You could spend your vacation in Thailand lounging on a white-sand beach indulging in tropical drinks and $10 Thai massages.
Or, you could spend part of that trip learning the ancient art of Thai massage and take home a lifelong souvenir that will instantly increase your popularity among friends and family.
For experiential travelers, a course in Thai massage is more than learning how to give a good backrub. It’s insight into the culture that most on the receiving end of a Thai massage will never know. Courses teach Thai massage as a healing modality tethered to ancient energy pathways and philosophies dating back thousands of years.
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is a popular spot to learn these techniques as the city boasts nearly as many massage parlors as temples, and is full of travelers taking massage courses, from day-long lessons to intensive month-plus sessions.
Signing up for a class requires no prior experience, just a willingness to learn and, of course, varying fees. (But in Thailand, everything is cheap compared to Western standards!)
There are two main ways to secure Thai massage instruction:
It’s easy to find an English-speaking teacher upon arrival simply by poking in and out of the various massage parlors clustered around the Old City. You can also consult your hotel concierge or fellow travelers. This method, of course, works best for travelers who are flexible with time and don’t feel like committing to anything sight unseen.
For one-on-one instruction, especially, taking some time to shop around and compare teachers will make for a better experience, regardless of whether you’re looking for a day-long lesson in reflexology, several days learning the Thai massage basics or a comprehensive course spanning a week or longer. You want to be comfortable with your teacher, as this person can ultimately serve as an unofficial guide to Thailand, providing advice, recommendations and local lore during your one-on-one time together.
By seeking out teachers independently, you are also in a better position to negotiate a discounted rate, especially if business is “slow” when you show up as a prospective student.
Chiang Mai is home to dozens of Thai massage schools, one of the most highly regarded being the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai, also known as TMC.
The English-speaking learning center offers options that range from a weekend Foot Reflexology lesson (US $153 / 5,000 Baht) to a weeklong foundation (US $230 / 7,500 Baht) to a three-week comprehensive course (US $690 / 22,500 Baht). Class sizes are limited to 8 to 16 students max so you get plenty of 1 on 1 attention, and advanced booking is strongly advised.
Attracting people from all over the world and all phases of life – from youthful backpackers to career professionals to retirees – TMC is a professional school with structure. It’s also a great place to meet like-minded travelers, especially if you are flying solo.
A typical day goes like this:
-A red taxi-truck picks students up from their hotels and hostels around Chiang Mai and takes you to the school, located just outside the city center.
- Students change into cotton scrubs to have their temperature taken (you are not permitted to massage if you have a fever) and file into the designated classroom. An English-speaking teacher and a textbook will accompany you.
-The day includes a lot of giving and receiving of massages (ahhh!), practicing under the watchful eye of the pros who critique, correct and cheerlead.
-Classes run from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. – with a break for lunch at the open-air market across the street, where fried bugs are a delicacy. (It’s up to you if you want to sample this local treat or stick with a more standard soup or noodle dish.)
-When school is over, students are expected to wipe down the mats, strip the sheets, change out of the uniforms, and climb back aboard the red taxi-truck for the journey back into Chiang Mai.
The days are long, but you are giving and receiving massages almost the entire time. Plus, graduating students finish with a brag-worthy certificate to hang on the wall or tuck into the photo album. Add it to the itinerary, and you have a coveted souvenir to gift as you see fit – for the rest of your life.