Thailand massage (or Thai massage) has been an important part of Thai culture for the past 2,500 years. For most visitors to Thailand, a massage will be on their 'must do' list especially after a long day of bargain shopping. It is relaxing and therapeutic, and the price within Thailand is relatively inexpensive, costing as low as 200 Thai baht per hour. Thai massage parlors are dotted over most of the country especially within the more popular tourist locations which means you will never have to travel very far to enjoy this popular Thai custom.
While the practice of Thai massage dates back some 2,500 years most historical accounts of Thai massage were destroyed in 1767 when the Burmese attacked in the province of Ayutthaya. However, historical records do suggest that Thai massage has been influenced from countries including China and India and from the techniques used in yoga.
There are generally speaking, two major types of Thai massage that I have seen practiced within Thailand massage parlors; being traditional Thai massage and oil massage. However, as the Thai massage industry caters towards the needs of western tourists, the list of different treatments on offer can be quite extensive (see image below).
Terms such as foot massage, full body massage, body to body massage, tantra massage and pedicures are among the types of massage and treatments that are often advertised on shop front windows and signs right across Thailand.
The price of Thai massage can vary quite dramatically depending upon the type of massage (and if the massage is associated with a spa or beauty treatment) and the location of the massage parlor. For example, prices in the more up-market shopping centres, hotels and resorts can reach 4,300 Thai baht per hour, while your more humble massage shops (i.e. see image below) can start from as little as 200 Thai baht per hour for a shoulder massage.
While massage times can vary between 30 minutes to 2 hours it ultimately depends upon your health and budget as to the length of the massage.
The Thai massage industry is quite robust and services both Thai clientele and the large foreign tourist influx. Most Thailand massage parlors are clean and tidy and have basic amenities including a toilet and shower (see Thailand Massage Parlors). Staff are usually courteous and professional towards tourists and the industry itself provides women with a legitimate means of escaping poverty.
There are a number of massage schools in Thailand that teach this age old tradition such as the Thai Massage School of Thailand which is located in Chiang Mai.
The courses there are accredited by the Thai Ministry of Education, but I suspect that a majority of the people working in the industry have no formal qualifications.
When entering most massage parlors you will be required to remove your shoes at the front door and your feet will be washed before your massage. If you are having an oil massage you may also be required to take a shower.
Some shops don't have air conditioning so if this is of concern to you it may be better to check when you first enter the shop. Further, some massage parlors will also offer a couples massage which means that you and your partner can be massaged whilst laying next to each other (see image below).
Traditional Thailand massage is the most common type practiced in Thailand and is normally performed on either a thin mattress on the floor, or on a massage table with the person to be massaged being fully clothed but wearing loose comfortable clothing.
This form of Thai massage involves the masseur stimulating several of the major sen points (i.e. sens are energy lines and it is believed the body contains 72,000 which flow through the body) which are said to be like a second invisible skin within the body and are connected to the internal organs, thus affecting the overall health of the body.
The massage also involves yoga type stretching of the major muscles in the legs, neck and back. This form of massage is very helpful for persons with muscular soreness or for those wishing to increase their flexibility.
As noted earlier, traditional Thailand massage is said to date back
around 2,500 years ago, being practiced by Buddha's personal doctor,
Shivago Komarpaj. While the techniques used are also said to be
influenced from both Chinese and Indian culture it is Komarpaj that is
credited with developing Thai massage to the level that it is practiced today.
Thai oil massage is similar in some respects to the traditional form of Thailand massage with the main difference being that oil is applied over most of the body.
The person to be massaged will remove their clothing and replace it with a towel before laying down upon the mattress. Some massage shops may also provide you with disposable underpants to wear.
Legs, arms, back shoulders, neck and face are all rubbed with the oil but their is usually less stretching of the muscles with this form of massage. Oil massage is generally more useful for muscle soreness and is also very relaxing.
Foot massage is said to date back to China several thousand years ago. As with traditional Thailand massage foot massage works on the theory or understanding that the energy lines within the body have sen points within the feet and legs of the body. Therefore, after your shoes are removed and your feet are washed the massage practitioner will attempt to stimulate these points, working on the theory that tired feet can affect the entire body.
The health benefits of Thai massage were obviously well known prior to 1788 in Bangkok, as statues made in various massage or yoga postures were being produced on the same site as the Temple of Wat Pho in Bangkok (also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha). The Temple was constructed from 1788 to 1795 and the statues were already onsite.
This site is also home to the respected Watpo Thai Traditional Medical School which includes traditional Thailand massage. However, most people would be unaware that Thai massage is also one of the four common branches of traditional Thai medicine.
The Watpo Thai Traditional Medical School has been training Thai Masseurs since about 1955 and has both short and long term enrollments available (see image below).
Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace in the Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace in the Rattanakosin district. The site is open daily between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM.
There are numerous massage parlors located at Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. However, if you are visiting Bangkok you can take the BTS (i.e. skytrain) to Nana Station, and you will find several shops in close proximity. Some massage shops will provide you with a complimentary drink on arrival, and just remember to remove your shoes at the door which is a common practice in Thailand.
If you are staying at one of the larger tourist resorts, massage facilities are often provided onsite. Alternatively, the larger massage shops can arrange for a masseur to come to your hotel room, for an additional cost.
If the benefits of Thailand massage are appealing to you it is my understanding that foreigners can also enroll to study at a massage school in Thailand .