After living in Thailand for many years and having received many Thai Massages I have come up with a listing of different styles of Thai Massage therapists you will encounter in Thailand.
1. The social type: This is the chatty type. She will immediately ask where you come from, if you speak Thai, if you are in a relationship etc. She will chat with you during the massage and she will have lively conversations with her fellow Thai Massage therapists who are working in the same room.
She keeps her mobile phone next to her and she will take any call. Either she will stop the massage until she is done talking or she will hold the phone with one hand and massage you with her free hand.
She is not really focused on what she is doing and sees the massage scene as a perpetual social gathering. It might really annoy someone, but there are clients who actually enjoy this party atmosphere.
2. The brutal type: This is the kind of therapist who loves to dig into people with elbows and knees. He or she works rapidly and without any sensitivity or subtlety.
If you ask for extra attention to a specific tight area of your body, the “therapy” will consist of a merciless elbow attack and maximum pressure until you wince in pain. If you complain about the discomfort, the therapist will tell you authoritatively that pain is good for you.
3. The hopeless massage mechanic: This is the therapist who has learned a specific Thai Massage sequence and administers it to every single person who is unlucky enough to come under his or her thumbs. It is the one-size-fits-all massage.
Everyone gets the exact same session, and if you ask for specific work on a certain area of your body, the therapist will acknowledge it and then proceed to give you the usual routine without regards to your request. The session will feel superficial and mindless.
4. The on-the-hunt therapist: This is a woman who sees her massage job as a good way to find a western boyfriend. She is convinced that all westerners are wealthy and that they are the ticket for a life in luxury in some land where the streets are paved with gold, where nobody has to work and the government hands out free money to all citizens.
She will ask you very quickly if you have a girlfriend. If you say no, she will tell you that she is looking for a western boyfriend and that she wants to go to America.
5. The last straw therapist: This is a woman who is middle aged and has a hard time finding a job. In Thailand women from their mid-thirties on often have a real challenge competing with younger women for jobs. Most employers go for the younger girls.
Massage is one of the few jobs which can be done by people who have no education or skills in other areas, and where age is not such an issue. It pays better than basic low paying jobs and it offers the opportunity to snag a rich westerner. (In the Thai’s minds, all westerners are wealthy)
6. The golden touch therapist: This is a Thai Massage therapist who has a wonderful touch that can make you feel like you are in heaven. It is someone who has really sensitive hands and can feel what is happening in the client’s body.
This tends to be someone who is a skilled therapist who likes his or her work and has a good reputation and many clients who seek her/him out. Such therapists are in the minority, and once you find one, you have a great asset in Thailand.
7. The true healer: There are some therapists in Thailand who get truly amazing results with their work. They can perceive and read energy, and their work goes way beyond a massage session.
Such healers are shamans, bodyworkers and energy workers all in one, and they are extremely rare and very hard to find. They do not advertise and they do not work in the tourism industry. Often they are very simple people with no formal education, but they have an almost magical talent.
8. The sleezy type: These are women who provide massage with added benefits for extra pay. They are the ones who gave Thai Massage its sometimes dubious reputation. They might be qualified therapists, but they sell other services as well.
You can often recognize them in the major tourist areas by the clothes they wear, their makeup, their painted fingernails, and their seductive attitude. But they do exist outside of the tourist areas as well.
It is a fact of life that massage and prostitution sometimes overlap, and not only in Thailand, but all over the world. But this does not diminish the value of Thai Massage. It just means that it can be used for healing, for relaxation, for sexual opportunities, just like many things in life.
A knife can be used to cut bread or throats. It does not make the knife good or bad, but it does reflect on the one who holds it.
Thai Massage is a wonderful art, and my hope is that after reading this article you are now better equipped to make a choice which is right for you.
The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for two decades. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.
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60 thoughts on “The 8 Different Types of Thai Massage Therapists”
An AWESOME article, Shama!!
Thanks for sharing it.
I agree that it is up to us to choose the quality and intention of the massage we want to give.
If we choose to Help, Love and Care for the person we are touching we will absolutely be successful in what we are doing and we will transfer that great energy.
If we practice only for money or other materialist reasons, for sure we will have different results.
It is all up to us!! :))
Best wishes to you!!
Thanks Lucia, I am glad you liked the article.
Thanks Shama. Great articles. I think that these types of practitioners can indeed be found everywhere. Another type that I have observed are the assembly line manager types who give you the standard treatment and not one thing or one minute more. Their sessions are chilly and uncaring experiences. This type of practitioner or work environment can be found in many professional disciplines and is ultimately uninspiring and unsatisfying. I suspect that a large number of people who could benefit from competent, caring massage, but who never return, had these assembly line experiences early on in their exposure to massage.
True, Bruce, you came up with another category!
yes agree that Thai massage and some therapist are total healers I have one who has that golden touch she just makes the body heal she knows where I am hurting without even telling her , they do exist and they are earth angels . Thai is the only massage I will ever go for , as they are mostly qualified and just have a different appreciation of the body, they appreciate their skill and show it so much more , its a art form .
I have even started to learn myself , thanks for that , going to d full course .
You are lucky that you found a Thai Massage therapist with the golden touch. That’s a great asset to have! Learning it yourself is even better! Is is a great skill set to have and a wonderful way of helping others, plus it can be an excellent career.
Shama; This is a very well written and insightful, entertaining story.
Being a songwriter, I especially like line “A knife can be used to cut throats or bread.” That is great song fodder!
Tedi May, USA
I am glad that you like this article! 🙂
Enjoyed the article and am enjoying learning more about the Thai culture as well as massage skills anfd techniques.
Thanks Mark, I appreciate your comment and your interest!
Thanks Shama, it was an iteresting reading. It gave an insight into the Thai culture and on Thai massage which is an inseperable part of it. I was surprised to read about so many types of Thai therapists. By the way, are they all called therapists or only the most qualified ones? In Beijin, where are got several foot massage sessions in one of the luxurous spa hotels, the specialists where more or less alike in terms of their behaviour and the quality of services they provided. Each session was very enjoyable, although the total lack of communication, perhaps because they just didn’t speak English, made me a little bit uncomfortable. At that time I realized that a good massage therapist should be able to communicate well with the partners, that makes a massage session still more enjoyable.
Lidia, all the different types of therapists fall under the category of “massage therapist”. Just in some cases there is not much therapy happening. I wrote the article to help people understand and recognize the differences. Personally I only get massage from therapists whom I know or who have been recommended highly.
I agree that communication is a very essential skill for massage therapists. It is so important that I created a course about it, called “Massage Therapy Communication Secrets”. You can find it on this page:
i found your Thai massage course in youtube. your article was brief but an experted one. thanks for kindful teaching and introducing thai massage.
I really enjoyed the differences showing the intensions of therapist. I cringe at the sexual parts an rich western men. Being in the US women have very different paths to take & I am very thankful for these options. I am excited to explore Thai Massage and culture. Someday I think I might like to meet you. I bet you get that all the time Shama.
Much love and laughter Donna
Thanks for your comment Donna. Here in Thailand where I live, massage often takes place in a more social and public environment. In western countries like the US, massage is mostly done in a private and professionally controlled setting. Therefore in Thailand the differences between the various types of therapists are more open and visible.
And yes, through my websites and blogs I get to meet and connect with many interesting people. I have even met some of them when they came to visit Thailand. Have you ever been in Thailand?
I think going to Thailand would enrich my life, the experience would be amazing !!! I of course would plan on meeting you ……
I think I would have to do something extraordinary like that to set myself apart here in the states.
Yes, it would feel extraordinary and would give you a new and different perspective. I know that, because that’s what happened to me when I first came here a long time ago.
Just read your latest article….Brilliant!! just one thing if the massage was not up to a good standard ie only their for the money I would get up and walk… without paying
Well, I had that notion sometimes myself, but generally things are not that cut and dry. We cannot put our standards on the Thais. Also sometimes it is not so easy to figure out where they are coming from and what their circumstances are.
Generally what I do is allow them to save face and go through the session even if it is not so good. Walking out without paying is something that will cause very bad blood and is something I would neither do nor recommend. After all, we are only talking about a few dollars, and it is just not worth it to have a big fuss and argument that will stay with you for a long time.
For your peace of mind it is much better to write a bad massage off as an interesting experience, pay for it and move on without having a big scene. Not paying for a massage will be a big face-loss situation for a Thai therapist, and that’s about the worst you can do to a Thai.
In Australia you must pay up front. So you could never just walk out unless you wanted to lose your money.
Thank you very much for this artikel. You should offer it to the turist bord of different countries to educate the turist who are coming to Thailand as many think Thailand is all holistic and professional. Perhaps the Lonely Planet Thailand travel guide can do with some extra pages of Massage and Spa education. The new edition has just been published in February. So send over your artikels for the next edition. Is all about to spred the word of what a good intended, professional massage should be and raising the standard for the whole industry.
Also I would not work out of a massage with out pay. I would make excuses to finish early, pay and go with a prayer and blessing in my head for the therapist not to do harm to others.
Lots of love and keep up the good work.
Thanks Ronny, I should think about having my information published elsewhere as well, you are right. I will put some energy into this.
Just a quick reply to my last comment to you. I was referring to a western Thai massage which is far more expensive than Thailand.I fully understand and would not dream of not paying there,i would think it would be an insult, and besides as you say it only costs a few pennies.
Got it, thanks for the clarification. In the western world I would be more inclined to walk away from a really bad massage since, as you say, the cost is so much higher, and at such prices, you have the right to expect a decent quality of massage. Luckily I have never been in a situation where this would have become necessary. I choose my therapists well based on recommendations of people I know.
Hi, Just wanted to tell you about a rather strange experience I had in a Bangkok hotel where I had booked an aromatheraphy-massage. I am a white female in my early 40’s and same size/weight as most thai-women and have never had any strange experiences like this one before: I arrived at the clinic, was told to enter the shower which was in the same room as the massage took place. Once finished, I put my underwear back on(I had just had a shower prior to it,so everything was clean anyway) I was ready to get up on the massage bench when the masseuse, a girl in her 2o’s, told me to take my bra off.I did and then went for the bench. She then touched my knickers and said;take off. I was puzzled at this, but I eventually did take them off. Once on the table ,she spent at long time massaging my thighs and lower part of my body and at one occasion, I was totally exposed. This has never happened to me before or since and I wonder why I had to take my knickers off? I felt very uncomfortable afterwards and did not go back to her .Is this normal in thailand??(I have had many massage sessions in this country)
Lucinda, western style draping is not done so strictly in Thailand. But normally the midsection of the body is covered up with a towel. However it is not uncommon to encounter therapists who throw all the rules out of the window or make up their own.
So to answer your question, no, this is not normal in Thailand, but also not unheard of. The other factor is that there are quite a few, generally male clients, who decline any draping during an oil massage.
That the girl worked a lot on your legs is quite common in Thailand. Thai Massage consists of about 70 percent leg work normally. Since all massage therapists also do Thai Massage, they might just carry the habit of spending lots of time on the legs over to other styles of massage, like in your case.
Yes, I know it’s common to work on your legs a lot, but had it only been legs and not so much upper thighs seeing that I had no clothes on(!) I also pointed to my shoulders as they are my problem area, but she did not massage shoulders at all.And maybe it’s o.k for men to be lying there stark naked, but I am a woman and that’s why it puzzled me. My boyfriend suggested she might have been a katoy(ladyboy) and I must admit I did not think about that at the time. I have talked to other women that have gone for massages in thailand and they have never heard anything like it.Fortunately, I have had many other great and ‘normal’ massages in thailand.
I doubt that it was a ladyboy since they are interested in men, not women. But your therapist might have been a lesbian.
Regarding not getting shoulder work done, I have experienced this many times myself. Most Thai Massage therapists have a very limited shoulder repertoire, and most of them cannot break out of their routine treatment sequence. It is quite difficult to find someone who can work effectively on one specific area.
it s a nice article. i have laughed as i recognised many situations.
i got the social type who was answering the phone, talking with her colleague or watching tv
i got the brutal one but really wanted to help me and my back
i got the on the hunt therapist who wanted to marry me with her daughter
i got a true healer who get rid of my sciatica making me sleep in the same time and finally i got the sleezy type in bangkok as i asked for massage in a tourist area
this shows the variety of human behavior and the way some thai massage therapists consider thai massage themselves.
Great article .
Thanks for sharing.
Can t help to get a session with you in November.
Hi Marc, I see you experienced most of what I wrote about first hand. I am glad you like the article, and thanks for relating your experience!
Curious to hear where you find yourself categorized in? Golden Touch? True Healer?
My impression is that True Healers often come from lineage and/or appointed, but rather than self studied just because we want to be…. what are your thoughts?
I never tried categorizing myself. I leave that up to my clients and students. I have hundreds of testimonials, many of which are available for anyone to see on my website (http://thaihealingmassage.com) and in my forum (http://thaihealingmassage.com/forum). It really does not matter what I think about myself. I am in this profession to help others, and the only thing that matters is what THEY think about my work.
Categorizing myself would only be a way to build up my ego, and I see no reason to do that:)
My thoughts on lineage and appointment are this: Being in a lineage can certainly make learning easier since then you can get encouragement, training from early childhood on and visible examples on a regular basis.
I don’t see any reason why appointments would make anyone a better therapist unless this appointment goes along with extensive training. And you can get extensive training without any appointments.
In both cases, lineage and appointment, I stay away from those concepts. If you believe in them, it can make you feel disempowered since you cannot acquire the lineage or the appointment.
But we are all able to make tremendous progress through our determination, our training and our strong belief that we can make it.
Lineage or appointment ‘guru style’ can make learning easier, but it can also lock you into a mode that prevents you from learning anything outside of your lineage.
There are plenty of examples of this attitude in various religious cults. I don’t think that massage training needs to borrow from religious ideas. I have personally observed this kind of attitude in the Thai massage community right here in Chiang Mai, where some students (not all of course) are arguing over and pushing the ideas of ‘their’ teacher’, while putting down all other teachers.
In short, lineage and appointment can be helpful, but they can also lead to ego and narrow mindedness. That’s why I prefer to stay away from them.
I firmly believe that we all have the capacity to do whatever we feel inspired or called to do, with or without lineage or appointment. I know plenty of gifted therapists who did not come from any lineage and never got any appointments.
It is nice to know that a thai practitioner is concern of how this modality have evolve and how the different therapist attitude towards their work … Im a trainer from the Philippines but i do more for a therapeutic massage for me not all are born to be a Thai Massage Practitioner and not all of them aim to help other but just to earn a living …. when you do it properly you will earn respect to your co practitioner and your client or patients as well … ethics and values are very important of teaching individual who wants to be part of the healing… but not just go with the flow of whatever is in the trends… not all can take the thai routine so as practitioner they should be able to adjust to the client conditions as well … thank you for sharing the article
Thanks for your feedback, I am glad you can relate to my description of the different kinds of therapists!
I will be arriving in Chiang Mai at the beginning of May for 2 month.
Who are the good therapists to seek out.
Hi Alan, when you arrive in Chiang Mai, contact me and I will point you in the right direction.
Thanks for the list, certainly covers many types of therapists here in Thailand. Since my connection with the industry is different than most visitors and even residents, I wanted to add more. My work involves training and consulting at top end and boutique spas with higher standards than most of what you find in Thailand. My wife has worked for years training therapists at the Four Seasons and one of Asia’s top Wellness destination resorts. At this level there has been a shift towards more middle class individuals, often with college educations since being able to speak English is almost a requirement. For them, massage can be a well paying job with the allure of working overseas a very reachable goal. Among this group the stories and types more closely reflect what you would see in American massage environments. It is still a Thai cultural context, but these individuals more often have a professional attitude from a Western point of view. The governments attempts to put in a licensing for Thai Traditional medicine also provides a way for those sincerely wanting to help others to find positions that are more professional and therapeutically oriented.
Thanks for the input Ricardo. It is certainly true that in the higher end spa industry you can find another type of therapist than in the more common Thai Massage shops.
Great Master and teacher I am grateful for such invaluable gift you have given us. You always make us feel that the path we have chosen as therapists is the best thing that could ever happen to us.
Here in Ghana we have quite a number of Thai massage therapist who are Thais, and I can now identify the BRUTAL TYPE with one. Clients always say her massage is painful and she herself knows, but she will quickly retort by saying ‘if you want relaxation then go to another spa.’
Master for me the seventh category [THE TRUE HEALER ] is my aim and objective, and I know with your guidance, training and teaching it is going to happen. I have not started your online training but I know that I will do all.
Thanks for your kind words. I am looking forward to helping you becoming one of the True Healers of the 7th category!
Very entertaining and informative read! I always ask for a male therapist as I find in general that they take their job more seriously and their big thumbs have more padding so more bearable on those ‘tight SEN lines’. Ultimately my best experiences has been with blind therapists!
That’s interesting that your best experiences have been with blind therapists. I will have to try that again.
Very insightful article, Shama. I’m a fairly new therapist, striving to reach the true healer stage of body work. I’ve taken three levels of Thai yoga massage in the states so far but I would love to study at the source in Thailand some day. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experiences with Thai culture. I’ve enjoyed reading about your thoughts on authenticity and tradition as it relates to this therapeutic art form.
Thanks Callie. I hope you will be able to visit Thailand one day. In the meantime you might want to connect with us here at Thai Healing Massage Academy in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but signing up for our free Thai Massage video course. This will also give you access to lots of interesting articles and videos about Thailand and Thai Massage:
Shama, I did sign up for your free course and have been enjoying your videos very much! I’m going to purchase your Ultimate Shoulder Massage homestudy course soon. Thank you for providing such excellent resources.
Hi Callie, I am happy that you get something out of my videos. The Ultimate Shoulder Massage course will go much deeper – I am sure you will enjoy that course! 🙂
Great list! I want to be a Golden Healer!!! HOPE HOPE HOPE
Hi Shama!..am Priscilla a massage therapist in Ghana…i have been reading and watching your videos that you sent to me sometime ago…they are really awesome!…will love to take one of your online lessons one day!…i can see you have great wisdom and experience in this art…thanks for sharing!wish to visite thailand one day.lots of love from me !xoxo
Thank you Priscilla. I am looking forward to seeing you in one of our courses whenever you feel inspired to do so. We have another student from Ghana in our program as well.
Hi Shama, enjoying reading your website and especially the massage perspectives. My path into massage is a little different as it started with counseling training and progressed to learning bodywork as a form of emotional as well as physical release. The first time I experienced it was so moving that I decided to attend the training instead of just going to sessions. Met a number of people with the almost magical ability to connect you describe.
Reading your work rekindled my interest. I’ve been living in the Nimman Hiemman part of Chiang Mai for the last few months and would like to find some of these practitioners around here.
I am glad that you like this website. Do you know that we have another site which has lots of articles about massage?
You are lucky that you found some therapists with the ‘magic touch’. They are hard to find, even in a place like Chiang Mai where there are thousands of massage therapists.
Well Said, have Had couple of Massage, and you are right, they are Bad once. I Practice Thai from My Master, but after My Course, Most Patients wanted me to Work on them because I Always took My time. Am planning coming over to Thailand to learn more and hope to meet a teacher with a Golden heart..
This sounds like a good plan to me! 🙂
I have a question about Thai massage. I have been in Thailand four times now, from 1-5 months each visit, for a total of about one year spent total in Thailand. The first time was around 2003 and I loved Thai massage so much.
It was aptly described as “lazy man’s yoga”, with lots of stretching moves, use of feet and hands to stretch and pull and knead, changing of body positions, full coverage of about 5-10 minutes each spent on each foot, leg, hand, arm, face, and back. Popping of toe and finger knuckles, neck, back.
Now in 2018, I return to Chiang Mai (where I took a 20 hour massage course) but the massage seems to have changed. I have gotten 4-5 massages, one each day from a different parlor/masseuse but they are all lacking. It is 15-20 minutes of deep tissue/pressure point on each leg, with little or no attention given to feet, hands, arms or face. Little to no use of the practicioner’s feet, very little stretching and only one “stopping the wind” technique at the very beginning, usually poorly done.
Has the huge tourist influx resulted in a larger and more poorly trained amount of therapists? Did the techniques change? Is my memeory false and tainted by nostalgia? I am sad to think I cannot have another massage like the ones I enjoyed so much in the past.
I continue to look but another 3-4 massages like the past 4-5 and I will have to give up.
In my experience it has never been so easy to find a good Thai Massage therapist, and I have been disappointed many times. The techniques have not changed, and there still are some excellent practitioners around. However to just randomly go to some massage shop has a high probability of not being very satisfactory. It is better to get recommendations from someone who has been around the massage scene in Chiang Mai.
It is a fact that with the explosion of tourism in Chiang Mai there has also been an explosion of therapists who are not necessarily well trained and who are often just doing it for some easy money, and not because they have the desire to be an excellent therapist.
Styles can vary, and not all use their feet so much. Some focus on the legs at the expense of the upper body, and some work very mechanically. However with a little research you can definitely find therapists who can give you an excellent Thai Massage.
I have personally faced massage therapist types 1 and 3. Yet to find types 6 and 7. Doubt if any such therapist is available in Kolkata. That is why I am trying to teach my partner as well in a very simple manner the Thai styles that work for me so that she is not bogged down with the varieties. I know my body well and it tells me where and what kind of work I need, kind of intuitive.
Thanks Shama for your dedication.
Well, types 6 and 7 are hard to find anywhere.
Thank you Sharma. I recognize many of these types of massage therapists! I recall one in a Hilton Hotel. He was Italian and chatty, and Italians talk with their hands, so his hands were everywhere except on my body. Very frustrating! There is also the mediocre energy healer whose walls are covered with crosses and pictures of Jesus and who has no set price (“give what you want”) and you want to leave very little because nothing happened. I have also had the brutal bodyworker experience – a woman I went to for sciatica, who kept telling me people came from all over the world to be cured by her, and her moves were painful, but not half as painful as the next 48 hours, with no progress afterwards. There is another category in the West, the new technology addict (a bit like the massage mechanic, but sold on the new fad). I remember many years ago going to one in London to slim my thighs, when sucking ceramic cups were all the rage. After several expensive sessions my thighs were rolling downwards, most unsightly. And a very cheap hardworking masseuse in Bogota reversed the trend and toned my thighs with good old elbow grease. Small gestures can make a big difference. I had a great massage with a therapist who at one point pulled the towel down my back VERY VERY slowly, and it felt so lovely I do it now with all my clients.
You have had your share of encounters with some of the less savory types. Thanks for sharing those experiences.
I love this article and I agree 100% with it.
I did not know how may types of massage therapist personalities there were, so it was very illustrating. I Iike the knife it example you gave. It is very true.