniform, her hair perfectly prepared. She knew where everything was that she needed and she walked tall knowing that her customers appreciate the work that she does.
She prepared the table for me, and I laid face down. With laser-like precision, she started the massage, making sure each section of my back was accurately and expertly manipulated. She used her hands to understand my needs and concerns, even pointing out that I have something on my arm and I should visit the doctor to get it checked.
This hour with Huong was more than a massage. Sure, her service was excellent and, due to my over commitment of marathons and ultra-marathons, I appreciated every second of effort she gave to restore my muscles and bones to running condition. This hour with Miss Huong was a moment shared with a person that inspired me to give a little extra. She inspired me not to let my challenges control me, but I control my challenges. She showed me the art of not giving up and she definitely showed me what it means to give 200 percent to everything I do.
I left my massage with a bit less pain in my body and a whole lot more love and energy in my heart. You just won’t know that feeling until you experience it for yourself. Have a break, relax, and enjoy a blind massage somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City or across Vietnam.
Whilst there are many of these services across the country in places like Vung Tau, Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hue, Dong Hoi, and Hanoi, just to name a few, some of the businesses and charity organizations in Ho Chi Minh City include Massage Khiếm Thị Tiến Phát, Matxa Khiếm Thị – Xe Bus Yêu Thương, Massage Khiếm Thị Hoàng Triều and Massage Khiếm Thị Nhật Hảo, but there are many more so a search online will help you discover one close to your home or hotel. Of course, my favorite is my local spa and I really have a soft spot for the amazing Miss Huong.
Having had the experience of poor and good service as spas in Vietnam over the past decade, I highly recommend you consider a blind massage spa as your next place to visit anywhere in Vietnam. They are usually cheaper than the big commercial businesses, they will not try to overcharge, they will not try to sell you additional services during your massage, they are safe and they pride themselves on delivering the best they can for their customer. I always walk away from a blind massage service feeling better in my heart and body.