Review: Kaka Spa — Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
As far as I know Vietnam does not draw in huge numbers of tourists especially when compared with other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and to a lesser extent Cambodia. That doesn’t mean that people don’t visit Vietnam though. Millions undoubtedly do. For reasons that have never been totally clear to me most of the Westerners who visit Ho Chi Minh City end up staying around the touristy Bui Vien Street in District 1. Even though the city formerly known as Saigon is laid out well with visible street names and numbers, fully mapped out by Google, and probably much safer than many major cities in the US it seems that few people from the West are willing to venture outside of this area which abounds with more backpackers than local culture.
The result of this is that Bui Vien is lined mostly with shops targeting foreigners along with all manner of sellers and scammers working the street itself. Many of the businesses are honest enough even if they charge higher prices than they would if they were oriented to locals or stationed anywhere else in the city though some do engage in undesirable activities.
Many of the massage parlors on the street border on false advertisement by placing attractive young women in sexy outfits in the street to handout leaflets advertising their services. There is often a suggestion that more than just a rub down is available even if it’s not specifically stated. When customers arrive in the actual massage shops however they often find that they get nothing more than a mediocre back rub from an older lady. What’s worse is that the price for this brief rub is higher than those of both legitimate massage parlors and high end places offering happy endings around the city.
Just beyond the bounds of Bui Vien including right along the nearby and well known Pham Ngu Lao Street are several larger massage centers where women do usually go the extra mile. These places get their share of Westerners but most of the clientele seems to be made up of Asian businessmen and locals with money to burn.
Kaka Spa is one place located in the middle of things that doesn’t seem organized around ripping off visitors. The place is easy to find in theory but has probably the strangest entrance of any similar establishment around. The shop is located on an upper floor and there is a sign above the street though there is no properly marked entrance. Instead customers walk right through the middle of a restaurant and up a flight of nondescript stairs in the back which lead to a cozy little lobby. Most times there is a male tout in the street out front handing out brochures for the place and he leads customers inside. They take off their shoes at the staircase landing then enter.
Once inside customers are greeted by a woman at the counter, given a bottle of water and shown a price list for various types of massages. Customers looking for release usually opt for something like the aroma massage for 180,000 Dong ($8.50 USD). Payment for the massage is made up front. There only seem to be a few women in their 20’s on staff at Kaka. They are average to good looking for the area though some could be considering attractive or even very attractive if they were in other areas like the American Midwest. Customers aren’t offered a choice of masseuse instead getting whoever is next in line though those who specifically ask to select their own massage person normally can.
The massages take place on floors even higher than the reception area which of course means more flights of stairs need to be climbed by customers. The massages are given on sturdy massage tables in a large room with floor to ceiling curtains separating them. The traffic is fairly low and there is enough available space that customers probably wouldn’t run into each other or even overhear each other in most normal circumstances.
The massages themselves actually aren’t bad and things like aroma massages are done with fairly good quality aroma oils which is a big step up from some other places around which seem to use a mixture of rash causing vegetable oils and perfumes or something similar. The women who deliver the massages are generally kind and can speak some level of English even if they won’t be reciting Shakespeare in his native language anytime soon.
Clock watching doesn’t seem to be a part of the repertoire and so customers are more likely to get the amount of time they pay for than to be rushed which is another plus. After a good amount of regular massage of the back and front negotiations may be opened for the finish if customers are interested in that. While starting quotes can be as high as 500,000 Dong ($23 USD) for hand services customers in the know seem able to haggle this down to 300,000 or 400,000 most times. While many find haggling uncomfortable especially in the environments like a massage shop it is a normal activity in most of Vietnam. In some of the higher end massage spots based in hotels tips are not discussed and customers give what they’d like after the services have concluded though Kaka is a different kind of place.
Massages seem to end well for those who opt in for the soft touch conclusion with things generally not being as cold or mechanical as the need to discuss a tip may indicate. After things are done customers are free to towel off, get dressed and head down the stairs and out the day. For those who want to rinse off any oils before getting back out in the heat there is a clean full bathroom with shower, soap and shampoo located inside for customers to use on request.
In conclusion Kaka is a descent massage parlor. There are no glaring problems with the place which says a lot considering that it is located in the midst of operations designed to prey on unsuspecting foreigners. The services are good and the prices are not out of this world relative to the area. If it were located somewhere else I may look at it differently but taking it as it stands I give the place an average score of two-and-a-half stars.
Kaka Spa. 138 Bui Vien, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Open every day from noon to sometime at night.