Have you been to Thailand? Did you get a massage? Not the most logical follow-up question, but seriously, you’ll understand why people care once you’ve experienced a Thai massage. While I am not going to claim to be an expert or anything, I did have four Thai massages in my first five days in the country. Not only that, I spent 3 of my first 24 hours in Thailand being massaged, which is like 12.5% of my time put to exceptional use. Now that you are familiar with my credentials, let me fill you in on some valuable information.
What to Expect at Your First Thai Massage?
Every Thai massage I experienced varied from the previous one. There are certain “rituals” that will happen every time, but may differ in style.
Things that Will Definitely Happen
- You will take your shoes off: In fact, it is very common in Thailand to remove your shoes upon entering any sort of building. They will likely provide you with slippers or sandals.
- They will wash your feet: Depending on the quality of the establishment, this could mean they bring a bowl of hot water with suds and a brush and mimic the start of a typical western pedicure. This could also mean they bring a face cloth at an unknown stage of cleanliness and give your toes a once over while you’re lying down. Either way, they don’t want to touch your dirty feet during the massage.
- They will bend you: Have you ever tried yoga? Me neither. But this is what I imagine it to be like if someone did yoga for you. This is the part that makes the massage a Thai massage. The bending, and stretching, and potential sheer discomfort, but, my God, it’s worth it in the long run!
Things that May Happen
- You may have clothes laid out for you to change into: Again, depending on the quality of the establishment, you may receive your massage in what you are currently wearing (dress accordingly), or you may have a set of clothes laid out of you. If they provide you with an outfit, it is essentially equivalent to scrubs; however, the pants are one-size-fits-Hagrid. Use the strings to tie the pants in place and try not to move around too much. They’ll stay put.
- You may not have privacy: There could be a sheer curtain divider, or maybe a solid curtain divider, or you may be inches from a perfect stranger undergoing the same contortionist routine you are about to embark on. My only recommendation is to close your eyes to avoid feeling uncomfortable, or worse, giggly.
- You may receive tea at the end: Some of the nicer spa type places offer you a cup of tea at the end. Not a bad way to wash down the toxins.
Things that Probably Won’t Happen
- You get your photo taken for their Facebook page: Ok, so that did happen to me. They were documenting the fact that I was a repeat customer. I guess this could have been easily avoided.
- All the shady things people joke about that go on inside Asian massage parlors: While I can’t speak for every place, I had zero issues, nor did anyone I spoke with in Thailand.
How Much Will This Cost?
Thai massages are known for being extraordinarily cheap, especially by western standards. The going rate of a massage varies across parts of Thailand, even operating at a fixed rate on some of the islands so nobody has an unfair advantage. Upon arrival in Bangkok, after 24 hours of flights and layovers, I was unable to check in to my hostel, so I decided I should try out the illustrious Thai massage. I found a place near my hostel offering a massage for 400 baht for one hour (just under $12). Since I was an inexperienced naif, I thought this was a great price at the time. THIS IS TOO MUCH. While it is still a very good price by western standards, they are overcharging you by Thai standards. The following day I had a massage for 500 baht for two hours. I was kicking myself for the day before, while also calculating how much pad thai I could have bought with that extra 150 baht (answer: about 4 servings). And this was still not the best price I ended up seeing. I will break the prices down by Thai destination I had visited.
You have read where I went wrong above. A fair massage price in Bangkok is about 200 baht per hour (just under $6). This will vary based on the quality of the parlor (God, I hate that word). For instance, my 500 baht, 2 hour massage was in the fanciest place I had visited. I received “the outfit,” I had privacy behind a solid curtain, and I was offered tea at the end. Additionally, there was a proper surface for me to lie on, not just a yoga mat on the ground. Just remember to shop around!
You can get a great massage in a spa type environment for 200 baht per hour. You can also find cheaper massages in the 150-180 baht range in more of a garage type environment.
One of my favorite massages in Thailand was in Pai. It cost 150 baht (less than $5) for one hour. A literal steal. With that price comes great sacrifice. I earned a spot on the floor, atop a “mattress,” just inches from a couple of bros who were also getting their Thai massage on. This was an example of a no curtain scenario. Why they couldn’t have spread us out to the other “mattresses,” I’ll never know. Anyway, once we got going, the smallest Thai lady you could imagine, threw caution to the wind, and just wailed on my entire body for an hour. “Is this pressure ok?” “Is this hurting you?” She uttered none of that nonsense and really went for it, which I always appreciate!
Massages are slightly more expensive here than northern Thailand, but still not as expensive as my first massage in Bangkok. I swear I’ll get over this someday… You can find a Thai massage for either 250 or 300 baht per hour. You will also find places that offer air conditioning. Take this option! Also a great rainy day activity. This was the first place that did not provide a “massage outfit,” and I wore a skirt to a Thai massage. This is what I mean by dress accordingly!
Massages here pretty much cost 300 baht per hour all around. With a little walking and shopping around, you may find a 90 minute massage that can offer a slightly better rate (I did, but the place was closed). I ended up paying 350 baht for an hour long massage because I just had a feeling about this place. I knew it would be good. It feels so good to be right! You can check out Yao & Her Family Massage near Klong Dao beach. Definitely worth the extra 50 baht. She fixed my shoulder up realllll gooooood.
Here massages cost 300 baht, no more, no less. They fix this rate to keep it fair among all the businesses.
Also, keep in mind, leaving a tip at the end of your massage is highly appreciated. Nothing crazy! I would leave about 10% of the cost (unless it was exceptionally cheap and I would bump it up to maybe 20%).
So there you have it. And there I have it, in writing, all the money I would have saved if I had opted to forgo the Thai massage. But I am so glad I didn’t!