A trip to Asia without a massage or three is almost unthinkable. While you can easily get a massage on the street for the equivalent of ten bucks, spending the extra cash at the hotel spa guarantees a top-notch relaxation and the chance for an authentic indigenous treatment. This is true of the 90-minute signature Khmer massage at the 5-star Anantara Angkor Resort & Spa in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Originally created to revitalize monks after long periods of meditation, this ancestor of Traditional Thai massage involves “rigorous stretching and body alignment” according to the spa menu. It’s also a no-oil massage technique, which is perfect considering the dewy glow (slick) of my skin courtesy of 80% plus humidity.

“Chum reap sou” (welcome!) greets me on entering the quiet sanctity of the spa. After a day that began at 5am with sunrise at Angkor Wat, followed by a cycle through Angkor Archaeological Park, these three words are music to my ears.

tea (1)

One herbal tea and cooling lemon-infused foot bath later, I’m led to the Khmer massage room, kitted out in dusky beige walls, stone tiles and dark wood. There are two in the Spa, alongside three spa suites with outdoor Jacuzzi and rain shower (where I’ve already spent significant down-time indulging in the rejuvenating facial and Khmer Herbal Body Scrub).

The spa therapist leaves me to don a loose-fitting cotton top and drawstring pants and returns, after what seems an age spent lying face down on the massage table staring at a bowl of frangipanis floating in water, having not heard my call. No surprises there. The small gong used for just that purpose is no match for the thick walls and plink plonk of Cambodian-equivalent panpipe music playing.  It’s a small hiccup in an otherwise exceptional treatment.

khmer massage

Setting to work, the spa girl applies firm pressure to the soles of my feet and then continues up my legs, hips and back, pressing and stretching to unlock and rebalance meridian points (energy flow channels) till there is a noticeable sinking into the table as tension is released.

From there, things get a little more ’rigorous’.  Using thumbs, elbows, palms, feet and knees, she pulls and pushes my body with a strength and dexterity that belies her size, incorporating moves that wouldn’t look out of place in a yoga class. I submit, serenely aware of a growing pliancy.

2Anantara Angkor Resort_Khmer Massage Suite with Pocket Garden

The massage concludes with an almighty, back-arching stretch delivered while sitting upright. Crouched behind, knees at the ready, the massage girl hooks her arms under mine and lets gravity do its work, leaning back into her weight while simultaneously pushing her knees forward. An appreciative crack sounds as my chest lifts and expands. Bliss.

Afterwards, feeling noticeably taller, straighter and calmly energized, I recall the now palpable holistic benefits touted in the menu spa, namely “enhanced flexibility, a freer flow of energy and circulation”¦(and)”¦relaxing balance between body, mind and spirit.”

While not about to try to do the splits, I do feel remarkably balanced and relaxed and ready for whatever the evening has in store.