Thai massage styles and best massage places in Chiang Mai


Last edited: July 12, 2022 at 06:50:21

Chiang Mai is arguably one of the best cities in Thailand, if not in the world, to enjoy various kinds of massage but also to study massage. There are so many massage schools, practitioners and styles that everyone can find something of his/her liking here.
Whether you’re in Chiang Mai for a short holiday or for a long-stay, having a massage should be a must-try on your bucket list.

MAIN STYLES OF MASSAGE IN THAILAND

Most local massage styles in Thailand are based on Thai traditional or ancient Thai massage, although it's probably hard to tell what part of Thai massage is purely local and what part has been influenced or originated from other countries, such as China and India. If there is one typical feature of Thailand and 'Thainess', it is that it's so absorbant and tolerant that foreign influences simply immerse in it. This is not only true of religions, customs, food and people, but also of massage.

Some of the main massage styles that can be found in Thailand are:

  • Traditional Thai massage
  • Aroma oil massage
  • Tok Sen Massage
  • Stretch Table Massage
  • Foot Massage and Reflexology
  • Thai Herb Compress
  • Pregnancy and Baby Massage
  • Postpartum Mothers Thai Treatments (Yu Fai)
  • Herbal Body Scrub
  • Guasa Therapy Massage
  • Thai Yoga Rusie Dutton
  • Hot Stone Massage
  • Bamboo Therapy Massage
  • Chi Nei Tsang Massage
  • Thai genital massage (Karsai)
  • Ayurvedic massage

Besides that, you'll find the more modern Swedish massage and Sport massage or even Hawaiian style Lomi Lomi massage, as well as Tantric massage styles (Yoni and Lingam Massage).
On the pleasure side, of course there are many Happy Ending Massages, both for female and for male, and plain erotic massages (body-to-body massage parlors). And finallly, you can also get a massage and contribute to charity, for example by having a massage by the blind or by a female prisoner, perhaps not the best quality massage but some people find it an interesting idea to be massaged by an in-mate and believe they are at the same time contributing to giving such person a second chance.

You can enjoy the most common massage styles (Thai and oil massage) usually enjoy both in-house and in your own hotel room (outcall), but spa and scrub treatments with water and other materials are of course not so comfortable to carry out in your room.

It goes too far to describe all of these massage styles in depth here, but if I have time I'll write some more articles about that later.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST MASSAGE PLACE

  1. First of all, make your choice in what massage style you like (for example from the above list). If you're in the mood for a high-end luxury treatment, go for one of the most expensive spas but if you want to get rid of that ache in your lower back that has been bothering you for a long time, you need a real thorough massage therapist rather than soothing music and good smell.
  2. Note that the best shops are usually not in the busy tourist areas (such as the Nightbazar, Loikroh Road or Nimmanhaemin Road). This is because these shops are used to one-time visitors which doesn't create the best incentive to perform for staff and shops and for visitors to write reviews or reviews tend to be biased towards the one-time visitor experience only.
  3. Read through reviews online (Google, Facebook, Tripadvisor and so on) and particularly read how business owners reply to critical reviews. Some businesses fake reviews and post a lot of 5 stars, when a business has a 4.9 star rating but only 5 reviews without much content and reply, you should be suspicious.

These are, of course, general remarks that apply to all kinds of businesses, but when it comes to massage shops in Chiang Mai there are some particulars of the sector that are interesting to know:

  1. SHOPS IN THE TOURIST AREAS ARE DOMINATED BY FREELANCERS

    Many shops, especially in the more busy areas and especially since covid, work mostly with freelancers. They cannot afford to keep staff on a monthly payroll, so they call a freelancer to come in as soon as the customer stands at the counter. The same freelancer will normally work for many shops, it just depends whichever shop can deliver the customer where they will go. This means that a tourist could write a good review about a masseuse in one shop, while another tourist could write another review about the same masseuse when she works in another shop.
    This practice reduces the shop to a mere agent that is not so unique except for the rooms, the business simply serves as a shop front. It also means these shops can't really control the quality of the massage (when asked, they may say they only call in good freelancers but in the end they will call anyone if the customer is waiting at the counter). They certainly won't invest in training and they can't really monitor their staff performance.
    This is something most tourists don't know, but I've met the same masseuse in more than 5 shops and she will simply go wherever there is a customer.

    The better shops will have mostly in-house staff and will invest in their staff and their own approach and identity.
     
  2. FOR MOST THAI PEOPLE, MASSAGE IS A BUSINESS RATHER THAN A PASSION

    What you have to realize is that for the average masseuse / masseur, massage is just a way to get money. Without an education and with very little investment, everybody can start a massage career or open a massage shop. Especially since the financial crisis of 1997 in Thailand, the Thai government has been promoting Thai massage as an easy profession for the many lower educated people.

    When you want to get a better massage, it's best to select those businesses who really invest in their staff, let them grow and give them a sense of own entrepreneurship.
     
  3. THE THAI GOVERNMENT SUFFOCATES RATHER THAN STIMULATES THE MASSAGE SECTOR

    Unfortunately, rather than creating the best environment for businesses, styles and people to develop, the Thai government is doing the opposite by stifling creativity in the sector. This is why everywhere all over Thailand, you'll find the same boring Thai, oil and foot massage on the menu, hardly anything else.
    The Thai authorities in charge of this sector are even so disconnected with reality that they require a shop to put in a wall ventilator in an airconned room, effectively sucking the cold air out!
    Besides that, the entire script of Thai massage with steps has been so fixed that it leaves no scope for creativity, when you take a massage you can almost dream the steps.

    If you want to enjoy a good and interesting massage, you better look for those businesses that deviate from the standard menu.

QUALITY OF THE MASSAGE

In general, the quality of the massage depends mainly on the following few things:

  • real training
  • natural talent or 'feeling'
  • that special click between you and the practitioner

The vast majority of people in the massage sector in Thailand still didn't have a proper training, despite official efforts. A fake license can be bought for just THB 2,500 and authorities hardly bother to look if all employees in a shop have a massage certificate. Even if they have, the mandatory 160 hours of official training don't guarantee a real good quality massage when somebody doesn't have the drive or the feel to do a good job. The vast majority of people who do the mandatory 160 hours do only that and nothing more because it is their entry ticket in the market and they seek nothing more.

Most massage shops in town provide their staff modest if at all, in-house training.

The exception are the bigger spas that have an-inhouse training program where staff are obliged to train and have to pay money back if they quit earlier than a certain number of months.

My experience is that you get the best massages from those who are trained in proper massage schools and who are genuinely interested in learning the particulars of your individual body and giving you the massage you need.

THERAPEUTICAL EFFECTIVENESS OF THAI MASSAGE

Although Thai massage can be quite enjoyable, in general the therapeutical effectiveness you get from average Thai massages in Thailand is rather limited. Perhaps you feel some relief to stiff muscles or a sore back, but most average masseuses / masseurs are not able to really cure symptoms. The official Thai government standard to be able to cure symptoms starts at about 600 hours of study and hardly anybody you see working in shops along the road will have studied that much.

If you walk in telling your masseuse that you got a stick neck, all she normally does is to just follow the standard program without being able to really focus on certain points. Even if somebody put in the 600 hours of real study, I still found their effectiveness limited. I suspect that the reason for this is that, unlike in countries such as China and Japan where medical science has been integrated with massage techniques such as Tui Na or Shiatsu, in Thailand some of this knowledge and integration was lost. There are records of a great fire in the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok a few centuries ago, in which a lot of ancient books were said to be lost.
Besides that, Thai culture is not as investigative and curious as other cultures, so in general there is not much urge for a deep understanding body, physiological and energy effects.

RANGE OF MASSAGE PLACES IN CHIANG MAI

There are still hundreds of massage places in and around Chiang Mai and as covid is fading more to the background, there will be more and more. Roughly, one can distinguish 3 categories from very high-end to simple.

A. HIGH-END SPAS

These offer relatively expensive treatments ( >THB 800/hour) in a luxury environment and usually have more on the menu than just Thai and oil massage. Typically, high-end spas add luxury treatment packages for beauty and health at a few thousand baht for one package. Expect beautiful rooms, a nice garden or nice surroundings, soft music at the background. Meant for a total relaxation experience for part of the day.
High-end spas can be found at all the 5 star hotels and at separate businesses.

Examples: Oasis Spa, Cheeva Spa, Lanna Come Spa, Dusita Spa.

B. MID-RANGE PLACES

These are often chain massage stores, with several branches all over town or in several cities in Thailand and with certain minimum standards and a system in place. Menu offers a range of Thai, oil and herbal massage or so (about THB 350 - THB 800/hour)

Examples: Lila Massage, Fah Lanna Spa, Health Land

C. BASIC PLACES

These are the many simple places all over town with cheap massages (THB 100-300/hour).

BEST MASSAGE SHOPS IN CHIANG MAI

If you want to just walk in and have a Thai massage that is at least of a certain quality, my favourite places are:

Top 1. Shivaga Komarpaj

If you want to walk in and have a proper Thai massage, this is one of the best places to go to. This massage business is associated with Old Medical Hospital Thai massage school so all practitioners have proper training and a minimum quality level is guaranteed. Prices are very cheap, the room is mainly a shared room but there are private rooms. In addition, there is a herbal steam sauna which is a fantastic combination with especially Thai massage and there are great promotional offers for sauna + massage at early times of the day.

Top 2. IDI Thai Massage School

IDI (stands for Intellectual Development Institute) is again a massage school that has walk-in facilities for taking a massage. It’s another modest but good massage business which is associated with a massage school, which guarantees that the quality of massage you get is of a certain minimum standard. There are some great massage therapists here who can really give you a therapeutic massage. Very reasonable prices but nothing fancy.

Top 3. Thai massage Conservation Club

There are several massage-by-the-blind shops in Chiang Mai and I can’t say which one is better, but this place used to be one of my favourites as it’s located in the Old Town and it has a few good practioners.
Some practitioners are quite good because they feel and see with their hands, although their ability to adjust and focus on a certain treatment is somewhat limited, like almost anywhere in Thailand.
Nevertheless, it’s a pleasure and gives me a good feeling that these people can earn their living in this way.

Massage by the blind in Chiang Mai

Top 4. Thai massage in a temple

Temples in Thailand are more than just houses of worship: they also perform important social functions and sometimes are even used for businesses, commerce and parties. In most bigger temples, you can find some Thai massage, which is not done by the monks but by massage practitioners and some of them can be quite good.

Top 5. Relaxation Massage & Spa Promenada

A surprisingly good and nice massage in a location you wouldn't expect: Promenada shopping mall way out of the old centre. Enjoy a massage here when you've taken your queue number at Immigration for a visa extension or so and you know it'll still take a few hours.

OUTCALL MASSAGE TIP

If you prefer the comfort of a outcall massage to your room with genuinely trained massage professionals, consider Rlax.me which provides services in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok. The therapists are qualified with a great number of hours of training, usually more than the average you find in random massage parlours. You don't need to prepare anything, the therapist will bring equipment and you can relax in your own hotel room or apartment.

Rlax outcall massage Chiang Mai

Other tips for taking a massage in Thailand

In some massage shops, they use very inferior oil that keeps sticking to your skin and doesn’t rinse off even after taking 2 showers. If you’re into oil massages, bring a small bottle of simple baby oil if you don’t like the oil used by the shop.
In the same way, if you’re very concerned about hygiene, bring a towel of your own so you know you’re laying down on a fresh one. Most places are hygienic but in the lower end range you may have your doubts and then it’s nice to stay clean.

The cheaper places in town usually have shared massage rooms, which are normally quiet enough and for Thai massage you keep clothes on (often loose clothes provided by the shop), in other cases there are curtain rooms so curtains to separate your space from someone else. A private room is often called a VIP room although it may not be so VIP after all.

As for the time of the day, most people seem to prefer taking a massage in the afternoon or evening, so if you want to have more peace for yourself, mornings are a good choice or else just around dinner time (6-8pm).

How much to tip if another question often asked by visitors. Well, it all depends on you, but if the massage was good (enough) 50-100 baht is quite common.

About me

I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for nearly 10 years and I’ve tried tens of massage places in town. This article is meant to sketch more about the background of Thai massage in Chiang Mai and to give you a better picture than you can get from what one-time visitors (on for example Tripadvisor) and short-term travel bloggers (such as Justine Wharton) write about massages in Chiang Mai.
If you have any questions regarding massage, just drop them below as a comment, I'm happy to help.

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mukesh Posted on November 17, 2018 at 18:49:48
please send details of sensual, B2B,happy ending BJ massage parlors in pattaya/bangkok with rates & services. visiting from 20 nov
Giva Posted on October 17, 2016 at 20:50:19
I'I be in Chiang Mai In november, 5 and I'I like to do short course thai massage between 07-11/11/2016.
I'l want to know about: 1) price 30 hs course; 2)Didatic material;3) Teacher; 4) Accommodation etcc
I hope your answer!