Why I'm Working as a Saigon Massage Girl

Why I'm Working as a Saigon Massage Girl

Story tools


A A AResize


Share and Email


Lan Pham, 21, works in a massage parlour in District I of Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon. It’s where most tourists stay when they visit Vietnam. Like millions of young people from the rural, Saigon is a big magnet with promises of better life for those who come from backbreaking work in the rice fields and cycle of debts. Pham spoke with NAM editor, Andrew Lam, who visited his homeland on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam - I’m from Tan Chau district in An Giang province. There are six people in my family. We’re all farmers. I’ve been to Saigon for four years.

Do you know how hard it is for farmers? The life of a farmer is a life that’s always in debt. You live dependent on the crop. All those months waiting for the rice to ripen you need to feed your family so you borrow money. When the crop’s ready you’ll pay it all back with interest. When something happens, flood or failed crop, you’ll have to borrow more money to survive. And you’ll stay in debt. After a while you end up doing things you don’t want to do.

My parents were always in debt. They couldn’t feed four kids. My sister got married at 17 to this old Taiwanese man she never met until he showed up and married her. She had to make money. She sent money home for about a year but now we don’t know what happened. It’s been several years since she’s kind of disappeared. So we fell into debt again because we started fixing the house when she was sending money but we didn’t have enough money. So it was my turn to take care my family.

I’m second to the oldest. My family is more important than my own life, so I’d do anything for them. Anything. Do I like doing what I’m doing? Are you crazy? No. It already ruined my life. But let me tell you something: this is way better than watching your family starved or get kicked off their land.

But who am I to complaint? Saigon is full of non-Saigonese, people like me, people who come in from the rural areas trying to make a living, trying to survive. Come Tet [Vietnamese new year] and the streets here are emptied. Every one goes home to the province to be with family. It’s the only time that we take a break from whatever we do to support our family to be with our family.

When I got to Saigon I never imagined life here was so wealthy. All these big houses and shiny new cars. But the Saigonese they look down on us from the provinces, they look down on peasants. They think we’re stupid. But I actually was always near top of my class. I read books and newspapers but they think I’m stupid or illiterate. I had to drop out of 9th grade to help my family. I could’ve gone on if I had opportunities.

What do I read in the papers? More golf courses being built. Billion of dollars being invested. But where’s the money for the rest of us? Big shots built villas with gold plated ceilings. Big shots play golf but the bridges built [by the government] in the provinces collapse repeatedly. Big shots play tennis then they come here for massages and treat the girls like dirt.

If I were president I would feed the poor, build shelter for the homeless. I'd do something that makes poor people feel like they are being helped. I wouldn’t drive people off their land so the rich can have their tall high rises and their golf courses.

As far as my customers go, I don’t like Americans. I like Australians. They’re nice and polite. They’re funny. A few said they wanted to marry me after I make them feel so good - but it’s all lies. They’d come back a few times then they’re gone.

But I don’t want to marry a Vietnamese man. They are so full of trickery… Vietnamese men are not to be trusted. They treat women like trash especially my kind. We are things to be tossed aside when they’ re done. They are lousy tippers - they don’t tips unless you tell them that… that it’s expected. Sometimes they insult you after you serviced them. Sometimes when I step on their backs [Back-walking massage] I wanted to stomp on their necks.[laughs]

But I make money now. I make enough so my family survives and my two younger [siblings] can continue to go to school. And I even have money left over to pay for massage myself sometimes [laughs]. I’m serious. It’s hard work what I do.

I know I can’t go on like this too long [starts to tear up.] But if I were to work as a cook or factory worker, I won’t make any money and my family will face difficulties. I know I need skills to survive but what kind of skills can I get without money to go to school?

My biggest worry right now is that it’s hard to get married. The moment they know I’m a masseuse they think I’m a bad person. I have no chance with anyone decent. I don’t see a way out.

But even massage girls have big dreams. I dream one day I’d find a good husband. I dream I have enough money so I could go find my sister and take her home. Then I’d build us a nice house so the entire family can live together. But I don’t know how that’s ever going to happen.



Portable Massage Cushion

Posted Jun 29 2010

Regular massage helps to improve blood flow, stimulate the body’s natural defense system, relieve stress and promote deep, restorative sleep. The cumulative effect directly improves overall health and well-being.


Posted Aug 4 2010

You got my supports! Sometimes people have to do what they have to do. Keep your head up high girl!


Posted Aug 27 2010

Pham darling girl, there is no disrespect in what you do, I am a recipient of these massages and all you girls do a most wonderful service. Anyone who thinks less of you for this, in poorly educated and has no compassion. We know that most are doing it as a means of support, this is commendable and I wish with all my heart your dream comes true one day, you deserve it. Screw the trash that think any different. GBU!!!


Posted Oct 5 2010

you cotact on line to rajendrasharmar@yahoo.co.in i will help you


Posted Oct 31 2010

i am visiting HCMC, I Woud like to meet you and help u, Pls mail - " nalakavk@wow.lk"


Posted Nov 11 2010

Sounds to me similar to the African bank account scam, if this girl could write a letter that well she would have a professional job in Vietnam


Posted Nov 19 2010

She didn't write it. She spoke to one of NAM's editor. You'd know that if you read the whole thing.

I'm Vietnamese, male, lived and educated in America and now live in Saigon, play golf. I am Saigonese in a lot of senses and fall in some of the stereotypes the girl here said (which I must say it's not completely true).

All the people commenting here who haven't really spent time in Saigon (or is female) wouldn't know how hard it is this girl's job truly is. It is hard in both the physical and mental demand. All I'm going to say is that this is not the kind of massage that you'd find around the corner in America.

I agree with most of the comments on Vietnamese male even though I am one. But as one of the readers here did say, those are mostly people with some money but no compassion nor education. Unfortunately these are the majority of the customers of their service.

I'd say I'm the kind of customers that these girls would always appreciate. I'm respectful, compassionate and tip properly. But the thing I believe these girl appreciate the most, perhaps even more so than my tips when they get up and go to work, is that I keep reminding them that what they are doing is just a job, it should not let them lose faith in themselves and/or society or Saigon, my lovely city.

I would certainly would like to befriend any of these masseurs who get through this phase in their live and moves on to something better. Because that is truly strength and great character that most of those who were born privileged would never understand.


Posted Nov 24 2010

Wow thanks I will remember that these people dont like Americans..

Schlage Keypad

Posted Dec 27 2010

I am blown away at how interesting the content is on this web page. I have written down this web site and I really intend on coming back to the site in the upcoming days. Keep up the excellent work!


Posted Jan 31 2011

I wish you all the best, I'm Australian and yes, i always treat allladies with respect, like they say... you are somebodys daughter, aunty, friend etc... and you're doing what you need to do to support your family! I respect that.


Mechelle Gerould

Posted Feb 2 2011

I'll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)


Posted Feb 7 2011

i am Vietnamese - work and live in Canada, just come back from my first visit to Vietnam in 25 years and found out that these massage girls barely get paid by their employer - they earn living by provide good service and earning tips. i tipped the girl 25% but later realize that 100% - 250% is the norm.


Posted Mar 23 2011

lan pham you come over has a good, honest, family loving girl from outside saigon.
which is unlike most saigon people who are the opposite.l agreed with you. alot of vietnamese women do not want to marry local men why because they do not respect women.the family/friends thing is a joke they rip off each other no problem. most of the arguments are about money.l tell my wife "the love of money is the root of all evil".its quoted in the bible so it must be true . this of cause goes over her head.l hope you fall in love with a westerner man who will look after you and family for the right reasons.however why would a young attractive girl fall in love with a man who is alot older and not so attractive.MONEY so it is diffficult l hope u can find somebody from. expat english lived in saigon 7 years


Posted Mar 30 2011

coli_seu@hot mail.com Sou do Brasil fale comigo por favor. LUca


Posted Jun 12 2011

As an American who has spent a considerable amount of time in HCMC, I understand her story and sympathize with her situation. i don't blame her for disliking Americans in general, because many who go there (particularly younger and middle aged men alone...) act like as*holes when they are there. They are loud, obnoxious, and rude, and seem to think they are in some sort of sex theme park. it is embarrassing to hear them propositioning waitresses in bars and restaurants. If I hear "you love me long time" I will barf. The people I have met there are kind, curious, and for the most part friendly.


Posted Jul 3 2011

Hi Lan, My Parents Que Huong (Hometown) is also from Tan Chau so I fully sympathize with your story. I also have been back to VN recently (as now i live in Australia) and been to a district 1 massuer. From my experience, all i got was a refreshing facial and a good rub down. Everything was above board and the girls were nice to talk to. My advice is to save as much as you can (i know its hard with your family to support), and perhaps learn a skill that will benefit you in future. Wishing you all the best and that your dreams will come true one day. Perhaps we will meet without knowing it since I will be back for TET in Tan Chau =)


Posted Aug 9 2011

You have all my supports and wish best luck in future. If I can help you, I am visting Pattaya on end of september this year for one month and in between may visit saigon and I personally want to meet you.


Posted Feb 21 2012

Nothing new, this story can you listen in every massage, karaoke club etc… Her dream is dream of all people: light job, good money and after all is a good husband (it's seem be she likes a western man who may have more money and stronger). I feel sorry for the editor who was cheated totally


Posted Feb 23 2012

Keep up the good work Pham, Your trade is the oldest in the world & to make people happy & get paid for it is great. It is just a shame that not more of us treated women with more respect.
Take care yourself


Posted Feb 25 2012

+841207451267 i like a massage from you


Posted Feb 26 2012

+841207451267 i like a massage from you


Posted May 6 2012

You are bullshit

Disclaimer: Comments do not necessarily reflect the views of New America Media. NAM reserves the right to edit or delete comments. Once published, comments are visible to search engines and will remain in their archives. If you do not want your identity connected to comments on this site, please refrain from commenting or use a handle or alias instead of your real name.