Thai Massage - Good, Bad, Different

Wat Pho - the HQ of Thai Massage

As a huge fan of Thai Massage, I took pleasure in ‘trying out’ a few during my recent trip to Thailand.  One has to enjoy the local cultures, and massage is big business in Thailand. They offer a whole host of different massages, not just Thai massage, everywhere you go.

Thai massage, which seems to be more frequently referred to as "Thai yoga massage" in the UK is an ancient healing system which combines acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. 

The massage is delivered without the use of oils and the participant is usually dressed in loose pyjama like clothing or sometimes in your own clothes.  

Thai massage is often very firm, working into your deeper muscles. The stretching increases flexibility and improves circulation.

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The first massage I decided to try was at Wat Pho in Bangkok.  Wat Pho has a long association with traditional Thai medicine which includes Thai massage. To this day, Wat Pho is the national headquarters for the preservation and teaching of traditional Thai medicine and massage.  Given its status, I thought it was a good place to start as I’d never had one there before.

Both my partner and I opted for a 30 minute massage.  I requested a body massage, whilst he requested a foot massage.

My massage was delivered on a mattress on a floor in a communal, air conditioned room.  Thai massage is traditionally completed on the floor, in a room lined with mattresses, sometimes there are curtains separating the mattresses, other times not. This time, there was no curtain and the massage was to be completed in my own clothes, thankfully I was wearing loose, light clothing. 

The massage begun with me lying side ways, not experienced a Thai massage in this position before. Because the massage is about using pressure rather than stroking, it kind of just happens.  Before I knew it, I had a woman’s thumbs in my calves and elbows on my quads.  The pressure was good though, light at first, then becoming firmer, and pressing into the deeper muscles.   After working my legs, she moved to my back and spent most of her time there, prodding between the vertebrae and along the scapula.  She’d turn me over and repeat the sequence.  I can’t exactly remember when the stretching and clicking occurred but there was a lot of it.  I’m used to the lower back/glute twist which felt really good but the one that surprised me most was the opening of my chest and sternum.  I’ve not had that stretched for a very long time and she also did it in a position I’d not experienced it in before. 

The massage therapist uses her legs and arms to position me in order to get the required stretch.  It’s best to allow your body to fully relax to get the most benefit.  As most of the therapists speak very little English, the hope is that they are feeling and connecting with your body, because if they aren’t, and they are just pulling and tugging, they could damage you.  

I thought the massage was good, a little different to what I’ve previously experienced but I felt the technique was good.  I felt great afterwards.

My partner enjoyed his foot massage but he felt the therapist was just following a routine and didn’t home in on any areas of tension.

Breezy Massage on Haad Yao beach

Massage in stilted huts at far end of beach

Massage in stilted huts at far end of beach

You’re never far from a massage in Thailand, it’s the same if you’re on a beach.  I picked out a place at the end of Haad Yao beach, Koh Phangyan close to Haad Yao Bay Resort. It was up on a stilted platform and the breeze was blowing nicely.  As I was in beachwear, the lady covered me in a sarong and massaged over that.  

This was an hour long massage which started with me lying on my back.  She started with my feet and legs, stretching my ankles and legs into all sorts of weird positions.  The pressure was similar to the massage I had at Wat Pho. The biggest difference with this massage is there was a lot of stretching, which I quite enjoyed. At times she would use her feet but I could also feel her hands holding me in position.  She was getting a pretty good workout too.  She would use bolsters to support my limbs where my body didn’t naturally fall to the ground, eg my thighs in butterfly position.

As by now I’d had a few massages, the clicks from the stretches were not as dramatic and loud as day one. 

I enjoyed this massage and the stretching elements very much.  I could have gone for a longer treatment.

Massage everywhere you turn in Bangkok

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For my final massage.  I opted for one of the many massage shops near our hotel – there were tonnes!  Just be careful you don't pick one that offers the other little extras, if you know what I mean.  It's not too far from Pat Pong after all.  I opted for a 90 minute Thai Massage in Thai Thai Massage.

I was given some fisherman’s pants and a light top to change into.  Massage rooms were separated by walls and doors made of rattan or wicker and the light was dimmed.  The lady delivering my treatment was quite young. She started by cleaning my feet and then working on my feet and legs.  It was similar to the massage I had on the beach in Haad Yao, except, she was rougher and less interested in what she was doing. Where I was provided with bolsters for support before, this time my legs would be pushed into the position regardless. 

I often had my eyes open and could see she was suffering from RSI in her elbow as she had to keep clicking it free. Delivering Thai massage takes a lot out of your body and she clearly wasn’t enjoying what she was doing.  

As it was a 90 mins massage, she spent a lot longer working on my legs, applying rhythmic pressure along the muscles. Although I felt I needed it, I didn't like the way the pressure was applied - so forcefully.  I found the neck and shoulder work quite uncomfortable as she really pressed hard.  In all, this was not one of my favourite massages.  I didn’t really enjoy it and found it too rough.