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I can’t believe it now, but it took me about six months to get my first Thai massage. I had gone to a couple places for ‘normal’ oil massages, but for some reason I was intimidated by Thai massage which focuses more on stretching and body alignment than simply relaxation. As soon as I finally did get that first Thai massage though, I never went back.
It’s like having a yoga session without having to do the work – someone else is moving your body around for you. Perfect.
It wasn’t until my last couple weeks in Chiang Mai though that I learned about a special type of massage traditional to Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai in particular) known as tok sen. Even though the massage originated in Northern Thailand, it doesn’t seem to be a common offering, or at least not very promoted, in many Thai spas.
At Fah Lanna Spa in Chiang Mai, however, tok sen is one of their signature treatments and where I first tested it out. With an emphasis on Lanna (the name for the area and historical kingdom surrounding Chiang Mai) traditions and culture, the spa uses traditional local products, practices and customs to create a soothing experience special to Chiang Mai.
Tok means to to strike or tap while sen refers to the meridian lines in the body. Put those two things together and you get a treatment where your body’s lines are tapped with a mallet from a tamarind tree creating a resonating, healing vibration that’s meant to clear blocked energy and goes deep into your muscles.
When I saw a demonstration of the technique the gentle knock knock, knock knock of the mallet tapping the wedge into the body seemed pretty light, yet when I started my own treatment the same level of intensity, “medium”, felt much stronger than what it had sounded like. The masseuse then demonstrated what a ‘strong’ pressure would feel like and the vibrations greatly intensified – It didn’t necessarily hurt, it was just intense. Though I prefer strong Thai massages, I knew I couldn’t handle that level of intensity all over my body and stuck with “medium”.
The tapping kind of feels like the vibrations that go up your arm when using a hammer or striking a bell and take a little while to get used to resonating deep into your bones. My masseuse recommended coupling the tok sen treatment with an hour of Thai massage beforehand to help loosen up and prepare the body for a more intense massage. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time, but wish I had. While I ended up enjoying the massage, it didn’t leave me with the stretched out, rejuvenated feeling that a regular Thai massage does.
Intrigued? Because of the nature and intensity of the massage, make sure you discuss with your masseuse any nerve or bone pain beforehand. If you’re in Chiang Mai head to Fah Lanna Spa (details below) to try out tok sen for yourself. You can also check at these other spas in Chiang Mai (some of my favorites).
Where: Fah Lanna Spa has two locations, one in the Old City at 57/1 Wiang Kaew Road, near the corner of Jabhan Road and the other by the Night Bazaar at 186/3 on Loi Kroh Road (the small lane between McDonald’s and Burger King).
Opening times: Daily – The Old City location is open 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (last appointment at 9:00 p.m.) and the Night Bazaar location is open 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last appointment at 10:00 p.m.)
Note: I was a guest of Fah Lanna Spa but all opinions and recommendations are my own.