A sauna with a view of the Kampot river, a glass-fronted steam room overlooking a tree-filled garden, and private massage bungalows — it doesn’t take long to realize what has made Nibi Spa the “must visit” recommendation in Kampot by all my bougie Phnom Penh friends.
Set on a bend of the river some 10km north of the increasingly popular coastal town, the act of getting there is an adventure in itself, and makes the reward that awaits even more appreciated. The most direct (and picturesque) route is along the east side of the Kampot river, as it winds away from town through Cham villages, durian plantations, and shuttered backpacker bungalows. The road surface declines into the stuff of Cambodia of old: slippery red clay with more potholes and ruts than actual flat surface. The alternative is along the west bank, on smooth paved road, and a quick ferry trip (one car accepted each journey) over to Nibi.
The journey out of the way, it is time to be pampered, steamed, chilled — and to chill out.
Of the four massages on offer, the Swedish-style ‘Nibi Classic’ felt in keeping with the sauna planned for afterwards, and promised to go “beyond relaxation; it increases blood circulation, mental and physical relaxation, decreases stress and muscle tension, and improves range of motion.” Which all sounded lovely after the bone-chattering bicycle ride I had just taken to get there.
And it was lovely. Felt great afterwards. I am not sure how else one really summarises a massage. Next for the sauna, and this might be the highlight of the whole place. A concrete bunker (stay with me here on this) has been built right on the banks of the river, with the whole wall replaced with glass. With the contrasts of the wooden benches and concrete walls, the space has a very Nordic feel and offers an experience that is truly unique in Cambodia.
The dull thumping from the music of the nearby water park is shut out (unlike at Greenhouse on the other bank, which is assaulted by the noise), and one can sit and sweat in reflective silence, watching the river gently flow by.
A quick rejuvenating leap into the ice pool outside to “flush toxins,” so the brochure states, and it’s back into the sauna. Hot then cold, rinse and repeat. I am not sure which of my toxins were flushed, and flushed where to, but who doesn’t love a sauna and plunge pool!
A quick drink and bite at the onsite river-side cafe (where paddle boarding and deckchairs are available for the more and less adventurous, respectively), and it was time to return to the world; and as a convert to the “omg you must go to Nibi Spa, it is glorious” camp of bougie Phnom Penh expats.
Yes there are cheaper massage options, but they probably aren’t in a lush green garden, and they definitely don’t come with a sauna and the option to swim in (a clean part) of the Kampot river afterwards!
The Nibi Classic costs $23 for 60 minutes or $30 for 90 minutes. You can add a full day of the “thermal experience” for an extra $12 (it’s $17 if you aren’t getting a massage). Thai-style massage and four-hand massages are also available.