Now preparing to bid Vientiane farewell, we try to save money by buying tickets direct from the bus station rather than the hotel. We hire bikes and pedal 8kms to the station, only to learn that the price is actually the same. In an effort to salvage the day, we ride off in search of a massage parlour, hoping someone can rub the embarrassment right out of us. Despite having an address and vague directions, we get hopelessly lost and settle for a random spa that we’ve just stumbled across.
We enjoy a stifling herbal sauna in the rear of some man’s home, and then are called individually for the massage component of the evening. Aristo goes first, while I endure total sensory deprivation in the pitch-black sauna. Eventually, I get my knock and make my way out in the light, passing Aristo in the process, who looks at me with wide eyed fear and mouths something that looks puzzlingly like “foreskin”.
Before I know much what to expect, I’m in the next room with our nice Asian host—a Japanese man, as it were. I make a move to lie on the table, which looks suspiciously picnic-like, but I don’t even make it horizontal before I have my swim bottoms ripped off.
Now I’m lying on the table, taking off my top as per instruction, and I’m getting some sort of exfoliating leg massage. The next hour is a blur of shower gel and foaming cleansers and, yes, loofahs.
I can now definitively confirm that Aristo did indeed whisper what I thought he whispered. This man spares no crease in his “massage”. Intermittently, I get warm water thrown over me to wash off the soap— a pleasant, albeit shocking, surprise.
By the end of the massage, it seems ridiculous to assume any sort of modesty, considering I may as well have just gotten a gynaecological exam on his dinner table, so I stand and shake his hand, praying that it is neither Laotian nor Japanese custom to hug.