Chiang Mai – Thai Massage mecca

If you are interested in Thai Massage, there is no better place in the world to study and try it out than Chiang Mai. Nowhere else you would get access to that many high-quality teachers and therapists for very affordable prices.

An international group of students posing for a photograph with an 80-years old blind Thai Massage master and his wife
Thai Massage course with the blind master – Sinchai

Why to go to Chiang Mai to learn Thai Massage?

I came to Chiang Mai mostly to do some courses in Thai Yoga Massage, as this city is the world’s capital of Nuat Thai. Massage parlours and massage schools are everywhere you look. With that much choice, it’s hard to decide on one particular school. I was very picky since I had already worked as a Thai Yoga Massage practitioner for three years before arriving in Thailand. Eventually, I followed my friend’s recommendations and wasn’t disappointed.

I haven’t chosen any famous school (where you’re likely to end up as a newbie). I ignored the offer of the Old Medicine Hospital, ITM (International Training Massage School) or Sunshine School of Massage. I haven’t chosen to study with the living legend, the teachers’ teacher, Pichest Boonthumme, either. From what I’ve heard, his teachings are unstructured and difficult to swallow for an average Westerner.

Author with an 80-yeaers old Thai Yoga Massage master, Sinchai at his studio in Chiang Mai
with master Sinchai

Instead, I devoted my first week to a 5-day study with a blind master, 75-years old Ajarn Sinchai. Later, I completed a 5-day advanced course with Jack Chaiya, son of another legend, the late Mama Lan. If only I had more time, I’d have completed the second week with Sinchai. Both are one of the most affordable courses on offer.

Things to keep in mind when choosing a Thai Massage course

Keep in mind that if you’d like to try any Thai Massage course, you should book it at least a few weeks in advance to be sure you get a spot. In high season, preferably earlier.

Author posing to a photo with a Thai Massage teacher, Jack Chaiya, holding a certificate of the course completion
Posing with my teacher, Jack Chaiya, after completing Thai Massage course

The teaching style in Thailand is very different from that in the West. Teachers might not be as good at explaining why to do something in a particular way, or even how to do it. They might be hard to understand due to the heavy Thai accent. But they would show all the moves on each student, rather than relying on assistants. There are no exams: you leave with what you learn, receiving a certificate of completion. You will also get a manual with photos of the learned moves. The teachers allow filming during the study.

The author trying Thai Massage moves on her teacher, master Sinchai in his studio in Chiang Mai
Unlike in the West, when you learn Thai Massage in Thailand, the teacher shows the moves on you and you try the moves on him

Receiving massage in Chiang Mai

Although I came to Chiang Mai to study Thai Massage, I also received a couple of massages. Prices of massage vary greatly. Expect to pay just 120-150 baht for an hour-long session at one of the temples within and just outside the city walls. If you choose the most famous teachers, it’d be over a thousand baht. A massage at a fancy spa (with an average therapist) or a treatment with a really good therapist/ Thai Massage teacher would both cost you a few hundred baht.

Tourists lying in reclining chairs, enjoying feet massage at the night 'walking street' market in Chiang Mai, a Buddhit temple behind them
Thai Masage for the feet at the walking street market

The massage with my teacher, Ajarn Sinchai was pleasant and efficient. He was very gentle, so it would not appeal to everyone. I decided not to try massage with my second teacher, Jack Chaiya, not because I doubted his skills, but because I didn’t get along with him. I believe it could affect the quality of the treatment.

Thai Massage teacher Jack Chaiya giving a treatment to a man lying on a futon
Jack Chaiya giving a treatment

Instead, I followed a friend’s advice to try Lar‘s massage. Lar’s practice room was close to the ITM school, near the northern gate. I instantly took to Lar- a bubbly, talkative and smiley guy. He asked me if I had any health issues, which was already a good sign- it meant he wanted his treatment to be safe. He also warned me that just one massage wouldn’t solve long-going issues. Not many therapists would be so honest with their customers. The moment Lar touched me, I knew I was in good hands. His skill, precision and confidence were indisputable. It was blissful. He remained focused while chatting away, telling me about a few years he spent in Poland and explaining what’s behind the scenes in the Thai Massage business in Chiang Mai.

Temple massage – is budget massage worth it?

I was curious about the level of the cheapest massages available in town- those offered at numerous temples. I must say I was a bit nervous, but I plucked up the courage and went for a 150 baht one hour massage at the Wat Mahawan, a short walk from the Tha Phae Gate. After paying upfront, a lady therapist led me to a large hall full of massage futons. A large altar stood right next to the futon chosen by my therapist. As I came at the hottest time of the day, I was alone during the treatment. Take into consideration you might have many neighbours during the treatment if you come in the evening.

The author enjoying a Thai Massage treatment givne by a Thai maseusse at the temple grounds, a seated Buddha statue behind her
Thai Massage at the temple – a budget option

There was a noticeable difference between her treatment and the ones I had with teachers. She was correct with most of the moves and it really wasn’t a bad massage, but it simply didn’t flow the same way. Altogether, it was an enjoyable massage and definitely worth 150 baht. I’d recommend it for those who are healthy. If you are more fragile or need a therapeutic approach, do yourself a favour and pay a little more for a renowned practitioner.

The dark side of Thai Massage in Thailand

Lar told me massage is so profitable that many Thai therapists buy their diplomas or hastily finish express courses. We talked about the cases when clients lost the baby or got injured after receiving a Thai Massage. Lar said it was sometimes the customer’s fault (if he didn’t share vital information about his health). Otherwise, the responsibility lies on an inexperienced or irresponsible therapist. Hence, experiments with random masseurs in the street could be risky.

PRACTICALITIES

PRICES [in Thai Baht as of March 2019]

7 000 THB 2-weeks advanced training in Thai Massage with Jack Chaiya
600 THB a single Thai Massage class with Ajarn Sinchai
500-600 THB massage with a renowned teacher
120-150 THB massage at the temple

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