Thai massage. Is it voluntary torture?

Her black eyes examined me closely, wrinkles forming in her chestnut brown facial skin as she visually assessed me prior to my massage. “You big boy. I think you need two hour.”

“No, I’m good with one.”

She looked at my plump belly as if to say Yeah, right! “One and a half?”

“One hour is just fine. Khop khun krop,” I replied, thanking her in Thai for the suggestion.

She shrugged and motioned for me to lay on the table. We had previously gone over the laminated menu of the various types of massages available, and I had selected “Swedish (relaxation).” Thai massage is legendary for the pain it inflicts. I’ve read plenty of complaints from people complaining about being sore for days after their massage.

I was not interested in torture. I was interested in being pampered, not pummeled.

I was naturally a bit concerned when she began pressing her hands against my ankles and heels while applying her full weight. I’ve been trained in different types of massage and acupressure, and this was more akin to a sports massage than Swedish.

I decided to wait it out.

Too long, apparently. Before I could open my mouth, I felt the unmistakable pressure and pain of an elbow driving itself into my calf muscle. “You okay?” she asked.

I nodded my head and said “Chai krop.”

She was not happy with this response, and soon her full diminutive form was on the table so that she could really put herself into it.

I refused to wince. We were engaged in a battle now. This was no longer about relaxation. When I drove to her shop, I had fantasized about the scent of massage oil commingled with perhaps the aroma of rose petals coming from a crystal bowl on a nearby pedestal as expert hands gently soothed my taut muscles. In my mind, I would drift asleep as my body was gently manipulated.

Instead, I had a vicious grandma who advertised massage therapy but clearly had been trained by the elite school of torture that is required education for all top physiotherapists.

thai massage

As the unmistakable pressure of her forearms running up and down my legs continued, I thought She obviously can’t go any deeper.

Oh silly man! I underestimated the power of a bony knee. After finding every single tender spot I had in my legs and back, I figured the worst was over.

You know how people talk about getting a massage where a small Asian woman walks on your back? They’re lucky that’s all that happened.

The next thing I knew, I had a foot pressing against my shoulder while another foot pressed against my pelvis. Popping sounds began at my coccyx and quickly traveled up my spine. “No pain?” she asked in a challenge.

“Nope. I’m good!” I grunted.

That’s when she proceeded to use my body as a doormat, walking all over me, and using her feet to shove various body parts away from each other.

Then the real fun began.

Soon she was sitting on the table between my legs. The soles of her feet planted against my hamstrings and shoved my legs further apart before her toes dug deep between the muscles. She proceeded to use my tendons like guitar strings.

I began deep breathing exercises but almost choked when she performed a hernia examination with her feet, her toes digging deep into the space between my leg and groin (through my shorts). Except this time I didn’t have to turn my head and cough.

Photo via Google Images

When it was finally time to flip over, I was relieved. I had won! But her smile told me she had more tricks up her sleeves. I closed my eyes and pretended I was so relaxed I was falling asleep as she ran her fingers and elbow between my ribs. “You okay?” she asked craftily.

I nodded my head.

“Not too much pain?”

“No, I’m good!” I replied. Yes, I AM that stubborn.

After she was done abusing me, she took hold of my Buddha belly and moobs and began kneading them as if they were a large pile of dumpling dough. Meanwhile, she muttered blessings.

At least that’s what I’d like to believe they were.

After she had worked back down my body, my legs were put into a figure-4 position while she attempted to dislocate my hips.

Image via Google Images

Back at my feet she was not satisfied until each toe gave an audible pop! as she tugged on them. My left big toe was particularly obstinate and refused her ministrations. It eventually gave in, though, and she said “Ah ha!” with glee when it finally succumbed.

As things began to wind down, I was instructed to sit up. She got behind me, sat down with a pillow in her lap, and my head was lovingly placed in her lap where she lightly stroked my forehead, gently tugged on my ears, and stroked my cheeks and chin.

And then she started lightly smacking me all over my head.

She thankfully returned to relaxing strokes and kneading. At least until she had me sit up while she finished “relaxing” my neck by driving her fingers into every tender point she could find along the base of my skull. I was then doubled over so she could lightly rub my back.

And then she returned to slapping me literally upside the head. I couldn’t help it and started laughing. It was just too comical.

Finally my “relaxation massage” was done. When I stood up, I was instructed to shake and bend my limbs. Good advice since I was finding it a bit difficult to stand.

Hours later my body was still cracking and popping. In the middle of the night, I began to feel the after effects of her elbows and knees. The temporary wonderful feeling after the massage has been replaced by aches and pains. I had to check to see if I had bruises.

The day after is most definitely not as good as the first couple of hours after being on the table, but later in the day the pain dissipated.

Would I do it again?

I’m not so sure. Generally I prefer massages that leave me feeling good or that at least don’t leave me rethinking my choices the next day. Once the pain subsided, things felt pretty good. I’m still crackling and popping a bit a few days later, but nothing that’s painful.

Have you ever experienced a Thai massage? If not, would you be willing to give it a shot after reading this?

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  1. Today I endured 1.5 hours of painful torture in the hands of a tiny Asian woman that assured me that it was for my best – she was making a sacrifice for ME, She said she was giving me all her ,good, energy and taking all my bad! I searched the net to see if this kind of torture was normal and came across this post. I laughed so hard that I.m not sure what hurt more, the massage or the stitch I got from laughing so hard LOL I can’t believe that I actually booked another one in 5 days, this time a full body one. Strangely enough I actually do feel better… but I won’t know until I check for bruising tomorrow.. it will be a miracle if I don’t look like I have run over by a truck! Thank you so much for such an entertaining post :)

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  2. After getting my very first thai massage yesterday, i wanted to review if my troubles were that of my personal experience or maybe i missed the part that they represent torture. Found your post and made me laugh my pain away. I guess i too totally missed the torture memo. I am still hurting and i keep checking if i have bruises. At 5’1 and 125 pounds, i wondered if i should probably try it again with someone closer to my weight. Hahaha

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    • The next day was the absolute worst. Glad my post helped you feel less alone in your misery. 😀

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  3. This is so funny because it is true.

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  4. I am seriously dying of laughter. I am now extra curious about getting one while I’m here

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  5. This was hysterical, but I love the way Thai massages cause me to actually feel my body. I tried getting a massage here in Italy that was the worst I’ve ever had. She was just gliding her hands over my body with no pressure at all. I kept asking for more but nothing. I personally can’t wait to have another Thai massage!
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  6. Ah, I mistakenly walked in thinking it was going to be a lovely, relaxing experience. I even took three of the kids with me as a treat. Well! At least misery had company to commiserate afterwards. My son swears he will never get another massage.

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    • It wouldn’t have been so bad, I suppose, had I actually asked for a Thai massage, but I made it clear I wanted a Swedish! Your poor boys. Tigger only had a leg and foot massage while there, and he’s a fan.

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  7. When in Chiang Mai I opted for the foot massage and pedicure, which were wonderful. After reading this, I’m glad I did!

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    • 1-1/2 days later, yes. I did feel better. I actually felt my gait change and have been sleeping better. I’m sure the one they do up north, which is more like passive yoga, is probably even more helpful as it stretches and works on various meridians.

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    • I’m so glad it provided you with some entertainment!

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  8. I must be some kind of masocist because I really enjoy Thai massage… even when it hurts!! I find if I breathe out with the pressure they apply instead of tensing and fighting back it hurts a lot less. Maybe she was just a bit heavy handed (and kneed and elbowed) with you because you’re big and she thought you could take it? 😛
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  9. When I was in Thailand, I had grand plans to get a massage…then I saw the bruises on one of the girls in my hostel and it scared me so bad I decided I didn’t care how cheap they were I wasn’t going to do it…I still have never had a massage…
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    • I’m really not surprised. I thought for sure I had bruises when I woke up in the middle of the night and could feel her elbow pressing against me still. No visible bruising, though.

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  10. Yeah I’ll try one. I have never had a Thai massage but when i get massages here I am constantly asking for them to go deeper. Hurts when it is being done but oh so good after.

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  11. Pretty funny. A good rule of thumb for traveling in Thailand is that if you are going to get a massage, go to a local temple that offers massages. You’ll get fully trained masseuses who take the job seriously. You’ll see why so many of us love Thai massage and even consider it to be relaxing!
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    • I would say she took it pretty seriously. LOL I’ve also heard that the technique differs between the north and the south, with that of the north being more relaxing and more like passive yoga.

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  12. Took a yoga class for the first time last week, to break myself back into exercise “gently”! I couldn’t move two days after, but I am now 6’2″ LOL

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    • HAHA! I should’ve measured myself after. I’m sure I gained some height as well.

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  13. Hilarious! I, for one, am a Thai massage ADDICT. Last time I was in Bangkok for 4 days and had 3 massages. Seriously. They’re the bomb! That said, it is definitely an acquired taste. You may want to try a massage at Wat Pho, which is supposedly the best in Bangkok (they run a training program) .

    Off subject slightly, but I tried a blind massage in China. As in, the masseuse was blind. It was rather interesting, as he had a box that I would announce how much time he had left. Still though, that was a more traditional massage. Couldn’t wait to get myself back to Thailand for more “massage torture!”

    Hope you do give Thai massage another shot though!
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    • I probably will, esp if it’s up north where the style is different. I did feel good after a couple of days, and I’ve noticed my gait has changed so it righted some things for me. Even if it did have me rethinking my choice later on. LOL

      I’ll have to check out the wat. Thanks for that.

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  14. This story resonates with me as I endured a massage from hell in Los Cabos, Mexico last year. It was my second time ever getting a swedish massage. The first was in St. Kitts and it was incredibly relaxing. Not this time! I had this older Mexican woman who was pummeling me, but, like you I refused to throw up the white flag. At one point she stopped the massage and when I looked back she whispered, “You okay?” “I strong!” as she flexed her bicep high in the air. WTF!?

    Massages are very hit or miss. Not to scare anyone but I met a guy on a press trip in Aruba that got injured during a massage in the Caribbean. The massage therapist actually injured some of the ligaments in his angle/lower leg so he had to walk around in a boot for a few months. I would have never even thought of the possibility of that happening before meeting him.
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    • Whoa! You have to be seriously negligent to injure someone like that. Holy crap!

      I think some of those old ladies enjoy showing how they can put a hurt on guys. LOL

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  15. I got a traditional Thai massage, the kind where they bend you in impossible directions, in Chiang Mai and it was incredibly relaxing. Felt two inches taller afterwards! Then I got a deep-tissue oil massage on Koh Lanta and even though she was using only “medium pressure,” I had to keep myself from wincing. I definitely preferred the first one, though would do them both again. No pain, no gain!
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    • I’ve been told in the north it’s much more relaxing and like passive yoga. Down south tends to be more painful, and that’s where I was. Sounds like our folks were trained in the same school.

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    • Not to self: No massages from a blind masseuse. YIKES!

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  16. “…slapping me literally upside the head.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Talon!! Hahahaha!

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  17. We had a Thai massage in Chiang Mai and your description is pretty detailed, however I think the lady that did it to me was more ‘gentle’ that the guy who did it to Dale. In fact Dale ended up having a very bad lower back pain for 2/3 days at least.
    Not having had a Thai massage before, we weren’t sure if it was supposed to be like that or not, but after reading your post we have the confirmation. :)

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    • Wow, how’d you get so lucky as to be spared? LOL

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  18. Oh man, I feel your pain. No, seriously, I do. And will again this week, for about $9. It’s like yoga for the lazy, and prepares me to resist giving away government secrets if I’m ever held indefinitely in a black site.
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    • Definitely good practice for that. I’ve been told that in the north it’s less painful and more relaxing.

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