A traditional Thai massage involves manipulating your limbs to stretch each muscle and then applying acupressure to loosen up tension and start energy flowing. Your body will be twisted, pulled, and sometimes pounded in the process. Some call it the ‘lazy man’s yoga’ for all the bending and twisting that happens, and you just might be a little sore the next day.
For Thai massage to be beneficial, it should be fairly rigorous and at times it can be punishing: If the therapist is loath to use pressure from the start, you’ll want to ask for more to experience the authentic massage. If you chose a street-side spa, choose one away from tourist areas—such as Khao San, Sukhumvit, or Silom roads, where Thais are patrons. Note: Many massage parlors on Silom and Sukhumvit roads are fronts for brothels, where (male) tourists will be propositioned for a variety of sexual favors.
There are countless spas and massage parlors around Bangkok; many offer good services at very reasonable rates. There are several reliable chains around town, each offering multiple branches, so you’ll never be too far from a relaxing treatment. For your baht and body, try Health Land (www.healthlandspa.com for locations), an affordable and reliable chain of spas that efficiently operates a bit like a spa production line; they’re best-known for their Thai massage. Another great option is Asia Herb (www.asiaherb.com for locations), which has packages that include time in a steam room and facials, or Let’s Relax (www.letsrelax.com for locations) the most atmospheric of the chains with staff who typically speak fluent English. A quieter option is The Touch (www.thetouch1.com for locations), a small spa with two locations on Soi Ruamrudee. It offers excellent foot massages as well as authentic Thai massage.
Wat Po is touted as the best place to learn Thai massage. But the setting is pretty bare-bones and the women rubbing your sore muscles can be quite chatty with each other. For something more elevated and traditional (and quiet!) check out Divana Spa (www.divanaspa.com for locations; tel. 02661-6784-5), a well-respected venue for massages, facials, and anti-aging treatments.
For all-out pampering, Bangkok’s finest spas are almost always those in the most respected hotels, where time and money go into training and language skills. The Elemis Spa (www.elemisspabangkok.com; tel. 02207-7779) at the St Regis Hotel at 159 Ratchadamri Road and the Oriental Spa at the Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/spa; tel. 02659-9000) at 48 Oriental Avenue are two of the finest, but they come with a hefty price tags—you’re paying for expertise that leaves your muscles soothed, gets your blood flowing, and gives you a feeling of unparalleled well-being.
A word of warning: Budget spas that use untrained staff with no English skills make for not just an unpleasant experience, but a potentially painful one. If your masseuse doesn’t understand a word of English, or there is no one to help translate your needs or aspects of your current health, such as sunburn, you might be taking a risk. Generally, places that offer “ancient” or “traditional” Thai massage have well-trained masseurs and masseuses who offer no extras, but if you are asked to pick a number from a group of dolled-up masseuses sitting behind a glass barrier, you can be sure the term “massage” is a euphemism for paid sex. Your chosen masseuse will then inform you of the “extras” available and the going rates.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.