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Saigon - The City Spas

 

Worn out by the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City? The city's new urban spas promise to take you out of this world.

If you're on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Tokyo or Osaka, the plane is probably full. Observe your fellow passengers and you'll note that, along with the usual crowd of businessmen in suits, there are scores of Japanese women toting overstuffed carry-on bags. Thanks to Japanese press reports about Ho Chi Minh City's great shopping bargains, the city has become a hot destination for young Japanese women eager to shop, sightsee and relax.

Relax in Ho Chi Minh City? While the city may seem anything but peaceful, some local entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in the chaos. They reasoned that after a hard day of shopping and touring, visitors were in desperate need of rejuvenation. What was missing was a spa.


Women only

With its high ceilings, polished wood trim and glittering chandelier, the front room of the Saigon Spa resembles the lobby of a swank boutique hotel. Upon entering, guests are met by young women in Chinese-style cotton blouses and skirts, who usher them into an airy waiting room where they are served cups of scented herbal tea that is said to stimulate blood circulation. From there, customers can proceed to the herbal saunas, a Jacuzzi strewn with rose petals, or various screened massage rooms. The place smells divine.

"We use more than 10 kinds of fresh herbs in the Jacuzzi that we buy from the market," says Miyuki Wada, Saigon Spa's manager. "The Japanese boss went to s traditional sauna in Cambodia and was inspired to operate in this way."

Customers can choose to be massaged with ginger oil or lemongrass, have themselves slathered in Deal Sea mud, or coated in fresh papaya pulp. Many customers - 80 percent of whom are Japanese - opt for the works the Blissful Day package takes six hours, costs US$110, and involves a shower and herbal steam bath, a body scrub, a Dead Sea mud wrap, an aromatherapy massage, a dip in the b=herbal spa, a collagen facial treatment, a manicure and pedicure, foot reflexology, a paraffin hand treatment and a snack.

Catering only to women, this Japanese-Vietnamese joint venture opened in February 2002.

Secret Garden

Spa Tropic opened a month later, in March 2002. Run by Thuy Do, a Vietnamese-American woman, this spa is both smaller and more low-key than the Saigon Spa. Set in an old French villa down a small lane off busy Hai Ba Trung Street, it feels like a well-kept secret. "It's a nice surprise for people who do find it," says Ms. Thuy. International expats and Japanese tourists comprise most of the clientele.

With its white alls and simple furnishings, Spa Tropic has a spare, Zen-like vibe, complete with a tint Japanese-style garden. "I chose a villa to give it character and make it distinctly Vietnamese", says Ms. Thuy. "I wanted a fresh, contemporary and clean look."

Customers don loose clothes and lie on futons on the floor for their massages, choosing between deep-tissue Swedish massage and a more vigorous style of Thai - inspired Shiatsu. An hour-long massage costs US$22.

All of the aromatherapy and massage oils are imported, although Ms. Thuy plans to incorporate some traditional Vietnamese medicinal plants into her treatments. One new body scrub employs powdered rau ma - a herb typically steeped to make a cooling drink - mixed with soy milk to cool, soothe and exfoliate the skin. This scrub is followed by a light massage with lemongrass and kafir-lime oils.


Beauty Cures

The newest beauty spot in town is Qi Saigon, a large spa near the airport that uses products from the Label Qi, an offshoot of the Japanese cosmetics firm Shiseido. "It's the same company but more luxurious," explains manager Mai Thu Phuong. Ms. Phuong estimates that 70 percent of Qi's customers are Japanese.

With 100 staff and separate floors for men and women, Qi Saigon is the city's biggest spa. The ground floor features a hair salon while the top floor houses a bar. In contrast to the old-fashioned Asian vibe of its competitors, Qi is sleekly modern. Pale pink decor, curved walls, glass blocks, mirrors and polished chrome equipment give customers the sense that they're patients in an upscale medical clinic.

The emphasis here is on skin treatments. Along with massages, Qi offers facial treatments said to reduce the effects of aging, whiten the skin, and reduce acne. Hour-long facials cost US$33 to US$63.

While Japanese visitors and expats now account for most of these spa's customers, it's only a matter of time before this trend catches on among stressed-out Vietnamese urbanites. "High-income Vietnamese are exploring different options, but many still focus on beauty instead of health and relaxation", reports Ms. Thuy of Saigon Tropic. As the pressures of urban life continue to take their toll, it's not just tired tourists who'll be willing to splurge on spa treatments. After all, a few blissful hours of being pampered can feel like a mini vacation.

 

 

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