A Tale of Two Massages

Walking most streets in Bali you are ambushed on all sides by the colour and the chaos that surrounds you. During a stroll in Legian and whilst doing our best not to fall off the dodgy pavements and get hit by the magically appearing mopeds, our ears were accosted with the cries of “DVDs!” “Fish pedicures!” and “Look at my shop!” One cry caught my attention especially, “Come for massage!” This is a story of two massages. Well, it turned into about four massages in the end, but it is the difference between two particular massages that I wish to highlight.

There are many activities in Bali that can be described as perilous, and as we learned massage is one of them. I was travelling with my brother on this occasion and we both believe in the benefits of massage, him from a sports injury perspective and me from an office job perspective.

The first massage

When a gaggle of Balinese women accosted us in the street that day we thought, why not? We were led into a room containing two wooden tables covered with rather forlorn-looking sarongs and a curtain shielding us from the street. With a series of smiles and hand gestures we were instructed to strip off and lie on the tables and that was the end of communications. It was a pretty grim setting and it doesn’t get much more awkward than lying topless on a table next to your brother, or so I thought until the massage started.

Within ten minutes of being climbed over, mounted, jabbed in the back and poked in the soles of our feet while the two girls chatted to each other, we realised that perhaps we had made a mistake. After what seemed like an eternity we, in true British fashion, smiled and thanked our torturers as we paid for their ‘service’ and staggered away to recover.

This was more than enough culture for my brother who outright refused to have another massage for the duration of the trip. I on the other hand believed there was better out there.

The second massage

I gave the smiling ladies a wide swerve the next time I was out shopping and casually eyed a few other options, trying to appear uninterested, and found a place that appealed. Having been on my feet most of the morning in the tropical heat a foot massage appealed enough to erase my previous massage’s memory. Despite my being hot and sweaty as I entered, and no doubt my feet being truly disgusting Ana who greeted me seemed delighted to see me and immediately installed me in the most comfortable chair I have ever sat on.

With my feet in her hands I felt I had made a good decision. We talked in broken English and Ana taught me some Indonesian words. I loved hearing her stories about her work, her children and her life in Bali. She spoke so genuinely that I felt privileged she would speak so freely to me. My feet felt (and smelt) better afterwards too!

I revisited Ana twice more during our visit for a back massage and a hot stone massage and felt really glad to have given Balinese massage another chance. I dived into my massage experiences, aware that the practice of massage in Asia is different from that of the rest of the world, but was still shocked at how awful the first experience was.

I would never advocate judging a book by its cover because that is the quickest way to miss out on some of the most amazing and authentic experiences you can have travelling. Objects make little difference to experiences but the people involved have an enormous impact.

So my advice on finding the perfect massage in Bali? Trust your instinct and possibly, don’t give up!


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