At Wat Po, marvel at the intricate way Thai temples are structured and learn the art of the traditional Thai massage. Amy McPherson gets hands-on during a visit to Bangkok.
The idea of having oil rubbed all over me and gentle fingers soothing my aching muscles is a kind of heaven I’d like to be in. Like most people, I have always considered a massage a relaxing experience.
That was until I discovered traditional Thai massage. This strong, not-so-gentle but effective technique had me in pain for the duration of my visit, but it left me feeling light as a feather. And while it may not be the typical candle-lit environment filled with classical music, I was hooked.
What is a Thai Massage?
Thai massage differs from the average day spa massage in the sense that it isn’t about being relaxed during the treatment. Rather, it concentrates on making sure that you feel relaxed and tension-free after the treatment.
I’d be lying if I told you that a Thai massage is comfortable, and for a first-timer, it can be a bit of a shock to be in so much pain! However, it does have you walking out of the door feeling like you’ve just had every single knot untied and weight lifted from your body.
A Thai massage combines pressure and stretching techniques where the masseuse uses his or her body to manoeuvre yours to perform a series of deep-pressure movements, sometimes walking on your back to improve circulation and release muscle tension. It is usually performed without oil, and while wearing loose-fitting clothing.
The poses and stretches involved in Thai massage can be described as assisted yoga, with a bit of chiropractic posture alignment involved. Today, Thai massages have been combined with various other techniques that involve the use of oil and aromatherapy to cater to different massage preferences.
Learning Thai Massage at Wat Po
On a recent trip to Thailand, I wanted to know the secret to this method, so I joined the acclaimed Wat Po Thai Traditional Massage School in Bangkok for lessons in the art of traditional Thai massage.
The respected institution has been teaching the art of Thai massage since 1955. Located inside the temple Wat Po, the school is surrounded by golden spires and delicate ornamented wooden doors, giving a sense of spiritual well-being in the midst of this bustling city.
I enrolled in the five-day General Thai Massage Techniques course, an introductory programme to learn the basics of the massage as well as the theory in Thai folk medicine. In our group I met travellers from all over the world who were looking to understand Thai massage and appreciate how the techniques align to the gentle Thai way of life.
We were taught about harmony, a free flow of ‘sen’ (an energy flow through our bodies) and how a blockage to the ‘sen’ can cause stress and illness. We learned about the difference between a well-aligned body and a tired one, how to tell where to concentrate our energies, and practised the necessary movements to enable us to perform the best massage on each other.
Besides the General Thai Massage Techniques course, Wat Po also offers classes in oil massages, spa treatments and advanced Thai massage techniques. The school has branches all over the country.
While I never mastered the craft of using my own body weight to add to the effectiveness of my massage, and in the end I was in need of a massage myself, I had a lot of fun and went away with a greater appreciation of this artful technique.
Where to Get a Good Massage in Bangkok
After learning all about the foundations of Thai massage, I decided to leave it to the experts and just be the receiver of a good massage instead. If you are looking for a massage using the most traditional methods, your first stop should be Wat Po itself, which offers one-hour massages by trained masseuses for 420 Baht (SG$17) plus taxes an hour.
One of my favourites, located closer to the commercial districts of Sukhumvit and Silom, is So Thai Spa, an establishment with branches in Bangkok, Phuket and London. Choose the two-hour So Thai Healing package, which includes a foot massage and traditional Thai massage for 1300 Baht (SG$51) , amongst other traditional Thai massage services and quality day spa treatments.
The Oasis Spa is another day spa offering an excellent two-hour session of traditional Thai massage for 1700 Baht (SG$67), plus taxes. For those looking to experience something a little different, the Thai Herbal Hot Compress and Foot Treatment are great options, as well as their range of Ayurvedic services.
When To Go
In general, the best time to visit Bangkok is during the dry season, from November to February, when the temperature is cooler and there’s less chance of rain. However, shoulder seasons, such as October and March, can be cheaper to travel in and have reasonably good weather.
Where To Stay
Banyan Tree Bangkok is close to attractions and has beautiful wood-based décor in all of its rooms. Equally magnificent is the lebua at State Tower; both offer luxurious stays. For a mid-range option, there’s the Citadines group of serviced apartments. Try Citadines Sukhumvit 8 Bangkok for reasonably priced and comfortable accommodation.
How to Get There
Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines both offer regular serviced flights between Changi Airport (SIN) and Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). The short flight takes approximately two and a half hours.
Singapore nationals do not require a visa to visit Thailand, and can stay up to 30 days on a tourist visa.