Thai massage parlors can be found on every street corner in Thailand, as can coffee shops and 7-Elevens. There are literally hundreds of these places in the larger cities throughout the country, and most are clearly marked and have their prices visibly listed on the outside of their windows. These parlors are often mom and pop owned operations that have two to three large rooms. Most massage parlors reserve the front room for guests receiving foot massages. In that case, guests sit side by side in comfortable reclining lounge chairs with foot rests.
For those who are receiving a full body oil massage or a Thai massage, the back room or upstairs room is reserved with beds or mats that are separated with curtains on all four sides. You undress in the privacy of your curtained area (keep those undies on!) and the masseuse waits just outside of that enclosed area until you are ready. Rooms often have low lighting and soft music playing or a water fountain for ambiance. The masseuses are soft-spoken and most guests are respectful of each other and do not talk or laugh during massages. It is hard not to relax once you shut your eyes. After the hour spa service is complete most places will offer water, hot tea, and on occasion, fresh fruit as an added touch.
The most affordable massage is the foot massage (comparable to a Reflexology Massage) and costs between 150 baht and 250 baht. This roughly translates to $5 to $8.50 USD for one hour of ache melting bliss. The massage begins with a foot scrub and then focuses on the feet and calves. The last 15 minutes are typically dedicated to the hands and arms, as well as back, shoulders, and neck. This massage is highly recommended after spending all day walking in Thailand! It is not uncommon to see outdoor massage areas setup throughout the popular walking street markets. These places offer shortened half hour foot massages catering to those who need a break from the seemingly endless vendors lining the narrow and crowded side streets. These can often be as cheap as 80 baht (or $2.50 USD)!
One of the greatest price differences for a service that is offered both in Western countries and in Thailand is a full body massage. In the US, a typical one-hour massage (Swedish, Deep Tissue) ranges from $60 to $100 USD. In Thailand, an equivalent massage (Oil) runs between 180 and 400 baht, which is roughly $6 and $13.50 USD, respectively. In other words, you can have almost ten full body massages in Thailand for the cost of one massage in the US! Talk about budget friendly! With that said most hotels offer on-site spa services priced lower than those back in most Western countries but more than smaller independent parlors. The latter is preferable if you want to save some cash. Plus, it gets you out and about, and with so much to see and do it would be a waste to restrict yourself to hotel living.
It should be a crime to leave Thailand without having experienced the centuries old traditional Thai massage, a practice that some say was first performed by the Buddha’s personal physician. This treatment involves stretching and applying extremely deep pressure to the muscles. It is usually done while the client is fully clothed, and can involve the masseuse/masseur walking or standing on the client’s body during portions of the treatment. We have had this done several times, and it definitely makes you feel like you had a tough workout the following day.
With Massages there is Always the Exception to the Rule
Chris did have one negative experience in which half way through an oil massage in Krabi the quiet massage area was overrun by giggly, gassy (seriously) teenage tourists. He nearly got up and started tossing them out of the room before quickly remembering that he was half-naked and covered in baby oil. The staff did nothing to correct the situation, so we declined to leave our usual tip. It definitely sucks to leave one of these places more stressed out then when you first arrived.
We definitely recommend parlors away from the busier intersections of the more touristy parts of whatever town you may find yourself in. The places down quiet side streets that don’t deal strictly with tourists will probably take your business a bit more seriously. In general they try harder to ensure that you have a quality massage experience as their businesses are built around their reputations rather than having a convenient location for tourists.