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My love for Thailand runs deep and wide, meaning I would be hard pressed to narrow down a list of my favorite things about it. But there is one thing I know without hesitation — Thai massages would make the top five.

From 120 baht cheapies in a room full of people to beachside pummelings with the sea breeze on my back to indulgent treatments at my favorite spa in Koh Tao, there’s nothing like a Thai massage to make me feel grateful to be exactly where I am in that moment. When I lived in Koh Tao last year I often found myself getting caught up in work and day-to-day drudgery (it exists even in paradise!) and forgetting to enjoy the beautiful country I was living in. To combat that, I came up with Massage Mondays — a holiday I never missed.

Massage Course Chiang Mai

A year later in Chiang Mai, I quickly fell in love with NAMO Yoga studio, conveniently located around the corner from my go-to smoothie shop. NAMO also offers massage training, and after a particularly excellent rubdown across town, I decided I’d like to learn a little bit more about what was going on the other side of the mat.

For those that have never had one, a Thai massage is completely different from the typical oil massages we are used to in the West. Typically, they involve slipping into a little set of pajamas, lying on a mat on the floor (only truly posh places will use a massage table) and turning yourself into a ragdoll while the masseuse prods, pulls, stretches and folds you. They’ll sit, walk and crawl all over you — and at the end of it, you’ll feel like a new person. Best of all? They usually range from $5-15USD. Per hour. Go ahead — book your plane tickets now. I’ll wait here.

Massage Course Chiang Mai

Massage Course Chiang Mai

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to invest in a longer course, so I tried to sign up for a one day workshop. Unfortunately none were available, so I had to settle for a half day workshop, I wasn’t overly enthused about — though my wallet was thankful (a one day course is 1,600 baht while a half day course is 990).

On the morning of the course, I was pleased to see there was just one other student — practically a private lesson! Our instructor assured us that by the time we left, we’d be in hot demand among friends and family for our new found back massaging skills. She wasn’t kidding — my Facebook status that morning had already elicited several selfless volunteers willing to let me practice on them. Strange — I did not get the same offers when I announced I had signed up for a cooking class.

Massage Course Chiang Mai

The format of the class was simple: following along with our cute little course books, we watched the instructor demonstrate on one of us (well placed mirrors meant even the person being worked on could watch), and then we would each take a turn mimicking her moves on each other. We worked slowly from the feet all the way up to the head and neck. It was really interesting process to watch a certain move performed, try it myself on someone else, and then finally feel the results on myself. Three hours flew by.

Massage Course Chiang Mai

I was surprised how much we had learned in just half a day — and also how physically tired I was! A big focus of the course was how to give a massage in a way that would cause yourself, the masseuse, the least pain and discomfort. It’s exhausting! I had a new respect for the tiny masseuse ladies that I already loved so much.

I loved my little one day course, and should I find myself in Chiang Mai again for a week, I know exactly how I’ll be spending it — on a full, five-day Thai Massage course at NAMO. At least I know I’ll have plenty of practice volunteers.

Who wants a massage?

  • memographer
    March 14 2013

    Yes, the Thai massage is the science! and where in the World you can get the best one if not in Thailand 🙂 Most of SE Asia offers high level massages. Surprisingly, I was getting VERY GOOD massages in Luang Prabang, Laos. Viet Nam wasn’t that good. It depends on the masseuse, of cause.

    • Alex
      March 16 2013

      Totally agree — I had awful massages in Vietnam (and really bad customer service/seedy locations) and gave up. Laos had great spa offerings though, and so did Cambodia!

  • Rachel
    March 14 2013

    I did finally try a Thai massage in Chiang Mai. Mostly I found it really painful 🙁 But to each their own! Looks like a fun class.

    • Alex
      March 16 2013

      Every once in a while I have one like this! Give it a second shot — and ask them to be gentle 🙂

  • Kathryn
    March 14 2013

    I had my first Thai massage in Belize, by a Thai native…have been hooked ever since. To me, it’s the lazy girl’s yoga…all the benefits, with someone else doing the work of pulling all the knots out.

    • Alex
      March 16 2013

      I remember that! So funny how Mr. Coppola brought her all the way to Belize… though I admit I’d do the same with some of the masseuses I’ve found in Thailand.

  • Shama
    December 24 2013

    Namo is a great place in Chiang Mai. I have known the Japanese owner since she first started out many years ago, and she managed to create a great lovely space there.

    • Alex
      December 26 2013

      I really enjoyed my time at Namo and would love to return for a longer course someday. Thanks for chiming in, Shama!

  • Matt
    July 20 2018

    Great article!
    I’m a massive fan of massage and get one at least every week.
    I was wondering if there were any disadvantages to getting a Thai massage?
    Heard some people talking about this but wondered what your opinion was.
    Keep up the fantastic work;-)

    • Alex
      September 26 2018

      I’ve heard some people say that the cheap Thai massage places aren’t always staffed by full trained masseuses, which I’m sure is true. If I had a bad back I’d perhaps be more careful. But at around $6-9 an hour, I feel like if I have a bad massage, at least I got to lay down and relax for an hour for a bargain!

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