26 July 2012

The Wonderful World of Asian Saunas... No, not one of "those" kind of saunas!

At some temple somewhere along a road I was walking on.
Yep, that's how much sight seeing I did there.

And this is what a storm looks like coming in here in Laos - they don't mess around.

Impending storm makes for a great backdrop for this photo - lots of doom and gloom.

If you ever come this direction (Laos), Vientiane is a stop that is good for two things, getting out of Vientiane via air/bus to Thailand or somewhere else, and going to this massage and sauna place called Wat Sok Pa Luang (forest temple) out in the jungle-like forest.  I wish I planned it better and went earlier to this little piece of paradise in an otherwise uneventful town.  

I took a tuk-tuk ride out to Wat Sok Pa Luang about 7km outside of town and was told to hang a left next to the gate to the temple that it was behind (sounds all very secret, underground knowledge).  I go to the left under these low overhanging trees and follow the dirt path that is before me.  I realize there is a little neighborhood back there with a little store/hang out to drink beer, and some houses on stilts.  I approach a house that a woman from the house asked “massage?”and directed me to come on up the stairs.   Upon arrival, she hands me a sarong to change into because it’s going to get wet from the sauna.  The place is completely outdoors with a roof over the outdoor area so we’re completely outside in the elements with the exception of getting rained on.  It’s in the same style as so many buildings made from local materials area in Asia, simple structure on stilts, open area where everyone hangs out, sleeps, cooks in, and such.  I go into a changing area, get in the sarong and she points me in the direction of the homemade sauna.  I head in there and immediately start sweating like crazy.  The steam smells amazing and is a combination of smoky wood, lemongrass, lime, and sweet grass along with some other herbs that I couldn’t’ identify.  I sit down and one of the locals starts chatting with me in English and we enjoy a 10-minute conversation before others join in and I end up heading out to get some cooler air.  Once I get out, I’m handed some hot herbal tea and asked to sit down and relax.  I sit for about 10 minutes before I head back in for round 2.  This goes on for about an hour and while inside I enjoy chatting with locals (and learn that many of the older ones speak fluent French) and just stretching my body inside what is literally a hot box.  I can feel and smell the fire that heats the sauna beneath us, I even started feeling like a vegetable being steamed for consumption.  

Soon after all that steaming and sweating, I’m ready for my massage when my muscles are all nice and warm and stretched out (tough life, huh?).  I go lay down on one of the eight beds in the massage area and am the last person there.  A Laos gentleman has me lay on my stomach and sprays insect repellant all over me (we are outside at sunset after all!) and then proceeds on to what changed my mind that Laos massages are better than Thai massages.  While they’re both similar, the Laos one is slower and does a deeper stretch.  It pretty much was one of the best massages that I had in all of Asia so far (and I’m making a point to try out every single traditional massage in every country that I go to – multiple of course to get fair comparison… naturally.).   Should I have stayed in Vientiane longer, I would have spent at least four hours a day at this place (or as long as I could continue to breathe and carry myself in and out of the sauna to the massage area).  The massage was about $3.50 and the sauna was about $1.50.  Not a bad way to spend a day!  Highly recommended!


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