Whenever I travel somewhere in Asia I always try out a local massage for better or for worse. Sometimes it was definitely for the worse, and here are some of my more bizarre experiences.
Bangkok Thai Massage Trauma:
I went to the tourist district on Kao San Road in Bangkok and went to a typical Thai massage shop. Many floor mats were lined up in a big room with many sessions going on simultaneously. I ended up with a male therapist.
The first thing he did was turn on a fan that blew cold air on me in a room that was already air conditioned to arctic temperatures. When I told him that the fan made me cold, he insisted that he needed it since he felt hot.
A few minutes after he started my Thai Massage he got up and started to prepare a pot of tea. When he was done he came back to me and continued the massage without any explanation.
A few minutes later another client was done with his session. Apparently my therapist was the main cashier since he got up and collected the money from him. Again he returned without offering any explanation and kept working on me.
At this point I felt like getting up and walking out. But I decided to stay just to see how far this could go. And incredibly enough the fellow kept stopping my massage every time someone needed to pay for their session.
His main job was cashier and he also did massages as an after thought, it seemed. I felt like I was a piece of meat being pushed around mindlessly, I was freezing, and I even had to pay for the abuse.
Luang Prabang, Laos – What Kind Of Oil Is That?
I went to a massage shop in Luang Prabang to get an oil massage. There was nothing wrong with the session, but when I took a shower afterwards to wash the oil off my body, I realized that the oil did not come off.
After three rounds of soap and water, I decided they must have used petroleum mixed with super glue, because I still felt greasy and sticky. Soap and water had no chance against this incredible massage oil. It managed to prolong my experience way past the one hour session that I paid for.
Burma ‘Hole-In-The-Wall’ Massage
I was traveling in Burma and one evening I was excited when I saw a sign for a massage shop. I signed up for a session and was directed to a wall with a curtain. When they pulled the curtain aside, I saw a cut-out in the wall. It was a rectangular hole in the wall with the dimensions of a coffin, just higher.
A super thin mat rested on regularly spaced pieces of wood. The effect was that the mat was sagging in all the spaces between the wooden slats and the slats dug themselves into my back.
A little old man showed up and I was wondering how he could give me a massage in a space that was just big enough to accommodate my own body. Somehow he managed to climb over me and squeeze himself in a squatting position between my legs.
He pulled the curtain shut and did some pressing and squeezing on some parts of my body that he could reach from his contorted position. I would have gotten up and walked out, but I wanted to experience it just for the weirdness of it. After the session my body felt worse than before, but I had another memorable travel experience.
Vietnamese Massage With Happy End Offer
I was in Hanoi and wanted to experience a Vietnamese massage. Since I had heard dubious reports about massage shops in Vietnam, I went to the tourist office and told them that I was looking for a real massage without any sexy content in a classy establishment.
They gave me the name and address of a spa. When I arrived there, it looked very clean and professional: nice reception, private massage room with individual saunas, uniformed therapists, and the massage was actually quite good.
Towards the end of the session, the girl put her hands on my private parts and asked if I wanted massage there. I declined and got up to get dressed.
Before I left, she put her hand on my arm and asked what I was going to do now. To her disappointment I told her that I would go home – alone. She must have seen her big tip vanish and I hurried to get out of there.
Later I asked a Vietnamese friend of mine if there was such a thing as purely professional therapeutic massage. He told me that there was not much of a market for such incomplete work, since most Vietnamese men prefer the “happy end”.
Bali – Younger Therapists
I was walking on the street in the city of Kuta, Bali, and was accosted by a girl who wanted me to sign up for a massage. As a massage therapist myself, I am always interested in massage, so I followed her.
She led me to a dingy and unclean room that would have been the last place where I ever wanted to receive a massage. So I turned on my heels and walked out. She chased me down and pleaded with me: “Mister, wait, we will give you a younger and prettier girl!”
I guess she did not know that my personal rule for female massage therapists in Asia is that the older and less attractive ones are generally the more experienced and more professional ones.
If she would have said: “Mister, wait, we give you an old and ugly one and we will put clean sheets on the table”, she might have had a chance, but she blew it with her offer.
Chiang Mai Belly Attack
I went to get a massage at a shop that is known for therapeutic work. An older woman who seemed quite experienced got to work on me. Everything was fine until she got to my belly area. There she started to press really hard with thumbs and elbows which was registered by my tummy as very painful.
So in a natural effort of self-preservation I kept my stomach muscles tense enough so that she could not do any serious damage. When she was done with the massage, she told me in a concerned voice that I had real issues in my belly area since I was so tense in there. She advised me to go see a doctor and come back to her for regular belly treatments.
Luckily most Thai massage therapists don’t touch the belly. Otherwise I might end up needing a surgical belly replacement.
I have to say that later I received excellent massages in very professional settings in Bali, just to set the record straight. In Thailand I have received countless wonderful massages, and I have not totally given up on Vietnamese massage either. I will try again on my next trip, but then I will go with my girlfriend (P.S. she has become my wife now), just to be on the safe side.
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The author, Shama Kern, is
the founder and director of
Thai Healing Massage Academy.
He lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
and he can be contacted at
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