Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Thailand: Land of a Thousand Great Massages!

I first went to Thailand back in 1975, as a missionary.  So I really didn’t have time or permission to investigate the world-famous ‘Thai massage’ that people talked about, sometimes in whispered asides. But I was certainly curious!  Years later I returned to Thailand as an ESL teacher, and, after some initial hesitation, I started experiencing the enchanting comfort of hour-long sessions with a certified Thai masseuse.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but I sure am a connoisseur!  When you settle in for your first massage in Thailand, here’s what you need to know:

 The Price is Right!

The price of a massage in Thailand is controlled by the Ministry of Physical Health.  All licensed massage therapists, no matter where they are located, must adhere to a standard price list.  Right now, that means that a standard foot massage will cost you 100 baht (about $3.50 USA) per hour. A full body massage will run you 200 baht (about $6.00 USA) per hour.  After the massage experience is over, you are allowed to rest for as long as you want, and will normally be treated to a cup of zestful ginger tea.  Except for some of the larger hotels in Bangkok that have their own massage services in the lobby, you will never be expected or encouraged to tip.

It’s also possible to have a masseuse come to your room or office if it is not convenient for you to travel to a massage place.  Prices are, of course, more expensive, and are not very tightly controlled by the government.  On average, you can have a private masseuse in your residence or office for around 150 baht per hour.  Again, no tipping is expected – but if your masseuse must travel a long way it would be the polite thing to do to give her some ‘travel money’ besides the basic fee.  If you are having a lazy day staying inside, but would still like to enjoy an authentic Thai cultural experience, have the masseuse come over and do you and your wife and kids, too!  The absolute best way to get a massage, bar none, is to have it done on one of Thailand’s gorgeous beaches.  At the more popular beaches you’ll find strolling masseuses ready to give you a good shoulder rub or foot massage; just be aware that they are not restricted to any government-set price, so they’ll ask for whatever the market can bear!

But Aren’t ‘Massage Parlors’ Kind of Dicey?

Here in the West we have a mental picture of a ‘massage parlor’ as code for an establishment that caters to the carnal desires, almost like a brothel.  Respectable people and families want to avoid such a dive at all costs!

In Thailand, if you are after a purely carnal experience, you can find places that advertise massages but are obviously NOT offering therapeutic massages.  These places are very open and brazen, featuring young girls in the doorway inviting you to come in for a ‘massage.’ Loud rock music will be blaring from a nearby speaker.  You can’t mistake them for anything but what they are.

On the other hand, a legitimate massage establishment will look more like a storefront pharmacy or medical clinic.  They are extremely clean and quiet.  There will be no one in front trying to inveigle you to enter.  In most cases, a large picture window will allow you to actually gaze into the establishment to see the tasteful décor. Massage prices will be clearly posted on the door. There is usually a large multi-colored graph of the human foot displayed prominently out front, like a barber pole.  And each masseuse will have her license framed and hung in the entryway.  Some Thai massage shops do have male masseuses, but in most cases they are blind and have been trained up in massage by state fiat as a way to give them employment.  Thais do not think it is appropriate for a man with sight to give another person a massage.

Are They Trained and Certified?
Yes!  No one is allowed to work in a Thai massage establishment without first being trained and certified.  Many of the best massage workers come from the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Massage School in Bangkok.  Located at the famous Wat Pho Buddhist Temple on Sanamchai Road, students must undergo an intense course in massage therapy that can last up to six months.  They also receive rigorous religious training in the philosophy of Buddhism from the monks that run the school.  It is considered a prestigious education for girls in Thailand, and many foreign students come to Thailand to study at the school as well.  Travel sites recommend Wat Pho more than any other massage establishment in Thailand.

The school is open from Monday through Saturday for massage demonstrations, with tourists flocking to it by the hundreds to have their muscular aches and pains tended to for a minimum donation.

About the Author:  Tim Torkildson is a former English teacher in Thailand who now edits websites for a living, including the travel site White Sand Tourist Service.

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