So, what happens when you go to an Indonesian massage salon or spa for your first traditional massage? The procedure will vary from salon to salon. But in this article we help you avoid untoward surprises by explaining what you can typically expect when you visit a massage and spa establishment.
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THE RECEPTIONIST will offer you a menu showing the services offered and prices and will discuss with you what style of massage you want, including whether strong or soft, and the duration. He or she will then take your payment.
You will be given the key to a locker for your shoes, socks, and valuables, and provided with clean flip flops or slippers (often a bit small for Westerners).
You are then ushered to a massage area of booths separated by curtains with a mattress on the elevated floor. Some spas will have massage tables, but these are not typical.
It will be quiet with dimmed lighting and taped music of bamboo flutes and the gongs of a traditional Indonesian gamelan orchestra playing gently in the background.
The masseuse will give you a baggy pair of shorts to don. She will then leave while you change and lay on the mattress. There will be wall hooks for hanging your clothing.
This Zengardens Spa booths set-up in Medan is typical. Sometimes the separation between booths will only be a curtain. Hotel spas and bigger salons will usually have massage tables.
Your masseuse will return with towels and lotions and in her limited English probably ask “You like strong?”
Unless you are a long-time massage addict or have a very high pain threshold, you should MEMORISE these critical words – ‘Tidak, sedang aja’ (No, medium only) or even just“sedang”. (pronounced se-dung)
These invariably small young women are unbelievably strong. Their hands and elbows can hurt!
Be sure to tell of any of any prior injuries
Make a point of letting the masseuse know if you have any injuries to be avoided and point out any areas of your body you want excluded – for example arthritic fingers. Point to the tender bits and say “hati hati” (careful).
But remember that while the pressure, the kneading and the repetitive squeezing of a good massage may cause some pain, these are the very things which bring the relaxation and toning that the treatment is all about.
And if you are discomforted the masseuse usually will recognize this and soften her touch.
The masseuse also will ask whether you want oil, referring to her aromatic massage oils. Tell her yes please.
She will then begin by covering you with towels and then go through a process of slowly exerting slow pressure all over your body – back, shoulders arms, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Advertising handout for EKSA SPA located in one of Batam’s big shopping malls. The Singapore dollar price equates to about US$15.
Walking on your back and massaging with toes and feet
Before going further your masseuse will ask: “Step Mister/Miss?”
She is asking whether you want her to walk on your back and apply pressure while massaging your muscles with her feet and toes. There is a stainless-steel rail above to help her retain her balance and ensure she doesn’t press on your body too heavily.
Unless you have had a past injury or suffer from osteoporosis, you probably should say yes.
If this is a first for you, be prepared to be amazed as misaligned vertebrae crack into place. And at how your arms and legs and the rest of your body responds.
Then the massage proper begins, starting from your feet and legs. As each leg is completed it will be wrapped in a towel.
She will skilfully continue, using hands, fists and elbows to knead your body and then your arms and hands. From time to time, she may ask if ‘too strong?’.
Another important Indonesian word to remember
If her kneading and pressure hurts too much at any time the Indonesian word to yell is ‘SAKIT’ – it means pain or hurt. She will apologize and go softer.
Soon you might well be so relaxed you are almost snoring.
As she finishes each section of your body she will smack along the length of it with cupped hands making a clapping sound.
As she completes your arms and hands she will ‘crack’ your fingers, holding them with a towel and giving them a sudden tug.
Next, she will ask you to “up” or “duduk” (sit up) and she will sit behind you at the top of the mattress to work your shoulders and neck.
She will then ask whether you want “head massage”. Again, you should say yes.
She will place a pillow in her lap for your head and gently massage your scalp, temples, forehead, and around your eyes and nose. Enjoy the moment – it’s very relaxing.
Reflexology foot massages will almost always be one of the services offered in Indonesian massage salons. Pic Adrinai batam.tribunnews.com
Cracking your neck – should you say be saying yes or no?
As you approach the end of your massage , she will ask whether you would like “crack”.
For this manoeuvre she will hold your head in her hands, tell you to relax and give your head a quick twist first to one side and then the other.
You will feel and hear your neck crack. It doesn’t hurt but it’s a weird sensation.
It’s up to you as to whether you want to try this procedure. There is medical opinion that says you should decline, and many Western people do so.
Few reports of injury but much debate
Other opinions are that it is OK in the hands of a skilled person, like a trained chiropractor. But Indonesian masseurs and masseuses have been doing this for centuries apparently with few reports of their causing injury.
You can see the ways in which you might expect your head and neck area to be manipulated below in a the short video from Bali demonstrating Indian head massage.
However, your salon masseuse probably will not go through this full routine.
From there it's into the home stretch
The finale of your traditional massage will be stretching – arms, legs, feet. Then you will be asked to sit again. The masseuse will kneel behind you and ask you to interlock your fingers.
She will then lock her arms under and up through yours and vigorously stretch your body to the right and to the left. Next she will place her knees in your back and stretch your body back over them.
That’s it and by now, believe it or not, you should feel like a new person!
To top it off, some establishments will have showers, spa baths and scrubs as an extra for you to spoil yourself further after your massage. You will pay a little extra but not too much.
THE BIG PICTURE
If you spend any extended time in Indonesia, massages will likely become a routine part of your life. The low prices and the benefits can quickly be habit forming.
As with everything, there are good and inferior salons with better trained or poorly skilled masseurs and masseuses. Look for a salon that is well presented with obviously quality facilities
Expect to pay more (usually a lot more) in hotel spas or salons in high rent shopping malls. But even the higher prices will probably be cheap compared with what you would pay at home.
The massage salons can be very busy at weekends, so it is probably a good idea to book ahead where possible, or to be prepared to wait.
Usually the salons are not so busy on weekdays and often offer discounts for Mondays and Tuesdays.
For more about treating yourself to some pampering in Indonesia check out these articles: