Here in Thailand it is much easier to get a massage than in western countries. You just walk into one of countless massage shops and in most cases there is a therapist available right away. So that’s the easy part.
But how do you know who will work on you – is it just the luck of the draw? Most shops have several therapists on staff. They are automatically assigned to the customers depending on their turn in the queue. However you don’t have to accept just any therapist. You can ask for anyone who you feel comfortable with.
Here are some tips for improving your chance of getting a good Thai Massage.
1. It helps to choose a therapist who speaks at least some English so that you can communicate what you want. It can be really frustrating to be met with blank stares or uncomprehending smiles if you try to explain what you want during the session.
2. Ask the therapist some questions: “How long have you been practicing massage?” You don’t want to be the guinea pig of a new therapist. You might not get a truthful answer, but often you can pick out clues like conviction in the voice, or a very specific answer, like ‘I have worked here for two years and before that I worked in XYZ shop for three years.’
“Where did you study?” Not that it really matters where he or she studied, but in this way you get to find out if they understand what you are saying. You also get to study their reaction. If the therapist acts annoyed or impatient, you better move on. If the answer is friendly and helpful, that’s a plus.
3. Ask the therapist if she can tailor the session to your needs. Explain what your issues are (if you have any) and see if she comprehends. Make it very clear what kind of work you want done because otherwise you will get a one-size-fits-all session.
4. Ask the therapist if she uses her mobile phone during the session. Believe it or not, many therapists in Thailand answer their cell phones in the middle of a massage session. The better shops don’t allow this practice.
5. Do you like the energy of the therapist? She will be touching you for one or two hours. Does she look clean? Are her fingernails short and clean? I have seen a number of therapists in tourist centers who have long painted fingernails. That’s a big warning sign.
6. Many therapists in Thailand subscribe to the idea that therapeutic work means just pressing twice as hard. If your therapist is causing you pain during the session, speak up and tell her to reduce pressure or ease up on the stretch. Don’t just bite your teeth and tolerate it. It is your money and your session.
7. Try to get a recommendation before you ever enter a shop. Then you can walk in and ask for a specific person without having to go through an interview process.
8. If possible, spend a few minutes watching the therapists work in the shop. This is easy in Thailand since in most shops massage is a very public affair. There are some mats next to each other on the floor and everything is visible to all people in the shop.
What to look out for? Are the therapists constantly chatting with each other while they are working? Is there a party atmosphere in the shop or are the therapists focused? Do you like the way how a particular therapist is working? Does it look professional?
9. Talk to the person who is managing the shop. Does he or she really pay attention to you and try to accommodate your requests, or are you being treated like just another wallet that needs to be relieved of some bills?
None of the above tips can guarantee you a good massage, but they will certainly increase your chances.
The author, Shama Kern, has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.