Whether you find yourself arguing with a xe om driver or the rooster outside your window won’t stop crowing, a spa day offers a rare chance for relaxation in the hectic Vietnamese capital. Elisabeth Rosen finds the best places for a few hours of tranquility: four spas, four different budgets, many different treatments. Photos by David Harris. Translation by Tran Phuong Dung

 

Stressed city dwellers, it’s time to relax. We’ve rounded up our favourite places for a few hours of tranquility, whether you’re on a budget or seeking more deluxe treatment.

 


 

The Budget

Huong Sen’s basic package

75 minutes, VND200,000

 

 

This deceptively no-frills joint is where locals head for an afternoon of pampering. Founded in the 1990s by traditional medicine doctor Tai Thu, it’s now a mini-empire boasting three locations in the capital. With regulars scrambling for spots in wooden barrels and masseurs who chat on their cell phones while pummelling your stomach, it’s hardly an oasis of calm. But the price can’t be beat, nor can the authentic vibe. Soak in a barrel of warm water infused with traditional Red Dao herbs, then drag yourself out to sip ginger tea in a Jacuzzi, followed by a session in a steam room perfumed with lemongrass, pomelo and lime leaves. After a vigorous Vietnamese massage, you’re nudged out the door with a light meal of chao, fruit and nuoc rau ma, a bracing, grassy drink brewed from an herb grown in nearby Thanh Hoa Province.

 

Huong Sen is at 78 Yen Phu, Long Bien, Tel: (04) 3927 1330; 49 Thai Thinh, Dong Da, Tel: (04) 3853 3798; and 68 An Duong, Tay Ho, Tel: (04) 3717 1999, huongsenmassage.vn. Reservations not necessary

 


 

The Essential

Santal Spa’s Vietnamese massage

60 minutes, VND750,000

 

 

For a more tranquil experience, head for a private room at Santal, where the treatment kicks off boiled chicken-style with a lime and salt footbath and ends with a hot shower. The trained masseurs are technically proficient, although their solicitousness can occasionally be overbearing: one recent masseur uttered “Are you OK?” more frequently than a Michael Jackson tribute singer belting out Smooth Criminal.

 

Santal has a distinct local flavour that sets it apart from more generic spas. Massages can be paired with exfoliating scrubs made from local ingredients like green tea, ginger and honey, and every session ends with a cup of sweet, spicy, Vietnamese cinnamon tea.

 

Santal Spa is at 112 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Tel: (04) 3718 4686, santalgroup.com. Reservations recommended

 


 

The Luxurious

JW Marriott’s aromatherapy massage at Spa by JW

60 minutes, VND1.3 million

 

 

Sure, you can find so-called ‘aromatherapy’ massages everywhere, but traditional acupressure techniques accompanied by Vietnamese essential oils set this spa apart from the crowd. Herbs grown in mountainous provinces are infused in oil to create heady aromas: the Detox is a soothing blend of lemongrass and ginger, while the Energising package blends rose, lavender and ginseng to wake up sluggish immune systems. If you like gentle pressure rather than contortionist twisting and prefer to precede your massage with a VND1 million lemon sugar body polish rather than a communal barrel soak, it’s worth the journey out to My Dinh.

 

JW Marriott is at 8 Do Duc Duc, My Dinh, Tel: (04) 3833 5588, marriott.com. Reservations required

 


 

The All-Natural

Zen Spa’s Five Elements: Earth package

180 minutes, VND2,650,000

 

 

At this West Lake spa, founder Lan Huong Nguyen draws on the herbal remedies she grew up using to help city dwellers de-stress from modern life. Organic plants from her garden just outside Hanoi provide ingredients for treatments like Metal, Wood and Earth, which kicks off with an exfoliating scrub made from freshly-ground Vietnamese coffee beans: the scent alone is enough to jolt you awake. Spend the next few hours sinking back into relaxation with a mud and honey treatment, a herbal flower bath and an Imperial Jade hot stone massage, which is supposed to improve circulation and melt away stress. Maybe it’s the stones, maybe it’s the bowl of pho ga that you get afterwards, but you’re likely to emerge filled with newfound content.

 

Zen Spa is at 100 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Tel: (04) 3719 9889, www.zenspa.com.vn. Reservations required

 

 

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