For massage connoisseurs Phnom Penh can be a frustrating city due to the sheer number of venues and the inconsistent quality of therapeutic massages offered. Even spas with glitzy exteriors and glossy brochures can leave you feeling disappointed rather than rejuvenated. Others offer five-star pampering, rather than the careful, sometimes painful, probing and twisting that releases stress, reconnects you with your body and reminds you of yourself.
As soon as the first stone was laid on the nape of my neck, I knew my initial impressions of Angkor Spa were true: the tranquil ambience, the relaxed but professional staff, the ginger tea had all hinted that this was a spa for people in search of authentic massage.
First, I felt the stone’s pressure: a heavy weight on the tendons in the hollow between my cranium and spine. Within minutes the warmth began radiating through the towel draped over my back, like a slow embrace. This ripple-like feeling extended as the therapist carefully placed stones along my spine. After three I lost count, my mind opening to the warm pressure being applied.
More stones were placed on each side of my pelvic bone. This was the moment when the release of tension felt most intense.
At the same time, another therapist was massaging my legs using aromatherapy oils containing herbs from traditional Khmer medicine. She began at the soles of my feet, moving slowly up my calves and thighs to my buttocks, using her palms, thumbs and combinations of fingers in a way that felt both surprising and carefully choreographed. She alternated between pressure and caressing, vertical movements mixed with circular ones at varying speeds, gliding between muscles, tendons and bones. It was a bit like being tenderised. She was vigorous, ironing out every last knot of tension.
Before the stones hot compresses had been applied to my back and shoulders, with two therapists massaging through them. The heat sensation, along with the probing, was relaxing but compared to what followed it was merely preparation.
The stones were left on my back for about 30 minutes, I think. I lost track of time, as a gradual comfort replaced what had been an almost omnipresent stiffness in my lower back. I would not describe the massage as purely relaxing – at moments it was tough – but I did lose track of time.
When it finished I felt rejuvenated, and for some reason taller. I laid on the bed for a few moments breathing slowly, before taking up the invitation to shower in a private stall, where even the water pressure seemed to have been selected for me.
After leaving my room, there was one more treat: dessert – a flavourful and refreshing mix of tapioca, coconut and bean – along with fresh ginger tea. At Angkor Spa there is no rush to get you out, and every reason to return.