Ultimate Bangkok Massage Guide: What to expect

This Bangkok massage guide for anyone who has never had a Thai massage treatment and is perhaps a little apprehensive or just not sure what to expect. Bangkok local and massage lover Stephen Christopher shares what he has learned from seven plus years of getting weekly massages in Thailand.

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If you’ve never had one, a Thai massage is a form of massage therapy that involves stretching, pressure points, and muscle pain relief. I get one a week, it’s a welcome respite from office syndrome, leg pain from running, and headaches from sitting and writing too many blogs hehe.

Massages are available all over Bangkok. In the bigger suburbs, shops can be found on many streets and shopping malls. So how do you identify which shops and massage therapists are good or if they’re ones you should steer clear of?

After seven years of extensive research, here’s my guide to getting a massage in Bangkok.

Go to some massage shops in Thailand, and you’ll be presented with a booklet with pages of different massages. For the average person, there are only three massage treatments that you really need to know…

Traditional Thai Massage

If you’re not familiar with it, a Thai traditional massage is a healing system that combines acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. Known for its energising and rejuvenating properties, it doesn’t involve oils or lotions. You’ll remain fully clothed during a session.

Wat Pho Traditional Bangkok massage mural
Traditional Massage mural at Wat Pho

The unique cycle of active and passive stretching promotes relaxation, improves flexibility, improves blood circulation and helps to relieve muscle and joint tension. 

I have one of these a week and like to indulge for 2 hours. 30 minutes really isn’t enough, so at least choose the 1-hour option

Foot Massage

Thai foot massage, also known as foot reflexology, is a soothing therapy deeply embedded in Thai health traditions. It revolves around the understanding that your foot is a map of your body, with different points correlating to organs or systems.

Employing the art of pressure point massage with a small wooden stick, therapists carefully knead these points to stimulate health benefits across your body.

View of many tourists having a short break with a thailand foot massage after a long day in Bangkok city streets.

Meridians located on your feet are believed to be channelled to various bodily systems, so don’t be surprised if a focused pressure on your toes relieves a midday headache!

I love getting one of these, especially after a running event or a half day of shopping — it rejuvenates your feet to keep going for another half day. Again, for me, 30 minutes isn’t enough, I like a 1-hour one.

Oil Massage or Aromatherapy Oil Massage Treatments

An oil massage or aromatherapy massage in Thailand involves a practice that relies heavily on essential oils to create a highly relaxing experience. The massage therapist very smoothly rubs these oils into your skin throughout a session, using specific techniques to work the muscles.

Many people find an oil massage the most relaxing

It’s different from a traditional Thai massage in that it opts for gentler, flowing strokes rather than vigorous stretching. It’s incredibly indulgent, and if you’re looking for the best massage to help you unwind and promote relaxation rather than ease muscle tightness, it might be just the ticket for you.

Oil massages are more expensive than Thai, so allow double or more.

To enjoy your first Thai massage to the fullest and respect Thai massage traditions, there are a few best practices to follow. 

  • Try to be on time. Arriving early lets you wind down before your session and shows respect for the therapist’s schedule. It’s about setting aside the day’s rush and readying yourself for a calming experience. 
  • Good personal cleanliness is vital. Coming to the spa clean and without strong fragrances makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone. If you’ve been out in the busy city all day, maybe stick to a foot massage 😉
  • Loose, comfortable clothes are best for Traditional Thai or Foot massages. These allow therapists to move you easily, and you to relax. If you’re having an oil massage, spas typically provide a disposable outfit. 
  • Turning off your mobile phone, or at least putting it on silent, helps maintain the peaceful atmosphere. It’s better to keep phone use to a minimum. 
  • Before your session starts, talk to your therapist about any physical issues or preferences you have. Let them know about any special focus areas or areas to avoid, your pain threshold for deep tissue massages, and your preferred pressure level. This means you’ll get a personalised treatment. 

By following these simple rules, you can ensure a satisfying experience for both you and your therapist. Plus, you’re continuing the important tradition of Thai massage therapy. 

You have three choices in getting a massage. You can go to a shopfront salon, a night market massage stall, or a hotel or boutique spa massage. 

Shopfront Massages

These are easily identified by the massage chairs lining the walls of the shop. On quieter days, the staff will sit out the front, asking passers-by if they’d like a massage.

Upmarket Spas

Next up is the upmarket spa. There are several massage chains in Thailand. Probably the most well-known is a chain called Let’s Relax Spa.

These are full-service operations with showers, steam rooms, freshly laundered towels, and some even have drinks and snacks available.

Thai masseuse doing spa massage for Young Asian woman in spa salon.
Traditional Thai massage is not completely passive

Naturally, you get what you pay for with spa treatments, so these will charge more than street front shops.

Night Market Massages

If you’re tired from exploring Bangkok’s busy night markets, a quick massage at a market massage stall could be a good option. 

Asian Massage in the Park on the chair
You can find stalls in night markets offering seated back massages

Night market massages here are typically cheaper than at a full-fledged spa or massage parlour. This experience is a great way to try out massage, but the busy setting and lack of privacy can make them less relaxing than salons and spas.

If you are wondering what you should expect to pay for a massage in Bangkok or you have not visited for a while it’s worth knowing that prices have increased since massage shops reopened after the pandemic, probably to recoup the two years of losses they experienced. 

Street-front shops are a lot cheaper than spas. Here’s a rough average in 2024:

StyleLocal Shop/Market – BahtSpa/Boutique – Baht
Foot – 30 mins150300
Foot – 60 mins250500
Thai – 60 mins250600
Thai – 120 mins4001000
Oil – 60 mins3501000
Oil – 120 mins6001800
Prices as at January 2024

How Much Should You Tip

When it comes to how much to tip for your massage you should know that masseurs don’t earn much. Some shops are generous and split the fee with them, so if it’s 400 for 2 hours, the shop gets 200, and the practitioner gets 200. But this is rare, some get a flat fee of 50 baht per massage no matter the duration.

I like to tip the masseur 100 Baht per hour. This is no hard and fast rule, but they always appreciate it.

South East Asia is well known for the ‘happy ending’ massage, and “special” spa massage treatments. Unfortunately, Thailand is up there. If that’s not what you’re looking for, don’t worry; there are many ways to ensure that doesn’t happen to you. Here are some ways to avoid it.

Choose Your Venue Wisely

The easiest way is to make a savvy decision about where to get your massage. You’ll be fine if you go to one of the well-known chains or luxury spas. They’re above board, they have regular inspections, and while you pay more for the massage, you’ve got 100% peace of mind.

It might be best to avoid a massage at Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza if you don’t want a surprise ending

If you’re looking for a shopfront massage, there are some areas where the ‘special’ might be more likely to be offered. Avoid shops near red-light districts like Soi Cowboy in Sukhumvit, Soi 6 in Silom and anywhere near Nana Plaza. 

Most shops on main roads and in shopping malls will be fine, but I’d be slightly suspicious of any shops tucked away in the back of a soi, be sure to have a conversation with them to be sure (see below).

Check the Gratuity Suggestion

Some shops will have a recommended amount the masseur/masseuse expects to be tipped.

If a tip of 1,000 baht is mentioned, that would suggest that there’s more on offer than a regular massage.

So feel free to turn around and walk out. A tip of 100 baht an hour is more appropriate for a genuine massage.

Discuss it Up Front

I’m not shy about being clear that I don’t want it. ‘No special’ is clear enough to let the masseur/masseuse know that’s not what you’re there for. If they agree but then, during the massage, decide to get a little too handsy, stop the massage and leave.

I once had this happen to me in Vietnam, despite all my protests and her false promises she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I ended the massage and ignored her demand for a tip.

Some shops will preempt the conversation by having a ‘no sex’ sign at the register.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting massages here for over seven years and have seen many shops come and go. Let’s start with the most traditional option.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho is no ordinary massage destination; it’s the birthplace and spiritual home of Thai massage, widely recognised for its hallowed healing tradition. The art of Thai massage has been perfected and practised within the sacred walls of Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s most famous temples, for more than 200 years.

a statue of traditional massage therapy at Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand.

Once inside the serene temple surroundings, expert therapists will skillfully apply ancient techniques that are known to ease every ounce of tension and fatigue from your mind and body. 

Darin Spa

Currently, my favourite place to go in Bangkok, surprisingly for many, is Khao San Road. Well, actually, in the adjacent street Thanon Ram Butti. The place is called Darin Spa, and the prices are the same as in the left-hand column of the table above.

Khao San Road massage

They’re all very professional, and you can choose to have a male or female masseur — I prefer a male as usually they give more vigorous massages. 

Luxurious treatments & Hotel massage treatments

If you want a bit more luxury then the spas in Bangkok’s five-star hotels offer some of incredible spa treatments including traditional Thai massages as well as things like hot stone massage, facial treatments and body scrubs.

Massage in tropical spa. A young woman having a back massage outside in tropical setting.
A hotel spa treatment might be offered outdoors

There you have it! If you’ve never had a Thai massage experience, head to my favourite Darin Spa or any of the thousands of other massage shops across the city next time you’re in Bangkok. Enjoy!

About the author: Stephen left Australia in 2016 with a one-way ticket to Thailand
and hasn’t been back since. Seven years later, he’s “living the ex-pat dream”, married and settled down; he and his partner travel across Thailand competing in half-marathon running events and sampling coffee at cafes.