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There’s nothing a weary traveller likes more than a good shower and a cheap massage to ease aching muscles from lugging around a heavy backpack. While most people can’t afford daily spa treatments, one of the benefits to travelling to Southeast Asia is that unlike Western backpacker hotspots, here cheap massages are in abundance.
What’s great about beach massages on Thailand’s Ko Samui is that the masseuse doesn’t come to your lounger, but you have semi-privacy in a sala on the beach, usually a little away from where the sunbeds are. Some of the massage ladies pride themselves in making their salas pretty, with hanging orchids and fabrics.
The busiest beaches will have salas every 100 metres or even more, and even the less touristy beaches will have one somewhere near a lone resort. What can you expect at a beach massage? Well, there’s usually a few types of massage available, including traditional Thai (usually the cheapest as they don’t use oils), head and shoulders, oil full body (don’t worry, your swimsuit stays on), foot and also aloe vera, good if you’ve had too much sun.
Other treatments will vary from sala to sala, but often on the menu is a simple mani and pedi, and foot scrubs are popular too. Some even offer ear-candling, where a piece of paper is rolled into a cone and placed into the ear. The wide end sticking out is lit on fire (yes, really), and basically this causes a vacuum which sucks excess wax out of the ear. Some people swear by it.
On arrival at the sala you’ll see a menu displaying the massages and treatments on offer. This is not a market stall — don’t haggle the rates. Thai massages range from 200 to 300 baht for an hour, and oil massages from 300 to 400 baht. An aloe vera massage is sometimes a little more, as the gel is pricy. Mani or pedis go for 200 to 300 baht, and foot scrubs usually around 300 baht – this is the least value for money, as it only lasts about 15 minutes, whereas 300 baht can get you an hour-long massage.
Lying in the breeze with the sound of the sea lapping the shore nearby while someone eases your aching muscles is so addictive that many a backpacker on a tight budget foregoes a meal to get their daily massage. If you prefer more privacy and perhaps some air-con, you’ll see plenty of small massage shops along the busy roads, many of which are the same price as the beach salas, or only marginally more. Of course, you can splash out at a luxury resort’s spa too.
Many of the masseuses have done a basic massage course at Wat Po, Bangkok’s famous massage school but if you do have a medical condition, it’s probably best to head to one of the more upmarket spas as they first do an assessment and will tailor the treatment around your condition.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 6th March, 2015.