Image by Maya Visnyei
This ancient treatment is a little different than the other massages you’ve had—but it’s a must when you head to Thailand.
The first time I got a Thai massage I was in Thailand—lucky, I know—and it was incredible. I’m no stranger to massage. As a beauty editor I’ve had my fair share of relaxing spa-comfort massages and thanks to a childhood injury I’ve also experienced the pain and sweet relief of a physiotherapy massage. But Thai massage was something completely new and wonderful. Not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s what you need to know about Thai massage.
What makes Thai massage different?
The biggest difference I noticed right off the bat was that I was fully clothed for my Thai massage, in loose linen pants and a simple linen t-shirt, and there were no oils or creams in sight when I stepped into the treatment room. My first traditional Thai massage was at the spa at 137 Pillars in Bangkok, a stunning hotel (the rooftop pools—yes, plural—give you some of the best views of the city). The spa itself was a place I could easily drift into relaxation, with quiet and soft surroundings that completely set the mood for my first Thai experience. My technician didn’t just use her hands—she used her entire body to stretch and contort me in different ways. My whole body was moved around (at one point I’m sure I resembled a pretzel) and although I was passive the entire time, I certainly was not simply laying on my back or stomach. Despite the rigor of a Thai massage, you still manage to feel relaxed as you really can feel your muscles letting go and your body becoming longer and more limber. It’s obvious that the Thai masseurs at 137 Pillars are extremely well-trained and the experience was elevated, and most importantly, very effective. Plus, the treat at the end—fresh fruit—was a nice touch to end this luxurious experience.
Image by Maya Visnyei
What can I expect during the treatment?
Traditional Thai massage is a treatment that’s often referred to as “passive yoga” as your body is moved through various postures to help relieve pressure, promote flexibility and range of motion and restore the flow of energy to the body. I’m familiar with a painful massage (see those physiotherapy ones I mentioned earlier) and I don’t mind a little discomfort for some muscle payoff, and you certainly get that payoff with a Thai massage. (As always, you can communicate to your practitioner what level of pressure you’re comfortable with.) You can also expect your practitioner to use hands, feet, elbows, palms and knees to move your limbs and body into the various poses—there were times when my technician was on top of me, had her feet in the crook of my shoulder and used her entire body to arch my back—in a really good way, it felt amazing. In Thailand there are many different ways to experience Thai massage. While my traditional Thai massage was in a stunning spa-like atmosphere, the practice is a regular part of Thai self-care. I watched my colleagues step into a chair and have a Thai shoulder massage on Khao San Road—alongside many others who were there to enjoy this simple pleasure.
What are the benefits?
Aside from some seriously good stretching, Thai massage is said to increase mobility and flexibility through stretching and compression, helps injury prevention and awareness by relieving tension and discovering stiffness, enhances recovery by promoting muscle relaxation and stimulating blood flow and helps to slow and deepen breathing through your technician’s prompts.
Image by Maya Visnyei
Two types of Thai massage
While in Thailand I was lucky enough to experience two types of Thai massage—the traditional, which is I’ve outlined above at the spa at 137 Pillars in Bangkok, and a Lanna-style massage often referred to at the Foot Fire Massage at Anantara Golden Triangle. This Foot Fire Massage is typically only found in the north of Thailand, in places like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and even then it isn’t always easy to find. In this treatment, a piece of iron is placed over coals or a fire and your practitioner dips their feet into a specialty oil blend and then places them on the hot iron. Once the oil sizzles, they use their feet to massage any areas that need attention. It was the first massage I had that included fire and between the heat and the pressure from my practitioner’s feet, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience—and one that you’ll likely need to travel to Thailand for to get. The surroundings at Anantara certainly helped—I had my massage outside on a patio overlooking trees and water and while I enjoyed complete privacy it was wonderful to experience this treatment outside. The combination of heat and pressure was surprisingly gentle, especially in the cool, fragrant air and I left my treatment at Anantara Golden Triangle feeling relaxed.