If in your mind, massage is the gentle caressing of your body, you will be shocked during your first Thai massage. Thai massage is a medical treatment for body and soul and consists of executing pressure on specific point s of your body. During the treatment your body is bent over in all possible directions and depending on how strong you have your massage you will have some painful moments. BUT... the moment you walk away from the massage bed, you will feel reborn. Don't get tempted to take a short massage. Take minimum one hour, and in fact, I always take 2 hours.
In general there are two types of places to get a massage. You have the massage parlour and the Spa.
Massage parlours come in different flavours, every shade between a brothel and a Spa (see below for tips to see the difference) . Sometimes the massage room is on the 4th floor, up tiny stairs... Shower infrastructure is not always available etc... Prices start from 125THB for an hour in Chang Mai, but in general you pay between 250 and 500THB for an hour.
Staff in a Spa is mostly more trained and more skilled. You have more choices in the services offered in a spa and the infrastructure is more up to western standards. Prices start at 500-1000THB for an hour of massage. The beautiful spa's (mostly in the better hotels), charge between 2500 and 5000THB for a 2-3 hour treament in the best circumstances, with great staff and the most modern infrastructure.
Types of massage in Thailand
Thai massage is a medical treatment for body and soul and consists of executing pressure on specific point s of your body. During the treatment your body is bent over in all possible directions and depending on how strong you have your massage you will have some painful moments. Try it at least once and ask for soft the first time. Big chance you go back for more and stronger.
At the start your feet ill be washed, you will get (in most cases) a kind of thin shirt to put on and a sarong. Putting on the sarong is easy. It's like a very wide pair of trousers. The straps go in the back and after you have fold the waistband to fit your waist, you just knot the two straps on the front side. Then you can fold the upper part of the waistband down, covering the straps and the knot. You are now ready for massage.
They will start at your feet, you laying on your back. Then you will have to turn around while they massage your back and in the end you have to sit up for some work on your head, neck and shoulders. After the massage you will be presented a cup of tea at the exit, before you pay. After paying the ladies/men who gave the massage will be at the exit to say goodbye (and receive a tip). For this type of massage for one hour, you pay in a normal massage salon (depending on the region) between 250 and 400 THB, tip between 50 and 100 THB. In a Spa these massages start at ca. 800 THB and go up to 1500 THB.
The normal foot massage takes one hour and starts at your feet and ends where your legs end. So foot and leg massage would be a better description. Your feet are treated with some oils, tiger balm and you get en long massage that will make you wanna dance, even if you have been walking through Bangkok all day. Don't be afraid of your smelly feet if you go in, they will wash them anyway before the massage starts.
For this type of massage you pay in a normal massage salon (depending on the region) between 250 and 350 THB, tip between 50 and 100 THB. In a spa you pay somewhat more than double this price.
Oil massage is very nice way to relax. Where Thai Massage is more about putting pressure on a number of point of your body, Oil massage is more soft and more pure relaxing. The massage starts like Thai massage but oil is used and the massage is given with strokes, instead of pressure from fingers and thumb.
Hot herbal compress massage
Thai hot herbal compress massage is another way of enjoying a good massage. Especially beneficial if you have pains or if you had stress or if you are tired. Not all massage parlours offer this kind of massage.
The hot compresses are ideal for alleviating pain, stiff, sore or pulled muscles and ligaments, arthritis, migraines and chronic stress or anxiety. The massage is given with a blend of traditional Thai herbs that are relaxing and invigorating for the body and mind and giving the body an huge energy boost.
And for the men, what about “Happy End” massage?
That is the "massage" everybody is talking about. In tourist area's this is common. If you don't want the happy end, don't worry. Just choose your massage salon based on the tips below. In a normal massage parlour, the staff will never push this "extra service". If you are in the "extra service"-type parlour, you can get anything from hand job to full sex.
How to know what type of salon you are entering?
If you see a lot of good looking young women at the door, the chances are high, you enter a salon that specialises more in "the more sensual" massage types. If you see a mix of young and old or more older women, you are more likely to have found a "normal" massage parlour. In a normal parlour you will not get a choise of massage therapist if you come the first time (you can choose male or female). In a "special service" salon, you can have a line-up or select one of the girls behind a glass wall.
Sometimes you see on the massage menu signs this is an "extra service parlour": soap massage, cream massage, lotion massage, 4hands massage... you are at the door of a brothel.
You even have teen massage salons. Here the staff looks very young an is supposed to be "teens" (Thais can pretend to be teens up to their 30-ies). These girls (or boys) are not there to give you a foot massage...
Just for the record: we do not endorse sex tourism. We just know that these questions are bruning questions for many first time Thailand travellers. When I have time I will write an article on "the culture of sex" in Thailand. Thai have another approach to life, and tourists from the West get confused about so much openness. Let's just say it's more complicated than it looks at first and in the same time it's simpler than you think.