Photo: Rubdown shack on Ko Pha Ngan.

During my first two-month trip to Thailand I had at least 20 massages in which I was prodded, twisted, crippled and then repaired by some of the best masseuses and worst hacks in the country. At 200B for a beach massage (back when the baht was 25B to a $1), they weren't cheap, but I just couldn't help myself.

That was a decade ago and since then the massage industry has reinvented itself -- we have spas instead of potentially seedy massage shops and the range of services have exploded. According to the general manager of Bangkok's Oriental, Thais are simply put the best masseuses in the world.

So in aid of us all getting more massages, here's a few pointers to make sure your massage doesn't rub you up the wrong way.

Tipping: Don't be tight
Tipping is not expected, but very much appreciated. In any of the standard shopfront massage shops you'll see the masseuses are paid very little and the bulk of what you pay goes to the owners. For a foot massage I'd always tip at least 50B unless I've been absolutely crippled, in which case I hold on to it to pay for the ambulance.

Experience: Are you experienced?
Every masseuse in Thailand will say they are Wat Po trained. This is meaningless. Wat Po is a massage training factory and although we haven't trained there ourselves, friends who have were dismayed at the standard of tuition. A better gauge of talent is how long they have been massaging for. Ask!

Pain: Should I be in it?
No. Thai massage is also dubbed lazy or slow yoga and is not supposed to be overly painful. If a massage is hurting, tell the masseuse and they should soften their touch. If they continue to hurt you, stop the session and pay the pro-rata amount. Don't wait for them to put your neck out before complaining.

Beach massages: Why so cheap?
Most likely because competition keeps the prices low. The quality of the masseuse is also often - but not always -- lower than what you would get in a spa.

Spa massages: Why so expensive?
Because all the rose petals for the rose petal baths are pricey, because they are often in high-rent locations and most importantly because it is what people will pay. Anything over 1,500B for an hour's massage is far too high in our opinion. 1,000 to 1,500B for an hour's treat should be in a splendid and soothing environment anyway.

Should I shower beforehand?
Yes, if possible. Most flashier places will have a shower you can use, but ask first before booking if it's an issue for you. For beach massages, just have a swim first.

What's with foot massages?
Foot massages rule are one of the best ways you could ever spend an hour of your life: totally relaxing, soothing and great for the circulation. A perfect way to end a trek, marathon or walk around the block.

Thai massage, oil massage: What's the difference?
Thai massage is a dry, pressure-point massage, with very little (if any) oil used, while with an oil massage you are smothered with anything ranging from Johnson's baby oil to super aromatherapy magic potions. Thai massages are good on the beach, as if you get an oil massage on the beach, you end up looking like the beach, plus you don't get much privacy.

Are oil massages just a pretext for a dodgy massage?
No. Though men should not be surprised at the lower-end places if they are asked if they want a "special massage" half way through an oil massage -- at the rolling over point funnily enough -- a simple no (or yes) is all that is required. You will be expected to pay extra if you answer yes. The special massage involves a hand only - not sex.

What is the best combination?
Begin with a shower, then have a herbal steam for 15 minutes, take a break, then steam again have another break, then go have a Thai massage followed by a foot massage or a facial massage. If you can find a better way to spend 3 hours, please let us know.

Travelling is hard on the mind and body and massage is a great remedy, so treat yourself!

Last updated on 1st March, 2005.

Top of page

 Be sure to have adequate insurance cover before you travel. We recommend World Nomads

Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

Getting started

How to plan


Health & safety

Money & costs

Travel with kids


Food & drink


Volunteering & work

What to pack & gear advice

Top of page