SPAS and massage are the words for health and relaxation and in South-East Asia locals and people on holiday from throughout the world take advantage of this time-honoured tradition.
Cambodia follows that tradition throughout the country from the city of Phnom Penh to the resorts of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.
The types of massage, where you can get them, and how much they cost, vary across the city and country.
Whether you want traditional Khmer massage or the Thai or Japanese styles; whether you want a small local massage parlour in the side streets of the city or those that are more exotic, expensive or in the top hotels for foreign visitors, one thing is certain – you can find something to meet your needs.
But the simple massage parlour has also evolved into several highly refined total experiences which include spas, saunas, jacuzzis, beauty treatments and many salon services.
From aromatherapy to facials and body scrubbing the range of services, especially in the boutique spas, has become popular and extensive.
Prices vary, service varies and locations can be in beautifully appointed centres, in small back rooms or on the beaches.
Amara Spa has four levels of therapeutic treatments ranging from body scrubs to steam rooms while Phnom Penh-based Aziadee also carries out Indian and Egyptian massage and the ChamPei Spa combines its boutique spa with a hair salon and traditional Khmer, herbal, aroma, Swedish and oil massage.
Islands Massage is one of the longest established shops in Phnom Penh having operated with traditional Khmer massage and foot massage for more than 10 years while Sawasdee Massage has massage styles and types including Thai, French and Japanese, reflexology and spa services.
There are many dozen spa and massage centres all offering their own special service and treatment but one has created a special niche outside the city in Siem Reap. Bodia Spa and has gone on to diversify into making its own beautifying and healing products from truly Cambodian ingredients and oils and expanded into Phnom Penh.
Bodia Spa is well known by tourists and locals with a fine reputation for its deluxe massage and beauty salon that calmly crowns Pub Street in Siem Reap. The spa opened three years ago, with a second one opening soon afterwards in the top-end Heritage Suites Hotel.
This year it moved into Phnom Penh with a third outlet and from the spa, the idea came to create a dedicated line of products . Bodia Nature was born out of Bodia Spa and started out with imports of oils and creams from Thailand.
That approach changed two years ago, when the decision was made to go local and ensure that as many of the ingredients as possible were completely natural and completely Cambodian.
“I felt it was just too sad that everything was made in Thailand”, says the director of Bodia Nature, Antoine Bancel, “especially when all of the ingredients – and all of the knowledge – are already here in Cambodia”.
And so they went to work researching different remedies at the Cambodian Ministry for Traditional Medicines, checking processes and known information through other organisations such as Pierre Fabre Laboratories and The Pasteur Institute
“We inspired our recipes from proven scientific fact but even if it’s not really proven we know that it comes from the traditional medicines. We don’t claim that these products are medicines but they do have properties that can affect your body and your mind,” said Bancel.
The result is a range that draws on ingredients from all over the country, from Kampot pepper to Ratanakiri coffee, honey from Mondulkiri, sea salt from Kep, and galangal, ginger, cinnamon, jasmine rice, and eucalyptus as well as all the ingredients above from all over the country
The beauty products include soaps, herbal compresses and balms, bath salts, facial and body scrubs, massage oils, essential oils, candles, oil burners and incense.
And there are some surprises among them, such as Kampot pepper essential oil, reputed to have aphrodisiac and stomach-calming qualities – plus the jasmine rice body scrub.
The products are made in Siem Reap, and a distillery there extracts the essential oils from the plants that are at the heart of many of them.
Ginger features strongly in many of the products and has an impressive list of remedial properties.
“We need to start producing things from here, beyond rice and cement, that employ Cambodian people and Cambodian knowledge”, says Bancel.
“These products are about giving back that sense of wonder that you get when you first arrive in Cambodia.”
So kaffir lime, lemongrass, coconut, black pepper, ginger and lotus could well be the ingredients for a rather delicious Khmer soup.
However,Bodia Nature prefers to concentrate on the beautifying and healing capacities of these ingredients, and many more.