Our first experience of Thai massage was in the rather unlikely location of Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, Russia. We’d both previously had the kind of massage usual in the UK where you strip off to your underwear and the therapist uses oil to smooth the knots from your muscles. So we were surprised to find ourselves just taking off our shoes and lying on the floor while the therapist stretched our limbs and worked with pressure on our muscles.
Six months later we arrived in Bangkok where we visited Wat Pho, the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and the site of a renowned school where you can learn the skills for yourself. We’ve heard it described as “yoga for lazy people” and I can see where that comes from as a lot of the focus does seem to be on improving flexibility and range of motion. Wikipedia has a nice description of the practice:
The massage recipient changes into loose, comfortable clothes and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. It can be done solo or in a group of a dozen or so patients in the same large room. The receiver may be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, but deep static and rhythmic pressures form the core of the massage.
When we got to Chiang Mai we soon realised that there are more massage shops than it would seem that any town could support and it’s impossible to walk very far without a lady calling out ‘hello, massage?’. All that competition means that prices are ridiculously low, in the area around our apartment 200฿ (£4.00) for a one hour massage is the going rate, but we’ve seen places in the centre of town for 150฿ and even occasionally 120฿ an hour! Not long after settling into our apartment here we found a friendly shop that we’ve been patronising at least weekly. Our 200฿ even includes a cup of hot tea afterwards, and they usually try to force a banana on us as well.
Thai massage is pretty physical for the therapists. They don’t just use their hands and arms but their feet, knees and frequently their own body weight as well. I’ve had a small Thai lady standing on the back of my thighs and using her weight on my shoulders and upper back, or sitting behind me using her knees to straighten out my spine. It often also includes pulling of fingers and toes to make them crack and twisting and straightening of the spine for those satisfying spinal adjustments.
If you have particularly knotty muscles (umm, that’ll be me then) Tiger balm is applied. I’ve become so addicted to the tingle of it on my neck and shoulders that I bought myself a pot. It’s good to stop insect bites itching too.