Traditional Thai medicine has four components to ensure good health; herbal medicine, correct diet, meditation and massage. All four are important to maintain the balance in health. The most important thing about Thai medicine is that it takes a preventative approach, treating the cause of a disease before it can turn into anything serious. The Thai belief is that energy channels run throughout the body and if any of these channels are blocked it can create physical or emotional problems. A traditional Thai massage is believed to be beneficial to body and mind.
With traditional Thai massage, the principle is to remove any bottlenecks or blockages along the body’s energy channels. If the energy channels are clear then a person’s life-energy (qi or prana) can flow unhindered and ensure balanced health. This is why in traditional Thai massage the massage therapist uses numerous bending and stretching movements on the person being treated. The therapist will use not just their hands, but also their feet, knees, heels and elbows to put pressure on the energy channels of the person being treated. Oils or lotions aren’t used with a traditional Thai body massage and the treatment simply involves lying down on a mat or mattress and letting the therapist do their work.
The immediate effect of a Thai massage should be to leave you feeling relaxed and energised. Those that undertake regular massages say that it helps with circulation and detoxifies the body. If you have a fever, cold or other ailment then a traditional massage is also supposed to bring some relief.
Does it hurt?
It’s not meant to, but in my personal experience it can be uncomfortable. That said, the most uncomfortable massage I had, which at times was painful, resulted in me feeling great once it was over. I was a little sore for the next day, but probably because I was so out of shape and not used to having my legs stretched in such a way! I’m told that if you go regularly you get the most benefit.
Where to go
Just about every town, city and resort in Thailand has massage therapies. Traditional Thai massages are always labelled as such (usually in English and Thai). You may see other premises with ‘massage’ written on the window, but using a bit of common sense and discretion it should be clear that these places are offering something other than a traditional service.
Many beaches have massage huts where you can be treated in the open-air watching the waves roll in. Hotels and guest houses may also offer an in-house service or be able to recommend a reputable place. If you really want to treat yourself, you can opt for a top-of-the-range treatment at one of the many excellent spas in Thailand. I have friends who always visit a blind masseur of which there are numerous in Thailand from Bangkok to Pattaya to Chiang Mai.
Prices vary from place to place, but a typical price for a one-hour massage will cost between 100-250 Baht.
Wat Pho massage school
If you are in Bangkok, Wat Pho is considered by many to be the number one place in Thailand for a traditional Thai massage. I had a foot massage there once and it was superb. Wat Pho has been the leading school of Thai massage for many centuries and therapists who train here gain tremendous kudos. It’s also possible for foreigners to take a massage course at Wat Pho. There are also massage schools and courses in many other parts of Thailand, notably in Chiang Mai which has an abundance of places where you can learn the art of traditional Thai massage.