my Balinese spa experience

We are staying at a B&B in a village on the northwest coast of the island of Bali called Pemuteran. One reason we chose Pemuteran is that it isn’t as touristy as much of Bali is. But there are some big, fancy resorts around, places with gates and guards and $200 a night rooms and private beaches and onsite spas. However, we’re staying at a place called the Mango Tree Inn, which is a new place built by a Balinese man and his American wife. It’s modest and small, and nice. They’re building their own new home right next door, to make it easier to manage the property.

Anyhow, I’ve been looking forward to getting a massage in Bali for literally weeks. During and after the 15 hours of plane rides leaving Denver and then the 12 hours of plane rides to get to Indonesia, I kept thinking to myself, “Once we’re in Bali, I’ll get a massage or two to pay my body back for enduring this.”

Well, by the time we actually got here I needed to get my hair trimmed, especially my beard. And I also wanted to get a massage, of course. Based on prices and location and looks, I chose the Krisan Salon & Spa, one of several in the neighborhood. After lunch today, Beth walked back to our room and I walked to the spa.

There were three women working there, plus a couple of their kids, and no customers. One woman cut hair, and the other two gave massages. Only the hair stylist understood English to any degree, so I mainly talked to her, explaining I wanted a haircut and a one hour Balinese massage. When Beth and I stopped by earlier, we got the impression you were supposed to make an appointment, but I guess we misunderstood, because she seated me right away.

The hair stylist trimmed my hair, and my beard. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t do that every day, since my thick European beard seemed to trip her up, but we got through it. She used electric clippers, which makes sense. But to shave around the edges — around the neckline — she used a razor.

Now most barbers I visit use a straight razor. You’ve seen the kind. In the old days, every man shaved with these, but then someone invented safety razors, so now the only place you usually see a straight razor (sometimes called a “cut throat razor”) is at a traditional barber shop.

Well, this woman didn’t have a straight razor. Instead, she used a single edged razor blade, like the kind you put in a box cutter. And she held it gently but firmly between her fingers, and shaved me that way, using only a few sprays from her bottle of scented water.

Now that takes guts and confidence!

With my hairs tamed, I followed the masseuse back into the other part of the building. There was a massage table just like any I’ve seen used in the US. But she had a pillow on top of the face cradle. I quickly learned the massage therapist understood no English, so I pantomimed the question of “do you want me to start face up or face down?” Face down was the answer. She nodded, and pointed at a little dark packet on the table, saying something quietly in either Indonesian or Balinese (neither of which I understand). Then she walked off.

The little packet on the bed was wrapped in clear plastic wrap, and was about the size and shape of a Tim Tam cookie. Nice! I get a cookie as part of my massage! But no, that’s not it. I unwrapped it, and inside was something fabric. At first I thought it was a hair net, because that’s the type of fabric it was. Hmm, OK, she wants me to wear a hair net. OK, no problem, I guess.

Then I got the hair net fully unrolled and realized it had two small holes and one big hole. Ah, it’s disposable translucent nylon mesh underwear! So I undressed and put this thing on.


Once I got situated, she came in and gave me a massage. It was a pretty standard massage like hundreds I’ve had in the US. She was pretty good. Based on something our B&B host said, I was afraid she wouldn’t use enough pressure, but she definitely did. She found my bad hamstrings and the knots on my calves. She didn’t use lotion or cream, but a very fragrant floral-scented oil.

Midway through, she said, “Excuse me, roll over please.” And she left the room while I did this, but then came right back in two seconds later. Now I was on my back, and she put something over my eyes. I couldn’t tell what it was, except that it was cool and wet. Maybe cucumbers? Maybe flower petals? I wouldn’t know for another half hour.

The only thing she did that American massage therapists normally don’t do is a lot of pressure on the chest. I’m pretty hairy there (well, I’m hairy all over, except on the top of my head and on my feet, but exceedingly hairy on my chest) so it was a bit tense, since there’s no way to do what she was doing without pulling some hair. But we both got through it. I thought of cracking a joke about being like an orangutan, but kept my mouth shut.

At the end, she said, “Excuse me, finished.” So I took the things off my eyes, and saw they were like moist towelettes. I sat up to start getting ready to get dressed, but then she surprised me by coming back in. She had a bowl of water and a wash cloth, and proceeded to wash me all over. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be sitting up for this or lying down. But since I was already sitting up, I just awkwardly stayed that way. Then the other massage therapist came in, too. Geez, does everyone have to see me in my black see-through underpants?

Once they both left, I waited again, wondering if there would be a Phase 3 to this thing. But there wasn’t. So after a minute, I got dressed, paid up, and left. The cost of the haircut was 50,000 Rupiah and the cost of the massage was 100,000 Rupiah. So my first Balinese spa experience cost the equivalent of $11.00 US. And I got to keep the black hair net panties.


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