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On our first trip to Chiang Mai, I couldn’t wait to get a real Thai massage. Shops offering massages line the streets of the Old City. Advertisements show masseuses twisting clients into strange, pretzel-like positions. For whatever reason (perhaps it had something to do with four straight months of lugging around a too-heavy-backpack), a vigorous Chiang Mai massage completely appealed to me.
Massage Chiang Mai: Our First Experience
There is no shortage of places to get a massage in Chiang Mai. As novices, we didn’t think to do any research about where to go or what to expect. Instead, we simply wandered into a Chiang Mai massage parlor (which doubled as a tourist agency) that was promoting inexpensive massages. The price was only 200 baht (about $6 USD) for a traditional 1-hour Thai massage. Even though Kris has an aversion to massages, I dragged him along with me for the iconic “Thai Massage in Thailand” experience.
What ensued was a comedy of errors. From putting on the customary Thai massage outfits backwards to our masseuses talking on their phones during most of the massage, it was an overall underwhelming – if not a downright odd – Thai massage experience at best.
Our First Chiang Mai Thai Massage
Once the giggling subsided from our clothing mishap and we had the massage clothes on correctly, we had to wait in the lobby for 20 minutes. Two young men finally entered the shop and led us up wooden stairs to a dimly lit attic. There were 8 mats on the creaking, wooden floor, each covered with a sheet and pillow. As neither masseuse spoke English, they began our massages with the customary foot bath, then proceeded in silence. No music. No fans. A trickle of air filtered through the dusty room and muffled traffic noise floated up from the street.
Our masseuses worked quietly for 10 minutes before they began chatting to each other in Thai…and then they started laughing (an we only assumed they were laughing at us). Then phones started ringing and long conversations about who-knows-what took place as they kneaded and stretched our muscles.
Kris was completely unimpressed and vowed to never get another Thai massage again. I, on the other hand, was not totally unsatisfied. Regardless of the awkward scenario, my body felt phenomenal – and I had a sneaky suspicion that better Chiang Mai massages awaited.
Chiang Mai Massage: Seeking the Best Thai Massage
Our first lackluster experience didn’t deter me; I was eager to get another – a better – Thai massage in Chiang Mai. Armed with a recommendation from our hotel, I set off – solo this time –and received an exponentially better massage for nearly the same price.
The helpful staff explained how to put on the clothes. The room was cool and the low beds were separated by curtains. Relaxing music was playing and my masseuse inquired about the pressure and my comfort level throughout the massage. It was fabulous…and I was suddenly hooked on Thai massages.
Unfortunately, I got my second massage on our last day visiting Chiang Mai. However, as we traveled to other cities in Thailand – to Chiang Rai, Bangkok and numerous Thai Islands – I always made sure to fit a massage into my itinerary. The more massages I had, the bigger fan I became.
Years later, we decided to make a return trip to Chiang Mai. During our visit, I was determined to seek out the best massage in Chiang Mai. I researched, read reviews and weighed cost-to-value options. I didn’t need the most expensive massage in town – but I wasn’t afraid of splurging for a better experience either. In my diligent ‘research,’ I discovered a few of the best massage places in Chiang Mai.
Thai Massage Chiang Mai: What To Expect
Before choosing which Thai massage center to go to, it’s important to understand what to expect when getting a Chiang Mai Thai massage.
Thai Spa Environment
The environment where the massage takes place can vary widely. Typically, massages take place on low tables or woven mats (or mattresses) that are covered with sheets and have a pillow. There are usually several beds in one room, which are separated by curtains. Air conditioning (or fans), soft music and soothing scents are also standard, but not guaranteed.
Thai Massage Outfits
Because of the techniques used during Thai massages, specific outfits are required for the session. Styles can vary, but typically a shirt and pants are provided (yes, they are clean). When you arrive for your massage, you will be handed a set of clothes and given a private space to change into them. Ladies, it is best to remove your bra, but keep your panties on.
The shirt usually has buttons, which go in the front. The pants, if not elastic, will have long ties; the ties go in the back. To tighten the pants, crisscross the ties, overlap the extra material in the front and tie the ties in a bow in the front over the material. If you have trouble, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Top Tip: Most places either have a basket or hook for you to hang your belongings. While it is unlikely that anyone working at a massage parlor would take anything, I am often wary about my personal belongings being out of sight during a massage. However, it is simply impossible to keep an eye on your stuff throughout the massage. Therefore, I only bring essentials with me; I sometimes put the exact amount of cash in my pocket and bring nothing else. If I bring a bag, I make sure to secure my wallet and phone in zippered compartments.
Traditional Massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The most common massage in Chiang Mai is the traditional Thai Massage (and it is the only massage that I review in this post). The massage is a little strange for first timers. Thai massages are all about applying pressure and stretching the body, which can feel more like a trip to the chiropractor than a relaxing massage. Traditional Thai massages require a close masseur/client relationship – they use their entire body to help stretch yours.
The masseuse will likely spend time on the massage table with you, rather than massaging you from a standing position. To properly apply the techniques of a Thai massage, the masseuse will move around the table, positioning you as necessary; sometimes they will sit between your legs, sit on your legs or cradle your head in their lap.
Some of the stretching is quite extensive as the masseuse attempts to work out any kinks they find, happily cracking your joints as they go. I’ve been twisted sideways, pulled longways and pushed into awkward back-bends. It is important to listen to the instructions…and more important to simply relax and go with the flow. Any rigidness or push back to their methods can cause unintended harm.
Top Tip: Convey any muscular or skeletal issues to your masseuse prior to beginning the massage. They need to know of any sensitive areas or places to avoid.
Typical Thai Full Body Massage
Although massages vary by masseuse, there is a standard chronology that is usually followed. Thai massages should always begin with washing your feet. Once washed and dried, you will be positioned on the table on your back. The massage will begin with the feet and then move up the legs. Next, the masseuse will work on your arms and hands. When you are told to roll over to your stomach, the massage begins again at the feet, up the legs, to the back.
Often near the end of the massage, the masseuse will ask you to sit with your legs either crossed or straight out in front of you. They will sit behind you to massage your shoulders, neck, head and – sometimes – face.
After you change back into your clothes, you are often offered a cup of tea. Take a moment to enjoy the tea, the massage and the moment before heading back out into the city.
Thai Massage in Thailand Cost
Chiang Mai massage prices have a vast range. The cheapest Chiang Mai massages I saw on my most recent trip (2019) were as low as 170 baht ($5.50 USD) for a 1-hour massage. On the other end of the spectrum, the highest price I noted was more than 1,000 baht ($30 USD). However, most 1-hour traditional Thai massages in Chiang Mai cost 200 to 250 baht ($6.50 to $8 USD).
All that said, just because a massage costs more doesn’t ensure a better massage. On my list of Best Massages Chiang Mai, I include a place that only charges 180 baht ($5.75 USD) for a 1-hour traditional massage.
Top Tip: Tipping is not required, but always appreciated. If I am satisfied with my massage, I leave a 10-15% tip and try my best to hand it directly to my masseuse to ensure they get the money.
4 Places To Get The Best Massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand
In my efforts to find the best Chiang Mai massage, I visited a range of massage parlors – from inexpensive to luxury. Although foot massages, oil massages and various other treatments are available, I opted for the same traditional Thai massage treatment at each facility. For each Chiang Mai massage review, I include the details of my visit and tips for fellow visitors. My reviews are based on my own opinions and experiences – and I paid for all of the services.
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#1 EX PRISON MASSAGE CHIANG MAI
Website | Address: 35/1 Jahban Road., Sri Phum, Mueang, Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand |
The Ex-Prison Women’s Massage Center in Chiang Mai is popular among visitors for two good reasons: price and mission. The massages are affordably priced at 250 baht for a 1-hour traditional massage. The stated mission is to “help female ex-prisoners reintegrate into professional society successfully”. The ex-prisoners are professionally trained and there are now multiple establishments within the Old Town.
I, along with two friends, went to the original Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners on a Thursday evening. We didn’t have appointments, but we were happy to wait for a half hour until they could fit the three of us in at the same time. When they were ready for us, we changed our clothes, they rinsed our feet and then led us into a large, open room.
Massage beds lined the walls and foot massage chairs were in the center. There were no curtains or privacy dividers, which left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. People getting foot massages had no other place to look than at the people getting body massages, which made it feel like we were on display. Furthermore, without separation, my masseuse talked to my friend’s masseuse, who was two tables down, the entire duration of our massages.
The massage itself was good…but fell short of great. The masseuses all followed the routine pattern of a traditional Thai massage, including several of the iconic twists and pulls. However, it felt more mechanical than instinctual, like she was following a checklist rather than sensing where my body needed to be tweaked.
All that said, I absolutely love the idea behind the center and I would visit again based on the effort they are making to help formerly imprisoned women. I chalk up my somewhat disappointing experience to arriving late in the day and not properly setting my expectations. My best advice is to make an appointment for a visit earlier in the day when it is less busy.
#2 ORN HEALING HANDS
Facebook | Address: 42/2 Mun Mueang Road, Si Phum Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 52000, Thailand |
Unlike many of the massage shops in Chiang Mai, Orn Healing Hands offers a completely personalized service that is executed by a highly trained masseuse. Although the 1-hour Thai massage price is double than most other places, there is an elevated level of client care. Orn and her assistant are the only masseuses, so making an appointment is recommended.
The inconspicuous and simple massage parlor sits on a quiet street in the northeast corner of the Old Town. If I had not seen photos of the entrance, I would have passed it by. Inside, the small space is only big enough to accommodate a few beds and appears more like a clinic than a spa (which reiterated the professional nature of Orn’s practice).
When I arrived for my late afternoon appointment, I was warmly welcomed. I sipped a cold drink while completing a questionnaire regarding my health (as it related to the massage), which was similar to forms I have filled out when visiting chiropractors. The client-masseuse communication was clear, which left me feeling a great deal more confident.
As Orn was working with another client, her assistant performed my massage. The masseuse made a few more inquires while cleaning my feet with a cool, wet cloth – then she set to work. Throughout the massage, she made sure I was comfortable with the pressure and movements. She spent more time massaging areas where she felt tension, but was delicate on my neck, as requested.
After the massage, I was served hot tea and a rice cake snack. When I got up to leave, I immediately felt my body was better aligned and more relaxed. I would return to Orn Healing Hands Massage in a heartbeat!
#3 SOMPHET MASSAGE
Website | Address: 8/2 Moonmuang Rd. Soi 6 T.Sri phum A.Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50200 |
Somphet Massage is located on a side street that is lined with numerous massage parlors offering cheap massages. I was a bit leery of going to Somphet – as I feared a repeat adventure of my very first Chiang Mai massage – but I was equally intrigued by the low price of 180 baht. Was it too good to be true…or was a truly good massage in my future?
The street was nearly abandoned on the hot afternoon I walked to Somphet. All of the other massage places were quiet, but the man at Somphet greeted me with the usual phrase, “Massage, madame?”. I think was a bit taken aback when I actually said yes. He asked if I wanted a male or female masseuse – and although I usually don’t have a preference, I told him a female would be great. He offered me a seat inside the air-conditioned space…and then ran next door to interrupt the masseuse’s late lunch (which made me feel terribly guilty!).
A slight girl appeared, shyly smiling, and led me to the foot bathing station. Once cleaned and dried, she led me upstairs to an AC cooled room with beds that were separated by curtains. As I got changed, she turned on soft music and then wasted no time getting straight to my full body Thai massage. She was efficient – and her hands were like incredible steel clamps.
With no interruptions and no other guests making distractions, the hour flew by unnoticed. In my personal opinion, I think Somphet just might offer the best cheap massage in Chiang Mai.
#4 ZIRA SPA
Website | Address: Soi Ratvithi Lane 1, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand |
When I started my search for the best Thai massage in Chiang Mai, the traditional Thai massage at Zira Spa kept popping up. The extravagant price tag – nearly triple the cost of most massages in the city – made me both curious and incredulous. Was it worth three times the normal price? I was certainly interested enough to find out.
I made my appointment a day in advance – and it was clear from the moment I stepped in the lobby that the experience would be far from ‘normal.’ Zira is on par with the luxury spas I’m familiar with in the United States. Perfect lighting, attentive staff, soothing atmosphere.
When I arrived the following day for my massage, I was seated and served local juice, fresh fruit and a refreshing hand towel. I completed a form to state my requests, including pressure level, areas to concentrate on and areas to avoid.
To clean my feet, I was taken to the courtyard where large koi swam in ponds. My feet were washed (including a sugar scrub!) in wooden bowl that was filled with water infused with kumquat and herbs. Sandals were placed on my feet and I was led through the building to a private room.
No detail was overlooked – from the presentation of the massage clothes in a shabby chic wooden box to tranquil scents filling the space. A single massage table (with a face cradle!) sat in the middle of the dimly lit room. Suffice it to say, by the time the masseuse arrived, I was considerably calm and relaxed.
The massage was completed as requested – the right amount of pressure was applied with special attention to specific areas. Before massaging my face and head, my masseuse washed her hands in an herbal soap that added a lovely aroma to the room.
After the massage, I was led back to the lobby to a seat where my shoes were already placed. Cake, hot tea and a warm cloth were brought to me and I savored them along with the last moments of pampering. Quite simply, the experience was perfection.
Looking for the ultimate spa experience? Find out more about the Zira Spa 3-Hour Experience!
More Chiang Mai Massage Parlors
Looking for more places to get a massage in Chiang Mai? Although I have not personally visited the following spas (yet!), they are on my list to check out the next time I visit the city.
Oasis Spa Chiang Mai (CLOSED)
Website | Address: 9/6 Soi 1 Wualai Rd, Haiya, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50100 (Chiang Mai Gate Location) |
Touted by many as the best spa in Chiang Mai, Oasis has multiple locations where they provide a luxury spa experience. An Oasis Spa massage in Chiang Mai is not cheap, but they get great reviews!
Lila Thai Massage Chiang Mai
Facebook | Address: 86-88 Ratchadamnoen Rd. Prasingh Maung Chiang mai 50200 (Ratchadamnoen Location) |
There are multiple Lila Massage locations in Chiang Mai, which makes it fairly familiar to many visitors. However, unknown to most visitors is that Lila Massage Chiang Mai is another spa that offers education and job opportunities to recently released women prisoners.
Chiang Mai Map: Where To Get a Massage in Chiang Mai
Use this link to Google Maps to find the Best Chiang Mai Massages!
We want to know: Have you ever had a Chiang Mai massage? What do you think is the best massage in the World? Give us all your tips and advice in the comments below!
Need Advice On Other Top Experiences in Thailand? Read our complete Bangkok Itinerary (including the Bangkok On Nut Neighborhood), guide to the Best Phuket Restaurants, and the amazing Thai Islands of Koh Chang, Koh Lanta, along with other Great Thai Beaches!
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