Soi Spa can be found on the 6th floor and rooftop of 44 Nguyen Hue, overlooking Sunwah Tower. Founded by Quyen Nguyen, the concept is simple – to provide an instant getaway, affordable and for people with hectic lifestyles.

Situated in the middle of District 1, it’s proving popular with the city’s many office workers attracted to the high-end service, reasonable prices and the opportunity to escape their busy lives, if only for a short time.

Quyen understands her customers well – a former Brand Manager in the retail industry, she was once one of them.  Constantly strapped for time, she struggled with getting her hair and nails done and had limited choices where to go.  High-end spas charged exorbitant prices for a young professional, and more affordable places didn’t provide the experience she was looking for.

What she wanted as much as getting her hair done was somewhere to get away from it all. Somewhere to switch off for a while, if only an hour.  Somewhere to chillax at lunchtime and get her nails done. Or pamper for the evening ahead after a busy day at work. “I wanted somewhere for the young professional who works hard but spends wisely” she explains to me.

Quyen describes her customers as millennials.  “They work hard”, she tells me. “They are cultured, well-travelled and have a high sense of aesthetics.  They want the better things in life but are prudent with their money.  I wanted to create a space for them to feel relaxed in, pampered, but at a price they feel comfortable paying.  This was my vision, my concept. Something new, different”.

Excited, she took the plunge, quit her job and set about looking for a suitable location.  “I was lucky. A friend of mine told me of premises on Nguyen Hue with a rooftop. It was perfect. How many spas do you know where you can relax on a terrace, with a glass of wine, watch the sunset and have your nails done at the same time?” she asks me.

“Soi means pebble in Vietnamese”, Quyen explains, and the reception area is a sea of small, polished stones set into a coloured concrete and that leads the way into the treatment room. “I wanted to create a space that feels natural, yet clean and clear at the same time”. 

The walls are white with aquatic murals, and a timbered beam ceiling gives the space a slight rustic feel. The two walls facing out over Nguyen Hue are glass, filling the room with natural light and offering great views of the pedestrian street below.

The downstairs treatment area can accommodate approximately 10 patrons at a time. Large, comfortable, reclining chairs sit on raised platforms and hair washing stations, partitioned with muslin drapes, combine as relaxing massage tables. Soft music plays in the background as ladies sit with their feet soaking in glass bowls with their hands tended to by attentive staff.

Up the stairs is the terraced rooftop. A large, open space, painted white with a beamed roof, this time metal rather than wood.  There is a bar in one corner offering beer, wine, bubbles and juices, and barstools around the open outer walls, with more views of Nguyen Hue below. The atmosphere is that of the getaway space Quyen wanted to create, and there are more treatment chairs ready for the promised relaxation.

“I knew very little about running a spa when I started Soi, and had to learn quickly”, Quyen tells me “I knew the importance of good staff. Unlike may spas around town, we have a ‘no blood’ policy when doing cuticles, so our staff need to be competent and experienced. We also have a ‘no chemicals’ policy so all our products are non-toxic and there is no smell around the place. We keep all our cutters under UV light to sterilise. We also clean them with alcohol. Foreigners and Viet Kieu are very conscious about hygiene standards, as are we.”

“Our services are simple but we offer them all in one place. Hair, nails and massage, and combinations of the three”, I am told. “We are attracting an increasing number of tourists looking for a premium experience, but many of our patrons work locally and pop in during their lunch break.”

“My day typically starts at 8:30 when I get up and have breakfast”, Quyen says.  “I try to get to the gym before going in to work, but if I don’t have time then I go before heading home in the evening. On Monday and Tuesday I go in to the spa for 10am as I work reception. My receptionists work over the weekend so I give them time off at the start of the week.”

“Once I’ve made sure staff are ready for the day ahead, I check our reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook. It’s important to thank those who have left positive remarks and try to find out what has happened with patrons who are not happy, so we can fix it. I spend a lot of time talking to our patrons, to enquire about their experience and to get tips and advice for new services and products we can offer.”

I spend an hour or so each morning with reports, both sales and inventory, making sure that money comes in and goes out correctly and to help me plan purchasing for the week.”

As the morning comes to an end, the spa starts to fill with lunchtime patrons, wanting to get their moment of ‘me-time’ in before the start of the afternoon. “Hair customers tend to come in at lunchtime or mid-afternoon”, Quyen explains, “to make sure their hair is clean and styled for an important meeting or an evening date.  We do a hair wash massage package, hair neck shoulders arms, which is very popular.”

“I tend to meet friends for lunch, or people who support the spa. When lunch is done, I make sure staff are maintaining records and reports correctly. I use this time to update the POS system, check the spa, the music, lighting, temperature, cleanliness and general environment. A lot of oils are used for massages and they tend to leave a film. Sometimes staff need to be reminded to clean thoroughly after each treatment session”. 

“In the afternoon and evening, I often check-out other spas to get ideas how we can improve our services and develop the Soi in terms of media exposure. We have many corporate and media clients who like to book the whole spa for an event, or write about the services we offer. Part of my responsibilities is knowing about industry trends. I spend a lot of the day talking to patrons. My role is certainly social.”