photo: courtesy Wikicommons
Java: Jakarta and Carita
I had the opportunity to explore the seething 10 million-strong metropolis of Jakarta for a few days recently. I managed to fit in a few massages. Spas are not nearly as common as ones in the Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam but in the tourist areas a few can be found easily enough with a bit of work. I used a Google Maps search (plugging in search terms ‘massage’ and ‘spa’) and a few of them popped up in my neighbourhood. You can also search the Indonesian word for massage (pijat).
There may be advertisements for places like Orchardz, B Fashion, FM1 massage, etc. Many of these establishments offer what would be commonly called ‘naughty massages.’ That is to say, you’ll get a massage but also get offered ‘extras’ of the sexual kind. If the name sounds like it could be a nightclub or bar, it’s probably naughty. If you’re just looking for a normal, ‘safe’ massage, try something that has ‘family’ or ‘reflexology’ in the name.’ Apparently Martha Tilaar and Bersih Sehat (locations around the city) are supposed to be 'massage only' establishments. Check the reviews carefully and if you see some positive reviews by women, it’s probably fine.
My first explorations were in the vicinity of old Batavia in North Jakarta. Many of the spas seemed kind of seedy with neon lights and lots of guards and loiterers hanging around. I stumbled upon a dead end street where there was a cluster of bars with names like Starmoon and Astro Bar. I was the only westerner and I have to admit I didn’t feel all that comfortable. I went into the Starmoon Bar quickly just to scout it out. There was a Thai-style 'aquarium’ with a bunch of sexy girls sitting in a glassed-in room. The price was 350,000 rupiah for a basic massage plus around the same again for extra services. I got out of there quickly, saying I was short of cash.
I asked my hotel if there were any legitimate massage places and got steered just down the road to ’New Relax’ spa (on Mangga Dua Road). Two girls at the desk asked me what language I wanted and I got a rate card in English: 320,000 IDR for an hour in a standard room ($23 USD) and 350,000 for a VIP room, and additional costs for extras like sauna, etc. I chose the basic hour and was asked to pay up front. I was then led up to the next floor where there was a waiting room. There was a small bar with two local massage girls singing bad karaoke on a really annoyingly loud PA system. Two drunk guys were dancing with them. I waited a few minutes, then was led again up another couple of flights of stairs, with security guards sitting around on every level.
Finally, I got to my small, thin-walled room where a mattress on the floor took up most of the space. An older woman popped in 5 minutes later and told me to get off the mattress so she could lay a towel down. Once she was set up, I disrobed and lay face down on the towel. The first part of the massage was pretty standard, oil massage of back and legs, then she had me turn over and massaged the front of my legs and belly, finishing off with a head massage. Extra services were offered at this point! I politely declined. She finished off by wiping me down with a warm wet towel to get rid of some of the oil. All in all, not a bad massage but expensive. Unless you’re desperate, I’d find a more regular salon in a nicer part of town, this one was a bit dodgy.
photo courtesy: http://al-terity.blogspot.com
The next one I tried was called Pegasus Spa (Mangga Besar, Jakarta Barat). It was quite a bit cheaper than the first one. A massage session in a standard room for 90 minutes was 110,000 rupiah and 130,000 for a VIP room (private room with shower). Like the New Relax Spa, there were lots of staff running around, both male and female. There were two girls at the front desk, a few guys here and there whose purpose I wasn’t able to ascertain, several more guys in the sauna and bathrooms locker rooms area, a couple more girls behind the desk in a lounge area: I don’t know how they can be profitable!
I was given a numbered key, presumably to lock up valuables but I didn’t need to lock anything up as I just carried a bit of cash. I was led upstairs to a waiting area that had a lounge with TV and bar and told to wait. Ten minutes later, I was led to another area a floor up with several small segregated rooms. I was the only one there as it was still early (11 am). A pleasant young woman named Nina welcomed me. She called down to the front desk and confirmed that my key number was the same (a security check, I suppose?). I took a quick shower first which felt good in the tropical heat, then laid face down on the mattress which had a face opening, a towel laid down over the mattress.
Nina began the treatment by completely covering me in towels from neck to toe, then started a vigorous walking on my back and legs. This wasn’t just walking, though. It was an odd kind of shuffling, where the feet would slide off my legs, or slide forward, then punch down with her weight (if you don’t have a strong back, I wouldn’t recommend getting anyone to walk on your back!). Then the oil came out and she massaged my back in long, slow strokes with plenty of power, sometimes to the point of mild pain. She continued with massage on the backs of my legs, including a few leg stretches.
At the half way point, she asked me if I wanted ginger tea. Yes, please! She came back a minute later with a cup of hot, sweet ginger tea. Massage continued on the front of the legs, belly, and arms, finishing with a head massage. As is usual in Asia, extra services are available for a negotiable tip.
After the massage, it was time for another shower, then I gave her a tip for a very good massage. On the way out, paying at the front desk, some of the staff wanted to do selfies with the tall foreigner, which happens a lot in Indonesia! I wonder if I’m a Facebook star there?
My final massage was in central Jakarta, at the Classic Hotel. There is a Spa there but it appeared to be more of a nightclub and was too expensive for me. I asked the receptionist if I could get a normal massage in my room. Definitely! She said she could send up a lady to my room for only 100,000 Rp for an hour of ‘Traditional Javan Massage.’ Great, I said. Twenty minutes later, there was a knock at the door and an attractive, 30-something woman came in with her massage kit: towels, oil, etc. She spread a large sheet on the bed to prevent oil from getting on the bedding, then told me to remove all of my clothing. I did so, draping a towel around my mid-section and laid face down. She proceeded to give me some pressure work, shiatsu style pinching and pushing of my legs and back for a few minutes, then started on the oil work. She really dug her thumbs in and caused some pain. I had to ask her to ease up a bit. I got a good massage but there was some ‘accidental’ touching, so I knew what was coming next. I flipped over and the massage continues on my legs and arms. At some point, she suggests that I could have more: a hand finish or even full on sex (for 500,000 rp or 1,000,000 rp). No thanks. But I kept it light-hearted. You have to just smile and not make it unpleasant or the mood will change, have to keep it friendly. I assured her that she would still get a good tip.
After Jakarta, I found myself In Carita, a ‘resort’ beach town a few hours west. From here, on a clear day, you can see Krakatoa. There weren’t any obvious spas anywhere so I casually asked the receptionist at my hotel if there was any massage around. She nodded her head, of course, when would you like it? Right away! She called her friend who turned out to be an older 50-something Muslim woman wearing a traditional hijab. The massage was to take place in my room. When she arrived, she spread a piece of cloth over the bed and had me lay face down on it. I disrobed but had to keep my underwear on. She started kneading the soles of my feet and my toes, then the backs of my legs, then it was on to the oil. It was a fairly standard treatment: back of legs and back, then turn over, do the front of legs, arms, and belly, finished off with sitting up and getting shoulders massaged. It was a competent massage and there wasn’t any ‘funny business.’ It cost 150,000 rupiah for an hour and I gave her a 75,000 rupiah tip which she didn’t seem very happy with!
Finally, close to the Aeropolis Hotel near the Jakarta International Airport, I found a hair salon that also offered aromatic massages. I took an hour massage (120,000 rupiah) and a woman had me lie on an awkward plastic massage table. It was a fairly unexciting massage with lots of oil and a moist towel scrubdown afterwards.
Bali: Kuta and Ubud
In Bali, I had one stopover evening in Kuta, very close to the airport. I had three massages in quick succession. Spas are easy to find here. All three were very tame and legitimate massages with not even a hint of funny business. I chose three salons on Jalan Wana Segara. At one, I was given a packaged rolled up pair of papery underwear to put on. At the other two, I was asked to undress and remove everything but my underwear. I think that there’s been a crackdown on massage parlours in this part of Bali by the morality police and now everyone’s being very cautious. I was never touched inappropriately and there were no offers for a happy ending. All of the ladies were wearing matching uniforms which is usually a sign of professionalism. Prices were in the 65,000-75,000 rupiah per hour range which, after Jakarta, was pretty darned cheap! We stopped in Bali again later on the trip but the whole island was shut down for Nyepi Day (including every massage spa). Nyepi Day changes dates from year to year so make sure you find out in advance when it is. I had been to Ubud in Bali on a previous trip and although I didn’t record any details, spas are plentiful and cheap and I had several great massages there! One in particular was memorable in that I signed up for a ‘four-hands’ massage at a high-end spa. The two masseuses had obviously worked together before and were beautifully coordinated so it was a real joy. They also employed the Balinese Long Stroke technique where their hands run from the neck all the way to the feet in one continuous stroke. Very nice! Also, on that previous trip, I’d had a 4-hands massage from 2 young ladies in Kuta: they chatted to each other incessantly and each had one hand on me and the other on their cellphones: it was quite a miserable massage!
Sumba and Flores
My comrades and I traveled on to Sumba where I couldn’t find any spas anywhere. Then we went to Flores and it wasn’t until I got to Labuanbajo (jumping off city for visits to Komodo Island) that I found a decent spa. The Flores Spa is close to the waterfront. I made an appointment and got Tini, a dusky 20-something native woman who did a very professional ‘Javan-style’ cream massage. It was so relaxing that I almost fell asleep three times. The price was a reasonable 145,000 Rupiah.