One of the great things about Thailand is the ease with which high quality and affordable Thai massage is so readily available. If you have decided yourself on taking one, this lesson will make your experience a little easier and enjoyable.
If this is your first time taking a Thai massage, you will usually see a sign like this one showing which services are on offer. Whilst it is common most shops will advertise in English also, at many shops, it’s very likely that your masseuse หมอนวด (maw nuad) will not speak much English.
Types of Thai Massage
There are a number of different kinds of Thai massage, but perhaps the 2 most common are the traditional Thai massage and the oil massage.
Traditional Thai Massage can be referred to a number of ways in Thai.
- นวดไทย (nuad thai) – Thai massage
- นวดน้ำมัน (nuad naam mahn) – oil massage (massage+oil)
Traditional Thai massage can be a bit rough on the body, and tends to be more painful than the oil, which is usually softer in its delivery, though if you have time maybe try both and see which you prefer.
Oil massage is more relaxing, but Thai massage is great when you need to get in deep and crush out some stiffness.
Useful Phrases when getting a Thai Massage
When you first enter a massage shop, the conversation might go something like this:
- Masseuse – วันนี้มานวดอะไรคะ (wan nee maa nuad a-rai ka?) What (kind) of massage are you coming for today?
- You – นวดไทย + ครับ/ค่ะ (nuad thai khrap/kha) – Thai massage
- Masseuse –นวดกี่ชั่วโมง (nuad kee chua mong?) – How many hours?
- You – สองชั่วโมง (sawng chua mong) – 2 hours
- Masseuse – โอเคค่ะ มาทางนี้นะคะ (ooh-keh ka, maa thaang nee na ka) Ok, come this way.
Important Thai Vocabulary/Phrases when Getting a Thai Massage
Types of Pain:
- ปวด (ppuad) to ache; to be sore
- เจ็บ (not found)– to hurt; to feel (sharp) pain (if something a masseuse is doing to you hurts, you can say เจ็บๆๆๆ (jep jep jep jep) to make them stop)
- เส้นตึง (sen ttung) – stiff/tight tendons
Degree (of pressure during massage)
- หนัก – heavy; strong
- ขอนวดหนักๆ หน่อย (kaw nuad nak nak noi) – I want a strong/hard massage
- ขอหนักกว่านี้หน่อย (not found)(kaw nak kwaa nee noi) – I’d like it strong/harder than this please
- เบา – light; soft
- ขอนวดเบาๆ หน่อย (not found)(kaw nuad bao bao noi) – I want a soft/light (massage)
- ขอเบาๆ หน่อย (kaw bao bao noi) – Please (massage) a little softer
In addition to a hard or soft instruction, you can also specify if you’d like extra attention or pressure in a certain area. The Thai word “to emphasize” something is เน้น (nen). So, for example if you have overworked your right arm in a Muay Thai class you can ask for the masseuse to concentrate on this area you could say:
- ขอเน้นแขน (khaw nen khaen) please give extra attention to arm(s)
How to Say Body Parts in Thai
Here’s a list of body parts in Thai that are going to hurt eventually.
Remember that you can put ปวด (ppuad) in front of any of the body parts below to express that you have soreness or an ache in that area.
- ปวดหัว (ppuad hua) – headache (ache+head)
- ปวดเท้า (ppuad thao) – feet/foot ache
- In spoken Thai, most of the time you don’t need to use any pronouns so saying ปวดเท้า (ppuad thao) to a masseuse (or anybody) means “My feet hurt.” or “My foot hurts.”
- foot – เท้า (thao)
- ankle – ข้อเท้า (khaw thao)
- calf – น่อง (nawg)
- thigh – ต้นขา (tton khaa)
- hip – สะโพก (sa-pohk)
- waist – เอว (ehw)
- back – หลัง (lang)
- shoulder – ไหล่ (lai)
- elbow – ศอก (not found)(sawk)
- arm – แขน (khaen)
- chest – หน้าอก (naa ohk)
- neck – คอ (khaw)
- head – หัว (hua)
At the end of a standard Thai massage, the masseuse will more often than not, ask you to sit up and lock your fingers behind your head. They might tell you to “relax” which isn’t easy. They then will bring one of their legs in front of you and proceed to try to tear your torso off of your body. What they are really trying to do is crack your back. This technique is called ดัดตัว (duht ttua) or you may just hear ดัด (duht).
- ดัด (duht)- to bend
- ดัดตัว (duht ttua) – to bend body (during massage it’s usually more of a twist than a bend)
- ดัดผม (dut phom) – to bend hair (get a perm; curl hair)
How Much Does a Thai Massage Cost?
The price of a massage in Thailand varies from place to place. As of 2020, you can expect to pay between 200 and 300 baht per hour for a Thai massage in standard massage shop in the center of cities such as Chiang Mai or Bangkok. Oil massages tend to be more expensive and foot massages are sometimes a little cheaper depending on the shop. Areas that get a lot of tourists can have much higher prices so if you see tour buses and touts all around you, expect to pay more. It’s also possible to go much cheaper. There are definitely places in Chiang Mai and Bangkok where you can get a massage for 150 baht or less .
*Tip: If you are going to be in town for a bit, don’t be afraid to ask your masseuse where they go get massages. Giving massages all day is demanding work and many masseuses will go get massages themselves and they are very likely to be going to go some place much cheaper than what the shop they work at charges.
How much to Tip for a Thai Massage?
Everyone you ask is going to have a different opinion on how much you should be tipping at a massage. The authors of this post generally tip 50-60 baht for 1 hour and 100 baht for 2 hours assuming we are happy with the service. I also asked on the Learn Thai from a White Guy Facebook Page and 80-100 seemed pretty similar to what everyone else was tipping though there were a few people who tip a set amount for the massage.
*Tip: If you ask for a 2 hour massage and the first hour feels like a waste of time, feel free to stop and leave. There’s no obligation to pay for time you weren’t actually getting a massage. It’s also possible to request to switch to another masseuse if there are any available. Massage shops know that some people have a preference like very strong or very soft massages and some workers are better suited to one type or another.
How much do you tip for massages? Please let us know in the comments (type, cost and tip) and we’ll update this post if we get any interesting data.