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Oh Lordy! She was on top of me now. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. I was laid upon a grubby mattress on a hard concrete floor. The room was stifling hot with sweat dripping down the walls. The weight of her body was crushing down into my thighs and my back. I was trying hard not to cry out! I could hear the occasional groan from my husband in the cell next door. What were we doing here?
No, we weren’t being held against our will or taking part in an extreme kinky session! This was one of our first experiences of Thai massage. We had just arrived on the beautiful Thai Island of Koh Lanta and the bar next door to the tiny hotel that we were staying in advertised Thai massage. So off we trotted, looking forward to an hour of pampering. How naive we were!
We were led behind the bar into a dingy corridor with a series of rooms or cells running off it. To my dismay, my husband and I were led into separate cells. Perhaps they were hoping that my husband would be paying for more than a Thai massage (he did not or would not by the way)! The establishment that we had entered certainly seemed to reek of ‘alternative activities’. So why didn’t we leave? I have absolutely no idea! And why did I bite my tongue throughout the whole excruciating painful experience? I also have no idea. I came out back and blue. If I ever had a client who was silently lying there in extreme pain during a treatment session I would be mortified – but then again I ask for constant feedback.
Should it hurt?
Thai massage doesn’t have to be like this dreadful experience. And no one needs to be a fool like me and bite their stiff upper lip! The massage ladies were human beings, not trained torturers (I think). I am sure if I had told them I was in a lot of pain they would have eased off and I could’ve easily made this clear despite language barriers. I am the idiot here! My husband, to a slightly lesser extent was the same!
Our very first Thai massage experience had been in the wonderful Wat Pho in Bangkok where there is a famous and highly reputed training school and we had loved every minute. Although the therapists were still learning, they were already highly skilled. They also seemed to care about the overall experience that they were offering. However, this second experience taught us a valuable lesson! Don’t walk into dimly lit rooms with strangers!
From then on, we have only had Thai massages on the beach. There are plenty of shacks with lovely therapists all over Thailand and the experience of lying down whilst listening to the sound of the waves and a caressing warm sea breeze is lovely.
What is Thai massage?
Thai massage is an ancient art which has been practiced for over 2,500 years. It stems from a combination of Chinese and Ayuverdic medicine and Southeast Asian cultures. It is thought that the founder was the Buddhas physician who is said to have had extraordinary medical skills. Thai massage is an important part of Thai culture and popular with tourists due to cheap prices and fantastic health and well-being benefits.
Thai massage is usually performed without oil and often clothed. You may be lying on a bed or on a mattress on the ground. The actual massage combines passive yoga techniques with stretching, kneading and acupressure. It is rarely a relaxing experience! The therapist may use different parts of their body to manipulate yours, including their hands, feet, legs and arms. It is not unusual for them to climb on top of you (and let me tell you – not all Thai massage therapists are the petite ladies that may spring to mind when you think about Thai Massage therapists walking along your back).
The massage follows energy lines called ‘Sens’ which run throughout the body. As well as aiming to have a therapeutic effect on the muscles, it aims to boost energy, alleviate stress and help circulation. When performed well, it can be rejuvenating and invigorating and leave you feeling fabulous!
Should you tip?
This is a personal choice but I think that if you have enjoyed the experience then you should. It doesn’t have to be a lot but it is always appreciated. The treatment is very active and the therapists work hard. Also, bear in mind that often the massage therapists pay a hefty price to rent the bed / room / shack that they work from. I have also heard that in some places the cost of the massage goes directly to the business owner and the only money that the actual therapist earns is from her tips.
On my recent visit to Thailand I was paying around 300 baht for a massage (apporixaimtely £9 – £10). I would tip around 50 – 100 baht per massage.
Throughout Thailand there are many Thai massage places which are not regulated. However, for those that are regulated by the Thai Ministry of Public Health their therapists are likely to have completed at least 800 hours of training. I did try to ask one of the masseuses about their training on our recent trip to Phuket. I asked her how long she had trained for and she replied ‘1 hour’! She had not understood the question. Language barriers did not allow me to find out a lot about how Thai Massage therapists work.
When choosing where to have a Thai Massage, I would ask around for recommendations or even observe therapists at work. Watch both how they treat their client and how the client responds. If the client is yelping in pain and the therapist is not responding to their cries, then look somewhere else. Technique and amount of pressure applied varies so much between therapists. Use common sense and your instinct when choosing where to go. Clearly we did not do this in Koh Lanta!
Is Thai massage safe?
Thai massage is a powerful therapy where you are pushed and pulled in all directions. It is usually an amazing experience and you feel wonderful afterwards. However, there have been a few times that I have been laid on a couch wondering how often people are injured with some of the techniques that are carried out by the more ‘gung ho’ therapists. I have never been asked if I have any significant medical history or if there is anything that they should be aware of. Language barriers can be a big issue here.
I personally would not recommend Thai massage to anyone with the following conditions:
- Pre-exisiting musculoskeletal conditions (this may be a grey area because sometimes deep tissue techniques can alleviate problems. However, if you are not able to communicate the issue with the practitioner I would not seek Thai massage for treatment).
- Spinal conditions
- Osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Medical conditions such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes, circulatory disorders, clotting problems, uncontrolled blood pressure issues, respiratory problems or infectious diseases.
- Open wounds or skin conditions
- Joint replacements (although these areas can be avoided)
Thai massages are not a gentle soft touch experience. They are firm and the pressure may cause discomfort at times. This discomfort should not last. It may well be an intense experience but overall it should be an enjoyable one that makes you feel fabulous. If you are in as much pain as we were in Koh Lanta, don’t be a masochistic idiot. Tell the therapist and they will adapt their pressure and techniques accordingly.
I did a half day Thai massage course in Chaing Mai back in 2012. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot of yoga based stretching that I occasionally incorporate to my massage treatments. My husband was my guinea pig and for once quite enjoyed being pulled and pushed around!