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If you visit Thailand, you have to get a massage. Even if you’re nervous about a Thai massage, you still have to try it because a) they’re incredible (I really can’t see myself ever paying for any other type of massage ever again. Ever.) and b) they can be SO CHEAP. Honestly, I never took advantage of them like I should – when you have plenty of something you don’t appreciate it enough! You can learn from my mistake though and if visiting Thailand GET AS MANY MASSAGES AS YOU CAN. Seriously.
I like to think of the massage places/spas in Thailand in three tiers – you have your daily massage shops, then places that have a little more class, then the real deal spas that rival anything at home for half the price. The question isn’t if you should get a massage or not, but how many to get and where to go. Of course everyone’s personal preferences are different – so what one person likes another may find intolerable – but after living three years in Chiang Mai, I think my favorite spots are pretty dependable offering constantly good experiences every time.
Small, cheap massage shops are everywhere (I could walk to more than five within five minutes from my boyfriend’s shop), and while many are completely fine, the level of expertise varies. At these types places you’ll often find several mats on the floor divided by curtains for privacy with women sitting outside calling, “Maa-saaage, you want maa-saaage?” and prices starting at 180 baht per hour or $6 – at least in Chiang Mai, prices in Bangkok and on the islands will be more expensive. (Depending on what part of town you’re in, these places will also sometimes offer…um…specials.)
I realized a couple weeks before I left Thailand that I could get a massage every day before I flew out…for the price of one back at home.These small shops are great places to pop into for a spontaneous foot massage, to wait out a sudden downpour in the rainy season, or, once you find your favorite, a regular appointment for those staying longer in town. Several also offer waxing, facial and manicure services, although I wouldn’t really recommend them. The few times I did something other than a massage at one of these small, dime a dozen shops it was disappointing and not worth it, especially when you can spend a little bit more money for much better quality.
I’m just listing one of these types of shops, because soon after trying a few out I quickly found my favorite and have since taken all my visitors there for 1.5-2 hour Thai massages. It’s a simple, open air shop (which may be annoying to some because it’s certainly not completely quiet with all the motorbikes whizzing by) and every massage I’ve had there in the past three years by different people has been very good, if not incredible. They know what they’re doing. I haven’t tried any of their other services, but highly recommend getting a Thai massage (if you’re uncomfortable with people watching they can close the curtains), and preferably splurging for two hours at the crazy rate of 260 baht – less than $10.
Then there’s the next ‘level’ of spas are more of full service spas than the first, with nicer decor, more services and attention to detail, and sometimes better-trained masseuses. Relatively speaking though, they’re still cheap. At one of my favorite spots, Thai massages are closer to $10 per hour and you can choose a package of services starting around $60. (I know…this is one of the ways Thailand completely spoils you.) I usually recommend friends and family go to one of these places for a little bit fancier experience without shelling out too much and then stop by one of the cheaper shops whenever they felt like it.
Deep Relax was the first massage place I went to after moving to Chiang Mai, and I’ve been going there regularly ever since for special splurges like facials and body scrubs. The spa is simple but tastefully decorated and the staff are polite and knowledgeable. If you book a spa package you can get free transportation to and from your hotel. (Something to keep in mind if you have problems walking – the spa is located in a three-story building and you have to walk up stairs to get to many of the rooms.)
Green Bamboo Massage Green Bamboo focuses on offering traditional Thai treatments with an emphasis on sustainability and being eco-friendly. The shop is known for using organic and homemade products throughout their treatments as well as purchasing local materials and equipment from small, family-run business in the Chiang Mai area.
Finally, there are the luxury spas in town. These are the best of the best, and while they’re definitely more expensive than the usual massage shops, they’re still cheaper than what you would pay at home – and usually nicer. All the way around, you get more for your money in Thailand and spas are no exception. Here you’ll get 5-star treatment for half the cost of what you’d spend in Europe or North America – plus simply being in a warm, sultry place just adds a layer of relaxation and indulgence. These types of places also offer free transportation to and from your hotel when you book ahead of time.
On the east side of the river, RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort is a full service spa along with a hotel. Unlike most of the other spas in town, RarinJinda offers more therapeutic services and treatments such as various hydrotherapy treatments, including Japanese onsen pools where you alternate between hot natural spring water, cold water and carbonated water for different amounts of time to balance out the body and calm the mind. The spa also has an alternative medicine specialist on staff to help you determine which treatments best fit your needs.
Dedicated to celebrating Northern Thai (known as lanna) culture and customs, Fah Lanna Spa incorporates materials, treatments and ingredients to bring its clients an incredibly local experience. From the traditional herbs used for tea and steams, to the special Chiang Mai known as tok sen (which uses a wooden mallet to tap along the body’s meridian lines), Fah Lanna has a distinctly natural, Northern Thai feel. Prices are higher than your average massage shop, but on the lower end for the luxury spas in town with Thai massages starting at 400 baht per hour, or about $12.
Simply put, Oasis Spa is the most beautiful spa I’ve ever been to. Wooden walkways surrounded by tropical plants lead you over water paths to your personal cabana, complete with outdoor bathroom, for exotic private treatments – pure luxury and indulgence. The spa offers a wide range of massages and treatments, from traditional Thai massages to facials with golden caviar. Prices are much higher than the other spas listed here but, again, still less expensive than western prices with a Thai massage costing 1,000 baht per hour, or about $32. Body scrubs, facials and wraps start around 1,200 baht ($37) and go up to 2,900 ($90).
Have you spent time in Thailand? Where do you think are the best spas in Chiang Mai? Note: I was a guest of RarinJinda Wellness Spa and Fah Lanna Spa but all opinions and recommendations are my own.