Would you like to get to know Thailand better or learn something useful on your journey? Then I recommend you to take a massage course. I did that for a week in Chiang Mai and spent the best time of my whole trip there.
“Massage is not just about massaging,” says Om. The resolute Thai woman with the cheeky short haircut is our teacher for the coming days. Thai massage is a mentality, an ancient philosophy that comes from Buddhism, she explains. And so my one-week course does not begin with any manipulation, but a bow from the old masters.
Om picks me out as the first exercise object. I have to lie down on the floor mat. “Before the treatment, we’ll see if we can massage our patients at all,” explains the teacher, explaining what we need to consider. High blood pressure? Not a good condition for a Thai massage. A drunk patient? An absolute no-go. I pass all questions.
Om kneels down beside me and pushes on my leg for ten seconds. A soothing pain spreads in the muscle. Thai massage is not an angry kneading nor the wild acrobatics that I imagined. It is more of a mix of acupressure and passive yoga. Thai massage was the “yoga of the lazy”, I once read. While I lie comfortably on my mat and think about it, I have to smile.
Chiang Mai: My 5 days little class
My class is small, very small. Besides me there is a young filmmaker from Italy and two Thai women who want to continue their education. “I worked on a massage parlor for four years on Koh Samui,” one of them explains. Now she wants to get a more sound education to work in a hospital. She stays in school for three months. Afterwards she receives a certificate that allows her physiotherapeutic treatments.
The filmmaker also had plans. After the course, she wants to offer professional massages to friends in Milano, to build up a second foothold. This is a good thing in the uncertain business of creative artists, she says.
Always one of us lies on the mat. Alternately, we practice the handles together. What was not clear to me for a long time: Thai massage is not a creative activity, it does not have to be an I-must-feel. A treatment follows a clear and well-defined procedure, which consists of up to 80 individual treatment techniques that must be very precise. “But you can also skip something when it gets too tiring,” says Om. A complete treatment lasts 90 minutes.
What I like: Teaching is not just a massage course, but also a periscope that allows you to look into another culture. This is evident, for example, in didactics: teaching works in such a way that we must exactly imitate the movements of our teacher. We practice the processes until we can reproduce them without a textbook. It’s a memorizing of things we do not understand at first.
The theory comes only on the third day. Om has hung a display board showing the muscles of a human being. According to the Ayurvedic teachings, ten energy lines run through the body. Our teacher speaks her names, we have to repeat them. Then it dictates which line we need to work for which treatment goal.
Once, when treating my Italian classmate, I have to change sides. I get up and take a big step over them. Om shakes his head vigorously. Doing so is disrespectful in Thailand, she says. That makes sense to me. A real faux pas just, I think and smile inwardly at the pun.
On the fifth day I have to take the exam. The owner of the Lanna Massage School, a slightly older woman, comes in person to take her off. It’s the first time I ever give a full massage. I keep forgetting what the next move is and must occasionally check my notes. In the end, I probably did everything right, because an hour later, I hold my little diploma in the hands.
What brought me the course
What did the one-week course ultimately bring me? Since I did not plan on starting my own massage salon right from the beginning, the paper was not important to me. One week was already too short for the development of sound massage arts: I only had time to acquire the basics. All the dangerous-looking stretching exercises came in the second week.
Nevertheless, the course was a great success for me and the undisputed highlight of my trip to Thailand. That was certainly partly because I had great classmates, with whom I understood myself blindingly. More importantly, the course radically changed my Thailand image.
I have not been a big fan of the country for a long time. The reason was that in the country visited by millions of people every year, I never found access to people. The fact that also many locals learned at school, created a lively exchange and also one or the other friendship.
On the other hand, the course had a positive side effect on my health. Since last fall I have developed a diffuse pain in the shoulder in certain movements. As the more advanced masseurs were constantly searching for people for their case studies, my shoulder received a therapeutic massage every day. After five days, the pain was gone – and has not returned to this day.
The price and the offer
Finally, a few words about the offer of the school. The five-day course I attended cost 5500 baht and includes 30 lessons. That’s about 140 euros. The twice as long course, which I recommend rather, is around 200 euros. Given the wealth of knowledge I got and the really very small classes, I think that’s a very fair price.
In addition, you can also take special courses. I especially liked the oil massage, which I was also allowed to try for a short time. The school offers a five- or ten-day course in foot reflexology for the same price. However, during my stay there were not enough people to complete this course. Here is a list of all courses.
Included are the lessons and the somewhat sparse teaching materials. You have to pay for food and accommodation yourself. In the vicinity there are numerous cheap guesthouses with rooms from 300 Baht (without AC). If it should be a little better, the nearby hotel Amora Tapae is a good choice. Try to get hold of the upper floors, the view is very good.
Chiang Mai is a pleasant city with many bars and restaurants and a number of cool attractions. In addition, you can do various activities in the surrounding area. Here I describe what I did after my course this weekend. Further ideas for a trip to Thailand can be found in the successful e-book “Faszination Thailand” by my blogger colleague Stefan Diener.
Disclaimer: The stay at the massage school was made by an invitation from Thailand Tourism Switzerland. My opinion is unaffected.