Thailand is the land of massage. It’s everywhere. You don’t have to look for it. It will find you. The easy and very affordable access to massage in Thailand is one of the pleasures of living here.
Like everywhere in the world, the quality of massage varies greatly. I have received many wonderful Thai Massage sessions in Thailand, but I also had some rather bizarre experiences. The silver lining of those sub-standard massages was that they helped me to develop an approach to finding good therapists.
One story sticks out in my mind which in hindsight seems quite funny, but when it actually happened, I wasn’t laughing. That was the point when I decided that I needed a better method for finding good Thai Massage.
One of my first massage experiences in Thailand
One day, many years ago, I walked into a massage shop in Bangkok. It was the typical setup of the basic kind, one big room with several massage mats next to each other on the floor.
The air conditioner was turned up to freezing, and when I was lying down on my mat, the therapist placed a fan next to us which blew even more chilled air on me.
I knew that I would be cold pretty soon, and asked the therapist to turn off the fan. He told me that he felt hot and needed the fan. Well – what about my comfort?
The multi-tasking Thai Massage therapist
After about ten minutes he stood up, walked across the room and prepared a pot of tea for everyone’s use.
I was lying there wondering what was going on. Then he returned and continued the massage where he had left off without offering any explanation.
This was my first red flag that there was something wrong with this session and this therapist.
A few minutes later one of his colleagues finished her session. To my surprise my therapist interrupted our session again, got up and collected the fee from the other client.
Apparently he was the cashier for the entire place. The second red flag went up.
When massage is only about the money
At this point I should have just abandoned the session and walked out. However I was curious how this strange session was going to develop. Since the price was only about US $5 for one hour, I decided to stick with it.
During the rest of the session my therapist got up several more times to collect payments, and never bothered to comment on this or apologize for the interruptions.
When a client is a necessary evil
While he was working on me, my therapist kept chatting with his colleagues throughout the session, oblivious of the fact that it might have bothered me or any other clients.
I felt like my presence was not much more than a necessary evil, and only justified because I had money in my pocket. Not surprisingly the session was purely mechanical and I felt mostly like a slab of meat being pushed around.
What’s the moral of the story? If you are looking for a massage in Thailand, you can be lucky and end up with a good therapist. Or you can be unlucky and get a session which borders on absurd. That’s why it is a good idea to not just walk into any shop and accept whatever happens.
Ten tips for getting a good Thai Massage in Thailand
However such a scenario can easily be avoided with some precautions.
Here are ten suggestions to help you avoid a session like the one I experienced and increase your chances of getting a good Thai Massage:
- First ask around to get recommendations for a good massage shop
- If possible, get the name of a specific therapist. Most shops have quite a few on staff, and it is perfectly acceptable to request a specific one.
- Take a look at the place first. Do you like the energy? Does it look clean and pleasant? Is there a TV blaring in the background? Is the receptionist (if there is one) courteous, friendly and helpful?
- Are there massage therapists sprawled out sleeping in plain view? This is quite common in Thailand, but still not very professional.
- Request a therapist who speaks some English. Without any communication it will be very difficult to explain what you want and what you don’t want.
- Make sure to tell the therapist if you have any problems or pre-conditions (they practically never ask you about such things), and if you like the massage strong, medium or soft.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up if the therapist causes you pain.
- Indicate clearly if you want some specific work done.
- Don’t be afraid to spend a few dollars extra on a place that looks clean, professional, organized, has uniformed therapists and clean sheets.
- Look for older therapists rather than young ones. This can increase your chances of getting a more experienced therapist versus someone who just learned massage a few months before.
If you follow these guidelines, your chances of getting a good Thai Massage will be much better than if you just walk into the next shop and lie down on the mat.
For a humorous and enlightening explanation of the various types of massage therapists which you will encounter in Thailand, please click here
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for well over a decade. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy.
You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org