When I’m in Bangkok, I usually get a massage every day and through the years, I think I’ve had more than 100 massages in the city. I might have overdone it a little, but there’s really no better way to relax after a busy day of sightseeing and shopping.
Finding a place to get a Thai massage in Bangkok shouldn’t be too hard, as there are massage shops on every corner, but how does it work? And how do you steer clear of those dodgy spots with happy ending?
Here’s my intro to cheap massages in Bangkok:
What is Thai Massage?
Traditional Thai massage is actually a kind of assisted yoga, so don’t expect to just lie down and relax. In fact a lot of people find it rather painful, while it goes on, but usually it feels great afterwards. If it becomes too agonizing, just tell the massage therapist so he or she can modify the intensity of the pressure.
Another popular and widely available kind of massage is the foot massage. It’s usually around the same price as a Thai Massage, but as the name suggests, this massage primarily targets your feet. However, at most places, the foot massage also includes a quick backrub at the end of the session.
Competition among the massage shops is fierce and the price for a massage only differs slightly throughout the city. The going rate for the last 10 years has been 200-300THB for 1 hour. If you want a more extravagant experience, most upscale hotels have excellent spas with a range of massage treatments available, but they are usually very expensive.
What are the massage salons like?
At most places, the street-level floor is reserved for foot massage, while Thai massage often takes place one stair up, where there will be couches or mattresses on the floor, only separated by curtains.
At more upscale places the massage treatments are in private rooms with shower facilities, scented candles and bathrobes and you might even get lucky and find a place that has massage beds with a hole for your face, so you don’t have to overstretch your neck while lying face down.
Though even within the low price segment, facilities differ a lot. It’s so much nicer to have your massage in clean and quiet surroundings, so look for the massage shops, which look like proper spas. The price is often the same or only slightly more expensive than the places, where you’re lying shoulder to shoulder with other smelly tourists on dirty mattresses. For foot massage, I prefer the places, which have comfortable, reclining armchairs (sometimes even with built-in massage).
How does it work?
If you’re just after an ordinary massage at one of the no-frills massage shops, a reservation is rarely needed. If there’s a wait, it’s often short, and otherwise, you can often find another place further down the road with a slot available.
You specify the kind of massage you want and for how long at the counter inside.
The standard duration of the massage will be 1 hour at most places, but in more touristy areas, you’ll be able to find 30 minutes massages too.
A massage therapist is then assigned to you and if you’ve booked a foot massage, the session typically starts with a quick footbath to clean your feet.
If you’ve booked a Thai massage, the shops will sometimes give you a really over-sized pajamas-like outfit to wear during the massage. I usually take off my bra and leave my panties on.
After the massage, it is common for most salons to serve you a cup of hot herbal tea or at least a glass of water, which you can drink before you proceed to pay at the cashier. The women working at the massage shops are often from the poor Isan region of the country, and many of them have a family to take care of at home, so I always tip generously.
Where do I find the good places?
For the cheap local massage shops, it’s more about the individual therapist and if I find someone, who is brilliant, I’ll try to book her for my following visits if the massage shop allows.
How to avoid the sleazy, happy-ending kind of places?
It is usually easy to spot where the red-light action is going on. The girls (and it will only be girls working there, unless it’s a place that caters to the gay community) dress in tight tank tops and hot pants or miniskirts, as opposed to the traditional Thai places, where the massage therapists would usually wear more comfortable bright colored polo shirts or spa-staff-like clothes. If there’s a big foot reflexology signboard in the window, it’s also highly unlikely, that there’s any shady business taking place inside.