Massage is everywhere in Indonesia. People have an almost religious faith that it can cure just about anything. If this resonates for you then your visit to Indonesia will be a trip to massage heaven. And you will be blown away at how little it costs.
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THEY CALL it Pijat and Indonesians turn to massage for everything from aches and pains to colds, fevers, and even potentially serious illnesses.
But you don’t need ailments or to believe in extraordinary curative powers to know how calm and relaxed a good massage can make you feel.
For many Westerners this kind of pampering is expensive – an out-of-reach luxury. But in Indonesia it’s a different story – good professional massages are CHEAP.
Indonesian massage culture has along history
Indonesia’s massage culture goes back a long way. The famous Borabudur Buddhist temple built near Jogjakarta in the 8th and 9th century has stone reliefs depicting massage.
Today every city, town, village, and community has massage salons and/or local massage specialists just a phone call away.
Bigger hotels have in-house spa and massage centres for guests. A spa and massage menu will be part of the guest information package in your room, along with the room service food menus.
When children awaken unwell or frightened in the night, Indonesian mothers will gently massage them into restfulness and sleep.
There also are masseuses who specialize in massaging restless or unwell infants, mothers-to-be, mothers who have recently given birth and women with menstrual pain.
Then and now – an old picture (TOP) of a kampung massage of yesteryear (Pic Lichtbeelden Institute – Wiki Commons) and a woman luxuriating in a contemporary traditional massage in Jakarta – Pic indoindians.com
Skills handed down over the generations
In town and city massage salons it is mainly women who give the body massages while it is usually young men who give ‘reflexology’ foot massages.
In the kampungs (villages) masseuses will be mainly older women and sometimes men who are highly regarded for knowledge and healing powers, handed down over generations. They take their vocation very seriously and most are skilled in identifying and treating physical ailments.
Many of those working in the salons use skills and techniques handed down from mothers and grandmothers.
But most staff in the bigger and better salons, have trained at a specialist massage training school or completed an in-house training program.
Some of Indonesia’s specialist massage schools have achieved international recognition, especially in Bali, a major centre for massage, yoga, spa treatments, meditation and other forms of traditional healing and wellness..
Here’s a short promotional video by one of the massage and spa schools based in Bali. Clearly they take their profession and cultivating expertise very seriously.
So how much do massages cost in Indonesia?
Massage treatments in Indonesia are very inexpensive – a professional massage in a good salon in most cities will probably cost you around Rp150,000 (AUD$15) for one hour or Rp180,000 to Rp200,000 (AUD$18 to $20) for an hour and a half.
A one-hour reflexology foot massage session will probably cost about Rp70,000. It’s customary for visitors to give the masseur or masseuse a tip of Rp10,000 – 20,000. (But there is no rule against being more generous.)
If you are in tourist hot spots like Bali or attend a hotel or up-market spa centre you can expect to pay ‘Western rates’ – double, or triple or even more compared to prices elsewhere in Indonesia.
The surroundings, facilities and setting may be plush, but the benefits of the massage will be much the same.
If you are in a small town or village and call in the local masseuse or masseur expect to pay Rp50,000 to Rp100,000 (AUD$5-10) – and there will likely be no time-limit. The massage will end when it’s done. typically a couple of hours.
This massage/spa at the Fairmont Hotel in Jakarta offers a couples package of two hours for around AUD$200 – expensive for Indonesia but probably a steal in your home country. Pic indoindians.com.
A little further up-market – a two-hour couples package at Hotel Indonesia Kepinski will cost you closer to AUD$400. Pic- indoindians.com
The main styles of massage in Indonesia
Indonesian massage salons offer a range of services, and the receptionist will probably offer you a written menu showing the prices.
The basic items are:
- Indonesian traditional massage (an hour or an hour and a half),
- Thai massage (an hour or an hour and a half), and
- Reflexology – foot massage (a half hour or an hour).
But the menu also may include aroma therapy, Japanese Shiatsu massage, hot stone massage, Swedish massage, and French massage.
(And yes, there also are places in Jakarta and Bali, and perhaps elsewhere, offering ‘Snake massages.’ The idea is that having non-venomous pythons crawl over you is somehow therapeutic. Can’t tell you more – Haven’t been there. Just not my thing.)
Reflexology foot and leg massage is popular in Indonesia and inexpensive Pic- beautyinside.my
Massage salons often offer the option of a ‘four hands’ massage where one masseuse will start at your feet and another from your upper body.
Maybe OK if you are in a hurry, but then that really defeats the point of a RELAXING massage, doesn’t it?
The traditional Indonesian massage is most popular. It is excellent, and the masseuses usually are very skilled.
Reflexology is also popular – the masseur works pressure points in your feet and legs with strong thumbs and fingers to improve circulation and theoretically improve the health of various internal body organs.
The contortions required in the Thai and Japanese Shiatsu styles perhaps make them best suited to the very flexible … or the masochistic.
Whatever treatment you choose, you can expect to suffer some pain. If you wince and yell “sakit” (it means pain, sick or sore) the masseuse will quickly apologize and reduce the intensity.
But you can expect also that your masseuse will work and re-work your sore bits.
The good masseurs and masseuses have a knack for finding the muscle spasms or other parts of you that NEED the most attention.
At the end of it all your whole body (or your feet and legs if reflexology) will feel much better, though there may be some muscle soreness for a while if you are not too fit or well toned.
It’s a small price to pay.
Kerokan - Coin massage and ‘masuk angin’
Sometimes you will see Indonesians, including children, with awful red tiger-stripe welts across their back, as though they have been mercilessly whipped.
Don’t be alarmed. They have simply undergone a traditional coin massage folk medicine treatment called KEROKAN. Its purpose is to relieve a generic Indonesian catch-all ailment called masuk angin (meaning wind enters or comes in [to the body]) which they will refer to in English as being ‘windy’.
Indonesians, and other Asians, widely believe that if people are feeling poorly, have aches and pains, or pick up a cold it must be due to an ill-wind entering their body.
No, the whelts are not from a thrashing with a cat-of-nine-tails. They are from KEROKAN, the Indonesian coin massage – Pic see Indonesian Icons – jakartapost.com/culture
We shouldn’t scoff too much. Until pioneer medical researchers linked microbes and viruses to sickness – not so many generations ago – our forbears blamed ‘vapors’ for our illnesses.
Indonesians will go to unusual lengths to keep the ill winds at bay. Like wearing jackets back to front when riding motorcycles, or closing all the windows when traveling in buses, even those without air-conditioning.
Treatment with oil and a coin or a spoon
The Kerokan massage involves a friend, a partner, or a mother applying some oil and then rubbing the edge of a coin or spoon across the patient’s back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and stomach. Though it looks painful, apparently it doesn’t hurt too much if done properly.
The rubbing raises lines of small blood blisters just below the skin. The idea is that disturbing the skin allows the bad wind to escape.
Sometimes the area also will be rubbed with Tiger Balm camphor ointment and the patient administered paracetamol. The markings gradually disappear after a few days.
There is much argument about the efficacy of the treatment, but it is widely practised in many other countries around Southeast Asia. It is said to have originated in China.
Sensual massage and sexual services
The regular massage salons to be found around the towns, cities and shopping centres of Indonesia are NOT about sensual massage or sexual services.
If you ask a masseuse for these services in regular massage salons, then you are being offensive. If you are seeking such services, then you should check when making your appointment as to whether or not they are offered.
You will avoid embarrassment for yourself and massage staff if you make a point of checking up front.
There ARE massage or spa establishments in most cities where sensual services are available, some of them with good facilities and sometimes located in high end hotels.
Ask tour guides, the concierge or other hotel staff where you can obtain the services you want. There is also information on the Internet regarding these services in bigger cities like Jakarta.
THE BIG PICTURE
Regular visitors to Bali are familiar with the massage and spa culture for which it has become famous – from massages on a beach on a towel to elaborate, and often beautiful, spa settings.
It is all a part of the spiritual vibe that the predominantly Hindu people of Bali seek to present.
It comes with meditation, yoga, consciousness, and ideas of self-discovery and transformation that appeal to many Western people caught up in the ‘rat race’ of modern living.
What many do not realize is that the massage and spa culture extends throughout Indonesia far beyond Bali. But with a more practical emphasis as part of daily living right down to village and household.
For the broader population of Indonesia massage is a routine part of wellness – being healthy, curing aches and pains, restoring balance, and easing stress. And because it is everywhere it is inexpensive.
There are quality salons with skilled staff in abundance. It all means visitors to Indonesia can luxuriate in ways that might be beyond their budgets at home.
If you are still feeling a little shy or uncertain, then learn more in these related articles: