Traditional Thai massage (นวดไทย)

Thai massage is a really great healing technique that combines acupressure, manual therapy and even some postures of yoga.

Contents

A brief description of treatment for those, who never tried Thai massage: your body will be pressed with fingers and palms, beaten with fists, pushed with elbows, walked over with knees and feet and twisted in postures you were not sure it ever could. No, it’s not about rush hour in Moscow subway; all these things will be done professionally with high benefits for your health. Benefits are so high that after Thai massage all kinds of medical massage based on rubbing (that we have in Russia) seem to be ineffective and even useless.

Be ready that you won’t take rest and enjoy the whole procedure – sometimes it will hurt. Remember: this pain brings health, but if it is unbearable, tell it to masseur. The word “hurt” combined with pain in your face will be enough for any Thai to understand, what’s wrong.

Don’t try to bargain in massage parlor – they do have fixed prices and Thai massage is so cheap in Thailand!

Thai massage usually lasts 1 hour. In Bangkok and in some touristic places you may find parlors that offer 30 minutes sessions for those, who are in a hurry.

You can order Thai massage for whole body or for some parts. I highly recommend to start with Thai (full body) massage, so you will understand, what will be done with every part of your body.

  • Foot massage. For me it’s a very painful thing, even when it’s done in soft version. Though I always see in Bangkok hundreds of people enjoying it.
  • Back massage.
  • Head and shoulders etc.

Nevertheless all these types will include other parts. F.e. back massage is followed with some foot massage movements.

Prices depend on popularity of parlor and its location (is it close to tourism zone and what kind of settlement it is located in). But quality of Thai massage depends only on the skill of masseur. Most of masseurs will ask you, whether you want it soft or strong. If you wants to improve your health, choose the strong technique. Some lazy masseurs sigh, when you choose strong. My experience shows that the older is the masseur, the better s/he does her/his job: they have bigger experience and the muscles that they need in their skill are better trained.

Don’t be fooled by appearance of masseur: tiny grandma can easily twist a big guy without any excess movements.

Except evident contraindications (like traumas, skin damages, pregnancy, oncology etc) there are some inevident cases: if your neck hurts, make sure that it’s not because of a sprain. Massage won’t bring a lot of harm, but it will definitely postpone the healing of your sprain.

Due to high intensity of treatment avoid doing Thai massage every day or alternate parts of your body involved into procedure.

Dogs, girl & Thai massage parlor
There are a lot of Thai massage parlors in Thailand. One of them you may see behind the girl

Conditions

Thai massage parlor consists generally of several rooms with several firm mattresses in each. Sometimes mattresses in a room are divided with little wooden walls or curtains. Curtains are usually closed only when you change clothes. So don’t wonder to discover yourself among strangers of all genders in one room. That’s the way it goes.

Usually parlours are equipped with air-conditioners. But some may have fan only.

  • Before entering a massage parlor you have to take off your shoes.
  • You may not notice it, but before touching your body masseur will shortly pay homage to his teachers.
  • Sometimes there can be a kind of relaxing music during massage.
  • In the end you’ll be offered a cup of green or herbal tea in most of parlors.
  • When to pay (before or after massage) – depends on the rules of the parlor.
  • Tips are not a must and they are not awaited. But tips can be a sign that you really appreciate the talent of masseur.
Scheme of Thai massage
Thai massage scheme on a wall of Koh Samet massage parlour

Where is the best Thai massage in Thailand?

Unfortunately understanding of quality of Thai massage comes only with experience. I keep on returning to massage parlor next to Pratamnak beach in Pattaya. If there was a big break between my journeys to Thailand, this is the only place, where my back can become as healthy as new. Despite of its (sometimes not convenient) location – this is my #1 high quality Thai massage parlor. It’s funny but true – it was the first massage parlor I’ve ever visited in Thailand. This is low-priced parlor, 1 hour of Thai massage costs 200 THB.

The quality of Thai massage depends only on the skill of masseur and every parlor has a staff turnover. But it’s also very important how new staff are selected. In this Pattaya massage parlor works my friend Sam. Last time it’s not easy to find him there – when I fly to Thailand, Sam flies to Russia (to work here). That’s why my body has tested a lot of staff from this parlor. And I would say that they restored my health not worse than Sam does. But to be true, I should mention that even in this great place there are 1-2 masseurs with weaker skill than the other staff.

Don’t be shy: next time ask for a different masseur in the same parlour. It’s ok.

In Bangkok Thai massage is good enough in parlors located in soi Rambuttri (next to Kaosan road, f.e. use these coordinates: 13°45’39.9″N 100°29’46.2″E (13.761081, 100.496164)). From one hand it looks like conveyor system, from the other hand there are masseurs with really strong fingers/hands/arms.

At Koh Samet there’s a good massage parlour with aged female masseurs almost in the middle of the main street (between White Sand beach and the pier), closer to national park office. Prices in this parlour are 1,5-2 times higher. But they offer stomach massage (see in next chapter).

If we speak of Koh Chang – one can find Thai massage there even for 180 THB/hour. But the quality is not that good. In many parlors of Koh Chang you may meet masseurs from Cambodia (as the border is so close to the island), usually they are not that qualified as Thai people.

Prices for Thai massage since 2009 haven’t changed.

Every masseur has slightly different manner of using the same healing technique. During Thai massage qualified specialist reads your body like a book: he sees all traumas you ever had, had you been involved in professional sport and many other facts. S/he won’t tell this information anyone as a medical staff and as Thai national. But s/he can easily surprise you with details of your biography.

Woman in shell
There are some self-employed masseurs that work on a beach. But be aware: if some sand will stick to your body, massage will turn into a scrub

Types of Thai massage

Thai massage

Traditional Thai massage, classic version. The body remains clothed during treatment – the best option for those who have hairy bodies, due to cloth, nobody will pull you by hair. You’ll be offered loose clothes in massage parlour. Also this is the best choice for those, who want the strongest medical effect. Price starts from 150 THB per hour.

In my experience, if the price of 1 hour of Thai massage is lower than 200 THB, the treatment will be too soft. Note: 2 hours of Thai massage may include a discount and cost only 300 THB. Perfect duration after a long flight.

Clothes for Thai massage
The way clothes for Thai massage looks

Parlors that deal with many foreigners begin to buy clothes of big sizes. But if you go to Thai parlor for the first time and you are much bigger/taller than Thais, I would advise you to wear something you won’t regret about, if it would be stretched. Or you may bring your clothes for massage with you. Also there can be lack of loose clothes if there’s a “rush hour” in a parlour.

Oil massage

The same massage, but this time you need to undress and your body will be covered with oil. I like this treatment less, because when masseur tries to press stronger, his hand slips off – oil prevents strong treatment. Also it’s not that comfortable to have oil on your skin in such a hot climate. Price starts from 300 THB/hour. 2 hours – from 500 THB.

There are similar treatments with different oils and lotions (400 THB/hour and up):

  • Aroma / Aroma oil / Aroma therapy massage. It means that there will be some essential oils added to a basic one.
  • Aloe Vera massage. Masseurs usually recommend this massage to those who suffer from sunburns. I would recommend not disturbing the skin in this case.
  • Coconut oil massage.

Thai herbal massage

(also: Thai herbal massage, Herbal hot compress therapy etc)

One should visit it at least once, as it seems to be unusual. The trick is in a bunch of herbs that is hidden inside of a little cloth sack. Masseur puts sack in hot water and then presses it to your body. It is supposed that herbs give some more healing effect. The price starts from 400 THB per hour.

Herbal hot compress bags

Stomach massage

It’s kind of massage of stomach and intestines. Stomach massage includes strong movements and pressures on belly. It’s really a great thing – one can use it instead of taking medicine. Highly recommended for those who suffer from flatulence. Also there’s a nice side effect, the belly becomes smaller. But it’s a temporary thing (1-2 days). 200 THB per 20 minutes.

Stomach massage is a very rare treatment. I know only the one parlor, where Thais do it (the one on Koh Samet that I’ve mentioned in previous chapter). Also they do not have it included in price list. Masseur offered stomach massage to my friend, when she had noticed his health problem.

I’ve tried to find stomach massage in other parlors, but still I didn’t succeed. When I was trying to explain the way the treatment goes to my friend (Thai masseur), he got me wrong and offered to make slimming massage. If I knew, what it would be, I would never agree to do it.

Slimming / anticellulite massage

I don’t know, if this massage technique can help to get rid of excess weight or cellulite, but one thing I know for sure: you will definitely get rid of masochistic inclinations and improve your self-esteem by setting the rule you’ll 100% follow after this torture “never do it again to your body”.

Brief summary of treatment: 1 very long hour masseur will be strongly slapping your belly with hands, sometimes making circle clockwise movements. After slimming massage the skin of belly stays long time red and hurts several days as if it got sun burnt.

Love yourself and avoid this painful thing. The torture costs 500 THB/hour and up, probably, because masseur becomes too tired after it.

The rest of services

Thai massage parlors also offer:

  • Different kind of scrubs.
  • Face massage. Note: the treatment usually includes a mask. While you have a mask on your face, masseur may make a short session of foot massage.
  • Feet or hand SPA.
  • Manicure.

These services you won’t find in any parlor, but they are still popular enough:

  • Epilation.
  • 4 hands massage (by 2 masseurs in one time).
  • Fish SPA – aquarium with fishes that can eat old skin off your feet. Actually it’s more an amusement than a real thing – even if your feet were softened with hot water and fishes are hungry, pumice works much more effectively.

Note that there’s a big difference between traditional parlors that offer treatment (this article is devoted to this type) and those parlors that offer sex services as an extension of low quality treatment (I will mention these services here). Don’t try to offer sex to masseurs from traditional Thai massage parlor. It’s a very offensive thing for Thais.

Thai massage price-list in Thailand
Price list from massage parlor in Pattaya, where my friend Sam works

History of Thai massage

Thai massage appeared long before Thai alphabet was invented. That’s why first written manuscripts date back to the reign of Ramkhamhaeng the Great (13th century). Previously all knowledge had been delivered individually and verbally from teacher to student.

Ancient manuscripts were lost in devastating wars on territories of Thai kingdom. Today the oldest evidences are 19th century marble slabs with schemes of treatment and statues illustrating the way masseur should interact with patient’s body. You will see them in Bangkok in Wat Pho. There is also the first and the main university of Thai massage and medicine on the territory of this temple.

Dr. Jivaka Komarabhacca
Jīvaka Komārabhacca is supposed to be the founder of Thai massage. A court physician, he lived in 6-5 centuries BCE in East India

Royal Thai massage

Besides traditional Thai massage there’s a royal kind of it. Actually the difference is in respectfulness that doesn’t bring any benefits to health:

  • Masseur should keep distance.
  • All pressures can be done only with thumbs (rarely with outer parts of wrists). No elbows, other fingers, knees and especially feet are allowed.
  • No stretching.

Massage neon lights

To study Thai massage

One can in main educational centre in Wat Pho (Bangkok). There are different programs, even some short with 40 hours in each. But if you want to get the full knowledge, you must complete at least 800 hours training. This is the main requirement for Thai massage therapists.

To provide massage services in Thailand one must acquire a professional license and be registered at the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Health Service Support. In many massage parlors you may notice licenses of staff hanging on a wall.

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