Review: Thien Phu — Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Thien Phu is a barber shop set up offering special massages in the capital city of Vietnam. Thien Phu is located on Nguyen Phi Khanh street in District 1 and would be easy to miss for anyone not knowing what to look for. The street itself looks almost empty and the doors to many places are actually pushed back from the street so that customers have to walk in from the street before they even get to the front. Thien Phu is the first hot toc on the left when entering the street from the intersection with Dinh Tien Hoang.
There is some signage out front that indicates that the place is a barbershop and also includes the name though it doesn’t necessarily stand out. There is also usually a security guard either sitting out front or further in near the door who opens the way for any customers coming in.
Once inside customers are confronted with a rather large space containing a desk and a series of couches and chairs. The women on staff spend their time in their chairs chatting and playing with their phones as they wait for customers to arrive. There are anywhere from a dozen to two dozen women working at any time and they range in looks though most would probably be described as attractive by most men. The uniform is a nice looking red dress that accents the women nicely without being too revealing.
There may be some sort of menu of services available but most customers will probably never see it. That’s especially true if they cannot speak the local language. Instead they’ll be escorted by one of the available women up the stair case in the middle of the place and into a more private area upstairs. Customers are free to chose a lady of their liking or a regular but they if they don’t they will simply get whoever is next in line.
Neither the women on staff, the security guard or the front desk worker can speak much English if indeed they can speak any at all. There may be some individual exceptions but it is certainly not the norm. Luckily there isn’t much conversation needed at a barbershop when one isn’t getting their hair cut into the latest look.
The booths upstairs are large and open. They are bigger than most others one would find at a similar place in Vietnam or anywhere else. The booths are relatively private even though the walls don’t go all the way up and it’s quite easy to hear noise from the surrounding areas. On one side of each booth there is a massage table with a hair washing sink located at the head of it which is a little similar to the set up at Dr BJ’s in Bangkok though truth be told this place may be nicer even if that isn’t saying too much. The sinks are used to wash up as one might expect along with the usual wet wipes that are perhaps a little more common elsewhere.
As I often say places with numerous women on staff can vary greatly in their level of expertise. It’s difficult to rate the services of a group of women that can even change from time to time or hour to hour. What I can say is that the women working generally know what they are doing. While there are some that may be a bit lackadaisical there are others who go out of their way to make sure the customer leaves satisfied. Of course full service is never provided as those familiar with the scene would know but the normal mouth services can at times get creative.
As far as I know there is no set time limit at this place or any of the places like it but everything has to be done in a reasonable period. That is probably no problem for experts who put in time to practice their craft. After things are all done customers are led back down the stairs by their new friend and to the front desk where they can pay for services rendered.
I remember a time only a few years ago when services at these sorts of places went for a total of 200,000 Dong (at the time around $10.50 USD) with half going to the house and the other half going to the staff. Around 2011 or so many places started to up the total to 400,000. Even more recently the asking rate seems to have been upped to 500,000 ($23 USD) though this makes sense to some degree since the dollar continues to strengthen against the local currency. Of course there are still many places around that charge less such as the many places where locals pay as little as 220,000 total though they are more difficult for visitors to find. Natives to the city and people otherwise able to speak the language well can still get services for much less even in the places that ask new faces for 500,000 all in. At this point the prices only matter so much as even at the high end they are well within reason.
As a decent place with a good staff that in general knows how to do their work their isn’t much negative to say about Thien Phu. Taking everything into consideration I think it would be fair to give the place a solid three-and-a-half stars.
Thien Phu. 49 Nguyen Phi Khanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Open everyday from around noon until early night.