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A Thai Massage Story

Massage on the Beach in Ko Lanta
“Massaaaaaaaaaaaage! Massaaaaaage!”

Along with “Taxi boat? Taxi boat?” and “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?”, the ubiquitous call for massage is the most overheard sentence in Thailand, and you will hear it even in your sleep. Massage is both part of most Asian cultures and loved by tourists. The result? There are massage joints at pretty much every corner.

Like I said before, I love massages. I couldn’t care less about facials or complicated haircut but I’d sell my camera for an hour of lying on a bed getting a massage. In Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, massages are awfully cheap—around $10 for an hour in Thailand, barely more in the other two countries. Still a bargain compared to spa prices at home.

“You want massage?” As soon as you slow down in front of a massage shop or show any interest in the brochures that are being thrust into your hands, the girls will jump on you. Well, not literally (unless you are a guy and you are in a red light district’s “massage parlour”) but they can be pretty persuasive. The best part is, you don’t need to make an appointment and massage places open until late at night. It’s a perfect way to relax at the end of the day.

The two most popular kinds of massages are the Thai massage and the foot massage/reflexology. Don’t expect a fancy spa setting: unless you choose an upscale place, there are no scented candles and herbal tea here, just a few beds, sometimes separated by a curtain, sometimes just lined-up in the shop. There isn’t much privacy—in Asia, massages are a social event—but you do get to keep your clothes on. Traditional Thai massages don’t use lotion or oil unless they are the “happy ending” kind of massage, but I’m not even getting here. I always find it funny the way some Westerners walk by perfectly legitimate massage shops, giving the masseuses or whoever is inside a dirty look. Relax people! It’s pretty easy to distinguish traditional massage joints from the kinky kind. Hint: if the place advertises copious use of “oil” and “private VIP rooms”, you are in for the red light district experience.

So here you are, lying face down on a bed, you start breathing deeply, already relaxed… and that’s when the brutally pleasant experience starts. Thai massage works by applying gentle (ahem…) pressure to different parts of your body. The hands, palms, elbows and feet are used and the masseuse will move you in different positions, a bit like in yoga. Let me put it like that: having a tiny Asian woman walk on my back was a first for me—although my mother-in-law can be on my back too, but more metaphorically.

There is no complaining about the pressure. In fact, I’m deeply convinced that any sign of discomfort just makes the masseuse dig deeper into the knots. And you should see the smile on their face when your joints crack! This is not the kind of massage during which you fall asleep but it feels heavenly good afterward.

Is it painful? Joking aside, no, not really. It is definitely a work out and not a relaxing experience per se, but it works. You feel lighter, more alert and definitely muscle-pain free.

If you don’t feel like having some petite Asian girl twiste your back and walk on your thighs, choose a foot massage. It’s less scary for a lot of people (but it can be ticklish!) and it often includes a small leg massage, as well as a shoulder and neck rub. For these kind of massage, you are sitting in a comfortable chair (kind of like pedicure chairs) and yes, this time you may fall asleep. Or not. Depending on how many people are snoring around you.

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