Michael Taylor lives in Hong Kong’s Northern New Territories. He often makes ‘massage runs’ North of the Border, where the massages are cheap, the therapists are friendly, and the food both cheap and delicious.
Spa + Food
Cross-border massage runs from Hong Kong to Shenzhen have been a part of my Northern New Territories lifestyle for seven or eight years now.
I used to take the MTR from my home in Sheung Shui to Wanchai for massages – a 90 minute door-to-door trip – with three MTR transfers (not including the minibus from my house to the train station).
A one hour massage ran me HK$300 to HK$400, and that didn’t include the HK$100 tip.
Then I discovered the massage parlours of Shenzhen, which is just one MTR stop (and two customs checks) from my house. Door to door we’re talking one hour.
And a three-hour massage in Shenzhen costs me about one-third what I was paying for a one hour massage in Wanchai!
Depending on the time of my arrival, I eat before or after my massage – sometimes at the massage parlour itself. Yes, many of the massage parlours in Shenzhen serve food. And others can arrange for food to be delivered – if you ask.
But I wouldn’t expect that until I had established a relationship with staff.
Shen Zu Lin
One of my favourite – and least expensive – options is a massage parlour in a bustling little alleyway known as Lowu Village (Luo Hu Cun – 羅湖村). It is a hop, skip, and a jump from the Shangri-La Hotel, Shenzhen – and a 15-minute walk from the border.
Various treatments and packages are available, but the one I usually opt for is a one-hour foot massage followed by a two-hour body massage.
The foot massage takes place in common rooms on the first or second floor. It can get a bit rowdy, but that’s half the fun. As a Mandarin speaker, I enjoy the chance to chat with the therapists, who are from all over China.
The body massages take place upstairs, and the rooms are simple but comfortable. The bathrooms upstairs also tend to be cleaner – and you can take a shower if you like.
Be forewarned, however, that the bathrooms here all feature squat toilets.
The three-hour foot and body massage runs 85 yuan, and you MUST give a tip. Contrary to everything that you’ve read about tipping in China, tips ARE expected by massage therapists in Shenzhen, and with good reason.
Tipping was generally frowned upon in China, but when massage parlours started opening in Shenzhen, most of the customers were from Hong Kong, where it is customary to tip massage therapists.
The minute that spa owners discovered that Hong Kong customers were tipping their therapists, they quickly remedied the situation. They lowered their hourly wage!
At the end of the month, the therapists were earning the same amount of money that they did in the first place – and the owners were pocketing the difference. So if you don’t give a tip, your therapist will not receive proper compensation for his or her effort.
When it comes to tipping, however, we are NOT talking 10% or 15% of the price!
Even though the massage might run you only 25 to 50 yuan an hour, you really should be giving a tip of at least 20 yuan per hour. If you’re a cheapskate (or the massage didn’t meet expectations) you might get away with a 10 or 15 yuan tip.
But you wouldn’t usually give more than 30 yuan – unless you’re going to a more upscale place, where 50 or even 100 yuan might be expected.
If you’re having a massage at a five-star hotel, let your conscience be your guide. I really have no idea …
Where to Eat
When I have a massage at Shen Zu Lin (深足林), I usually eat at one the many eateries in the alley, which is just off People’s Road South. There are several open-air food stalls, snack shops, and sit-down restaurants.
One of my favourites is the Sha Xian Cookshop (沙县小吃) at 1068-10 People’s Road South (人民南路1068-10号), a Fujian style noodle shop that has become one of my favourite (and least expensive) places to eat in Shenzhen.
I particularly like the steamed dumplings and the noodles with shredded pork and leafy vegetables. I also like the home-made chilli sauce.
But there are MANY other options, as well. Stroll up and down the alley until you find a place that strikes your fancy!
Shen Zu Lin (深足林) – 1-1 Lowu Village (羅湖村1-1號), Shenzhen, China – just off People’s Road South (人民南路) and not far from the Shangri-La hotel, Shenzhen.
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Near the Hong Kong border, Shen Zu Lin is one of my favourite (and cheapest) spots to get a massage in Shenzhen, China.