You’ve earned it
Spas and massage parlours of every description are ubiquitous throughout Chiang Mai. Here’s a summary on what to expect and some suggestions on where to go.
Traditional Thai massage is quite vigorous and involves some heavy kneading of pressure points and some strenuous joint bending. For those not used to it, it can be a fairly painful experience.
Consequently—as with the sometimes painfully burning food—much is toned down for foreign visitors and the more gentle Swedish-style massage is also popular. Bear in mind that whatever the parlour or spa, any masseuse can have an off day, and while training standards ought to be higher in more upmarket spots, there’s always going to be a certain hit or miss element involved. Plus of course what’s a great massage to one person may be torture to another.
When a massage parlour becomes a spa is a tricky question. You will come across all levels in between in Chiang Mai but to us spa implies more emphasis on setting and surroundings, and a wider range of more niche treatments including reflexology, aromatherapy, herbal baths and so on as well as beauty treatments such as masks, manicures, pedicures and waxing. For a simple massage, you sign up for an hour or two with a choice of perhaps body or oil massage and maybe a head, shoulder or foot option as well. A spa however is designed to keep you there all morning. Aside the name outside, the price list will be a dead giveaway.
Your standard, traditional massage by a professionally trained masseuse in a clean and kosher parlour should cost around 300 to 400 baht for a two-hour session. (Two hours is considered the usual period for a complete massage.) Larger hotels often have in-house massage services and you usually pay a bit more for the convenience.
There are then myriad spots in town offering such services. We suggest The Women’s Massage Centre with four in-town addresses, or the excellent Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute. The latter provides not only a fine massage at reasonable prices but is also an excellent initiative, as it was established to create vocational training for short-term women prisoners from Chiang Mai Prison. Money earned is saved and issued to inmates on release as a kind of start-up assistance package. Both places offer traditional massage at 200 baht per hour with oil, with reflexology and facial scrubs on the menu too. Masseuses are usually on short term incarceration—often for drug or debt related charges—and you’re not going to be rubbed down by an axe murderer or politician. Nor will you be serviced in a prison cell, but rather a beautifully restored century-old teak villa.
A few hours in one of Chiang Mai’s plush spas is more about the whole experience. At the end of the day it’s up to the individual how much extra you want to pay for Lanna decor, a lily pond in the lobby, fluent English-speaking staff in traditional dress and massage accessories along the lines of herbal balls or turmeric wraps. We liked the Fah Lanna with a central location on Wiang Kaew Road, since despite the very classy setting they offer the full gamut of options from a basic one-hour traditional massage at a very reasonable 300 baht up to a four-hour, “romantic” package including herbal bath, facial, body scrub, aromatherapy, oil massage for 5,000 baht. (Check their website for the full array of options.)
Popular Oasis Spa also must be doing something right as they now have four locations in town with the most central being Samlarn Road near the main post office. Others are on Nimmanhemin, Ban Saen Doi way out in the southern suburbs and a Rattanakosin Road address which comes with meditation garden and solarium. Again please check their website for full addresses and package details. Prices go from 1,200 baht for an hour’s reflexology up to a four-hour “Lanna explorer” at no less than 6,500 baht.
Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute: Ratchawithi Rd, corner of Chaban Rd, Sri Phum; T: (053) 210 824; open weekdays 08:00-16:00, weekends 09:00-16:00.
Fah Lanna: 57/1 Wiang Kaew Rd, Sri Phum; T: (053) 416 191; http://www.fahlanna.com; open daily 10:00-22:00.
Oasis Spa: 4 Samlarn Rd, Phra Singh; T: (053) 920 111; http://www.oasisspa.com.
Women’s Massage Centre: 182/2 Wiang Kaew Rd, Sri Phum; T: (093) 984 0532; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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