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The Blind Masseuses of Cambodia

Picture of Marissa
Updated: 14 February 2018
Cambodia is dotted with massage parlours, ranging from budget through to luxury. Nestled in among the selection is a number of blind massage places, offering a unique and therapeutic alternative to both visitors and locals.

In a country where there is no formal social support system in place, people with disabilities are all too often forgotten in Cambodia and many are left to beg on the streets for survival.

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Many blind people are forced to beg | © ruchos/ Shutterstock.com

With the country’s blind fitting into this category and an estimated 43,800 Cambodians blind in both eyes, according to the Australian Government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative, various organisations have taken steps to turn this trend around.

One innovative initiative that has taken off is blind massages, with Seeing Hands centres found throughout Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Kampot.

Under the scheme, partially-sighted and blind Cambodians are trained in the art of traditional massage – usually a combination of Khmer and Japanese techniques – at one of a handful of centres in the capital, including Rehabilitation for Blind Cambodians and the Maryknoll Rehabilitation Center.

Here, students receive a swathe of training, such as learning spoken and Braille Khmer and English, anatomy, pathology, physiology, massage techniques, and accounting and computer skills.

Dyna opened up his own blind massage parlour in Phnom Penh 11 years ago. He says: “I wanted to help other blind people find work. Ultimately, I wanted to offer them independence.”

What to expect

Don’t expect a delicately fragranced spa, kitted out with lush private rooms, where gentle music lulls in the background.

While also used by tourists, locals check-in to the massage centres daily to solve a range of health problems, from back ache and stress, through to high blood pressure and diabetes, meaning they are seen as a real therapeutic treatment rather than a splurge session at the spa.

The lay out varies between venues, but the standard set up is a room full of hospital-style beds with lockers to keep your valuables safe. In each corner is a small curtained off area, where you will be asked to change into hospital-style shirt and trousers, which you will wear throughout the massage.

Your masseuse will show you to your allocated bed and give you a few minutes to change before returning to the room to deliver your treatment – usually 30- or 60-minute full body or foot massages.

To ensure they get the timing right, each masseuse carries a talking clock that they will set when they start.

It also pays well to remember this is a different culture, where chatting incessantly on mobile phones, talking loudly through massages, coughing, snorting and a range of other noise-related activities are perfectly acceptable to carry out on the massage table.

If you think this might take away from the experience, then take some headphones and slip your own music on.

What kind of massage

Don’t forget you can ask your masseuse to go stronger or lighter in his or her techniques – the massage can be tough. While the majority of the masseuses aren’t fluent in English, they will have learned the basics.

Using no oil, the masseuse will knead away tension, stresses and strains from every inch of your body using a range of techniques using hands, feet, elbows and knees to work deep into the muscle. There is also some stretching involved to loosen joints and open energy channels.

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Don’t expect the luxuries of an upmarket spa | © Sea Wave/ Shutterstock.com

The body massage finishes with a head massage, ensuring visitors leave feeling truly invigorated and refreshed.

And with one-hour massages costing $7, it’s a wonderful way to boost the body and mind on a budget – and, if you have the cash, a small tip for your masseuse will be much appreciated.

Dyna says: “People leave with a smile on their face.”

Where to go

Seeing Hands Massage Center

12 Street 13, Phnom Penh

Chantharith Seeing Hand Massage

77EO Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh

Khmer Angkor Seeing Hands Massage

182EO Street 13, Phnom Penh