A rainbow of tropical fruits, decoratively sliced with a scalloped-edge knife, gleam from their bed of ice. Road side carts all specialize in their famous Thai cuisine, be it skewered chicken satay, sweet banana rotee or salty fish cakes. Tuk tuk taxis zip tourists through street meat smoke clouds toward glowing, golden temples and outdoor clothing markets.
Buddha statues, constantly fed and maintained, live in almost every building and home’s entrance, welcoming all gusts with a scent of incense. In this kaleidoscope of Chiang Mai life, it can be difficult to choose what to do next, but one tradition can not be missed. It is advertised on signs hung on every block, in all corners of the city. Thai massage reins.
Referred to as Nuad Bo-Rarn, or ancient massage of Thailand, this service opens ten major energy lines, stretches the body’s muscles and alleviates stress by working acupressure points. A sequence of about 100 moves is performed by trained massage therapists, while clients are contorted into pretzel shapes on floor cushions in loose-fitting, pajama-like outfits. When completed, the client often feels as if they have just exercised every muscle without exerting much effort, thereby Thai massage earning its bi-line: Yoga for lazy people.
This is one of my favorite Thai assets; who wouldn’t love a massage that counts as your daily workout? Despite my initial idea to study this art form while lying on the mat, I conclude that to really understand this slice of Thai culture, I need to give a massage. After my rigorous $5 treatment, I register for class at ITM, International Training Massage School., Chiang Mai’s most famous instructional course.
“Na A. Na Wa. Roka. Pyati. Vinas Santi.”
Each class begins with the teachers and students chanting these Sanskrit words, bestowing the client with happiness and health as a result of the bodywork. Before a massage is started, practitioners rub their hand palms together and hold them at the chest, warming the heart and hands. The first step of an authentic Thai massage begins on the legs. Our teacher, Mr. Setthakorn, or “John” founded ITM and has taught Thai massage to thousands of international students. John clarifies that Thai massage begins with the lower body because the first thing to touch the ground every morning is the foot. “If legs happy, whole body happy, ” he explains with a sweet smile. Locating acupressure points and gently stretching muscles , the practitioners use thumb and palm pressing, kneading, and chopping to work from the feet up to the head in a methodical pattern. Due to John’s sense of humor, some exercises are named “frog jump,” “cow stretch, ” and “play bowling” and provide a full workout and a few laughs for the giver. The traditional, basic Thai massage ends about 90 minutes later by tapping the head and working the sinus lines on the face.
The last class involves being graded on a 90-minute Thai massage, remembering to follow all rules, especially two that John comically repeats:
1. Sit on the floor; don’t sit on a pillow because your next client won’t be happy to rest their face on it.
2. Clients must be clothed. Otherwise this doesn’t count as a Thai massage!
With all that Thailand offers, I personally believe that their massage reflects so much about the culture. Nuad Bo-Rarn is performed by light-spirited, fun-loving professionals who appreciate the health benefits and meditative elements of the act.
If you are interested in studying Thai massage in Chiang Mai, I’d highly recommend this institution.
59/9 Chang Puek Road Soi 5, T. Sri Phum, A. Muang
Chang Mai 50200