Blindly massaging

Hanoi, Vietnam

In Thailand blind traditional masseurs are not unusual. Now they’ve found their way to Hanoi.

Hanoi has a range of masseurs, they are overwhelmingly women. Many work in the ever-expanding Nha Nhnis, guest houses with rooms rented by the hour and offer men a massage-plus.

Women go for the regular deal in one of the spas or beauty parlours that are now all over neighbourhoods in Hanoi. The masseurs are OK, but I am looking for more traditional forms, as in Thailand. My friends suggest a blind massage practice near their office.

A friend takes me there, off Ngoc Khanh street in Ba Dinh, now Hanoi’s diplomatic quarter. It’s a plain double story building, unadorned cement and tile inside and – at 10 am pretty quiet. Hahn welcomes me whilst my friend Nam Huong explains, in Vietnamese, the kinks in my neck and the missing bits of my lower back. I couldn’t go into such physical detail with my basic Vietnamese.

Upstairs there are basic, screened off rooms; Vietnamese women often bring their own pyjamas to wear (in Thailand you’d be given a laundered pair). The massage is rougher around the edges than what I’m used to in the best places in Thailand, where massage’s elevation to a temple art, experienced practice and a demanding middle class have refined approaches, techniques and reading the body rather than following a learnt technique.
The young blind masseur has the basics in hand, so to speak, and the style here has echoes of that in Thailand, a mix of acupressure, muscle pressure/squeezing and stretches. He also uses a local balm and a wobbly heat lamp when massaging my back.

From next door I hear the constant beating of wood on a bell. the masseurs tell me its a private house where buddhist blessings are given to young couples seeking the right marriage partner.

At night the centre is more than a workplace as the young masseurs, mostly from the countryside, cook, eat, sing and play guitar together in between massage gigs. It is great young, blind people are practising a trade here; my friends tell me its still hard for the blind to be accepted more widely into other occupations.

Worth a try. But take Vietnamese friends with you the first time. I’m working out how to give some useful feedback through my friends. Prices are ridiculously low – less than two Australian dollars for an hour’s massage. So, as its an institution which supports the blind through skills training I’d make a much larger donation each time.

How to find it: Tam Quat cua Nguoi Mu (Massage by the Blind) is in in Ngo (Alley) 94 off Ngoc Khanh Street in Ba Dinh, on the same side as, and about 100 metres west of the Ngoc Khanh hotel.

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