Traditional Thai massage is something that I will confess I knew little about before visiting Thailand. Of course, I had heard about the body to body massages that the country is known for, as well as the seedy association with ‘happy endings’.
Whilst I figured these rumours couldn’t be true on a large scale, I was still keen to find out more about Thai Massage and whether these raunchy body to body massages were as common as the western media had led me to believe.
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What is Thai Massage?
Thai Massage is an ancient practice used to relieve the stress in the body’s muscles through pressure techniques and stretching. Perhaps the most unusual thing about massage in Thailand is that the masseuse uses different parts of their body to perform the massage.
During a massage in Thailand, it is likely that you will be pulled around and stretched out. It is certainly not a gentle type of massage and you will need to bear in mind that it will be very different from anything you’re likely to have experienced before. As well as being kneaded by different parts of your masseuse’s body, it is also possible that you will be walked over (literally) and have your arms and legs yanked until your joints crack.
Although this sounds uncomfortable, Thai Massage parlours can offer some of the most relaxing massages that you can find. If you feel like your masseuse is too rough then simply tell them. In many places, the staff rely on tips so they want to make sure that you are enjoying the experience.
The history of authentic Thai Massage
This style of massage is said to be traced back to Indian origins and was first seen around 2,500 years ago. The founder of authentic Thai Massage is said to have been a doctor from Northern India who later went on to become the physician for Buddha himself. Shivago Komarpaj created what we now define as Thai Massage, an art that spread to Thailand along with the introduction of Buddhism.
Read more about Thai massage history here.
The health benefits of traditional Thai Massage
Massage therapy can demonstrate a surprising number of benefits according to Reader’s Digest Best Health, including the reduction of muscle pain, improvement in sleep quality and lowering of stress levels.
While there is definitely more research needed to conclusively said just how effective massage is in terms of its health benefits, anyone who has had one will know that they feel amazing!
Do Happy Ending Massages Exist?
For all of you who might not be aware, asking for a happy ending is the polite way (I use that term loosely) of requesting that the masseuse jerk you off at the end of the massage.
If you believe what you read in the media, you will think that happy endings are everywhere in Thailand and almost impossible to avoid if you are looking for a massage. As a result of this, I was pretty uptight when I agreed to my first Thai massage but after making it through with no uncomfortable privacy infringements, I was sure that the happy ending thing was a myth.
Since that first experience, I have had my eyes opened. When Tim and I were in Chiang Mai, we got to hear about a highly rated massage place just down the road from where we were staying. We showed up on our last night in the city hoping to get a massage to wind down before we moved on.
Unfortunately for us, the place we wanted to visit was so full that we ended up in the seedy looking parlour next door. As soon as we entered, it became quickly apparent that this business was only able to survive because of the overflow from the more renowned parlour.
At this point, it would be fair to say that although I wasn’t expecting an exceptional massage, I was certainly not expecting an interruption in the form of panting and groaning. After lots of breathless activity from behind the curtain next to us and a squeal of ‘Mr. It is too big!’ I saw two silhouettes stir and the sound of a jeans zipper being pulled.
Turns out happy endings aren’t a myth after all.
Choosing a Thai Massage Parlour
If you are looking to avoid the above scenario, it is important that you put a fair amount of consideration into choosing a Thai Massage parlour. As a result of my less than desirable experience, this is what I have learnt about rooting out the good from the bad (and the downright ugly).
Read massage parlour reviews first
If at all possible, search the massage parlour’s name on TripAdvisor and have a quick scout of the comments. Obviously, if it only rates at 2 stars it is probably fair to assume it is best to avoid this place.
Reviews can also be indicative of the massage style at the parlour, for example, whether the masseuses specialise in a firm traditional massage or a softer Thai oil massage. Looking up what services are offered in advance will help you decide what to opt for when you get through the doors.
Pay attention to the visual aesthetic
It probably sounds obvious but if the massage parlour is situated down some dingy alleyway with a shabby shopfront, that isn’t a promising start. Generally speaking, respected parlours will be well maintained and clean.
It is worth keeping an eye out for TripAdvisor certificates on the walls, as industry competition is fierce and these type of accolades are used to draw in customers. Some parlours go even further to set themselves apart from less reputable businesses and will simply display notices reading ‘no sex’ in their windows. The need for a sign takes some of the charm out of the place but at least you know you won’t get an unexpected stroke in your nether regions halfway through.
Be aware that levels of undress vary
During my time in Thailand, I would guess that I must’ve tried between ten and fifteen different massage parlours. If I have learnt anything from sampling massages all over the country, it is that you cannot predict the level of undress that will be required of you.
Some masseuses ask you to strip to your underwear whereas others will insist you remove all of your clothes in exchange for some paper pants. I always wait to be instructed before I start stripping off. In my opinion, it is far less embarrassing being asked to remove an item of clothing instead of being told to put one back on!
Check out the prices before entering
Most massage parlours will have boards or signs outside, displaying the prices for different types and duration of massages. Be suspicious of businesses which don’t openly display prices and always make sure you agree on the money before the massage starts.
Worrying about how much the massage is going to cost will not help you relax. Massage scams are also common in some areas of Thailand so always go directly to the massage parlour and don’t give money to anyone on the street.
Don’t be shy
Most of the massages I have had have been pure bliss. There have only been a couple of occasions that made me feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there was one such massage with such a strong language barrier that my masseuse couldn’t comprehend the words, ‘not so hard’.
She had pummelled my calves to jelly and I was just daring to breathe again when suddenly I felt her elbow dig deep into my left buttock. Far from being a pleasurable experience, the woman was quite literally a human meat tenderiser hammering out her next meal: me.
The massage brought tears to my eyes and left me covered in bruises. What I should’ve done was called off the whole thing but being the awkward Brit I am, I sniffed back my tears and instead left without tipping. That sure showed them.
Different countries have different norms when it comes to massage but don’t do what I did and stay quiet if you feel uncomfortable. You might not be after a happy ending, but you still want to leave with a smile on your face.
Prepare for the unexpected
Masseuses can be pretty blasé when it comes to nudity and aren’t shy when it comes to kneading out those knots. I have had masseuses spread my butt cheeks, stand on me and even tweak my bare nipples as they caressed my naked breasts. I’ll be honest and say that while I wasn’t expecting the added love cushion fondling, it wasn’t altogether unpleasant.
How much does a Thai Massage cost?
Massage prices can vary hugely all over Thailand. This is partly because even though everyone offers generally the same services (sex services will only be performed in certain parlours), they range hugely in location, standard, cleanliness and overall spa experience.
Massages can start for as little as 180 baht ($5USD) although these tend to be a no-frills option. It is possible that there will be a communal massage area and the place might be lacking in luxuries. Expect to pay upwards of 500 baht ($15USD) for a top end massage in a polished wellness spa.
Although tipping is not compulsory, the masseuses do a very hard and physically demanding job for generally very little money. If you are happy with your experience, I would wholeheartedly suggest you tip if you can afford to.
Where can you find an amazing Thai Massage?
As you would expect, it is easy to find Thai Massage parlours all over Thailand. However, as you can see from this post, they don’t all offer the same in terms of quality! I’ve listed a few reputable parlours below in the popular cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Thai Massage in Bangkok
Best places to stay in Bangkok that offer massages
This beautiful garden oasis is the perfect place to stay if you are looking to relax in the centre of the city. The villa has a luxurious pampering spa as well as an outdoor pool in which to cool off. The food served in the restaurant is only vegetarian so meat eaters will want to look elsewhere.
If you’re planning to splash out during your visit, there can be no better place to stay that the Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn. Offering some of the finest views over Bangkok, as well as an outdoor infinity pool to take in the views from, this hotel truly is the ultimate splurge. In house massage services of a very high-quality are also provided for an extra charge.
Best massage parlours in Bangkok
- Orchid Thai Massage and Nails
This small parlour is great for travellers looking for a high-quality massage. It is possible to arrange the service via WhatsApp and turn up just a few hours later. A relaxing Thai Massage will cost around 350 baht (around $11USD).
- Perception Blind Massage
This innovative massage parlour employs blind and visually impaired masseuses. Not only are the massages heavenly but through visiting Perception, you will also be supporting a great cause. They offer package services at a reasonable price.
Thai Massage in Chiang Mai
Best places to stay in Chiang Mai that offer massages
Located next to the River Ping, Rarin Jinda Wellness Spa is the perfect getaway just a fifteen minutes drive from Chiang Mai airport. Free classes are provided for guests in the yoga and aerobics studio. Luxury body treatments are available in the spa.
This budget spa offers a panoramic view of the surrounding rice terraces and Doi Suthep Mountain. The massages provided at the resort are rated very highly and guests particularly enjoy relaxing in the salt water swimming pool.
Best massage parlours in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution Vocational Training Centre
This was one of my favourite places I got massaged in Thailand. The spa is run by those who currently reside in Chiang Mai’s Women’s Correctional Institution as part of their rehabilitation process. The training centre helps them learn the skill of authentic Thai Massage and they work in the centre serving tourists. The massages are firm but will leave you feeling a million dollars! A one-hour Thai massage will cost around 200 baht (roughly $6USD).
- Pranom Health Massage
Situated in the heart of the Old City is Pranom Health Massage Shop. They offer a range of massages for very good prices. It costs just 180 baht ($5USD) for an hour-long Thai Massage and they have 12 masseuses working at any one time which means they do walk-in appointments all day.
And for those of you who are short on time in the country or looking for a luxury experience, why not check out these great options below which you can book in advance!
What are your experiences of Thai Massage parlours?
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