Myanmar is a lovely country with tens of thousands of pagodas and very friendly people. But the massage situation definitely leaves something to be desired! Maybe the conservative culture doesn’t encourage public massage businesses or maybe it’s because the tourism infrastructure has not developed enough yet but it literally took me more hours of searching for a massage than the time I spent lying on a massage table! I found a few places and will share my findings below. In short, Burma is a very interesting country but massage is not the reason to come here.
Finding a massage is best accomplished by asking your hotel staff or your local taxi-driver. You can also search on-line (TripAdvisor, for instance). The places I did find were almost always full and that tells me that there is a demand that is not being filled. As tourism increases in coming years, we should see more massage providers. For now, though, it’s only a few basic massage spas and foot massages, as well as more expensive hotel massage spas.
Here are some initial observations:
- Burmese massages are very much like Thai massage but with less pressure and pain
- Massages are very quiet with no conversation
- Private rooms are darker than usual
- Long continuous strokes are often employed
- Thumbs are used a lot in pressure work.
- Lots of working along meridians with presses from thumbs, palms, and elbows
- It’s a conservative country where clothed Thai massages are the norm and oil massages are harder to find
- I saw no sign of any naughtiness in any of the places I visited (although I hear some extra services such as happy endings are available in certain hotel spas).
- There is a huge shortage of massage spas in Myanmar and anyone who starts up a decent, affordable foot and body massage establishment in Yangon, Bagan, or Mandalay, is going to have a very successful business!
I walked literally dozens of streets without finding a single massage place. I had to finally go on-line and go to Tripadvisor’s top recommendations. There are a few places listed but they’re spread around the city and a taxi will often be required.
My first experience was at the new Sapel Foot Massage on 16th Street (near Mahabandula Road). It bills itself as a traditional Burmese foot spa. There are several comfortable chairs where one sits and gets a standard foot massage. I was warmly welcomed by a young lady who spoke very good English. I signed up for the Head-to-toe combo (about 20,000 kyat) which included about 1/2 hour massage on the head and back (while sitting upright on a stool fully clothed) and 1/2 hour of foot massage. My girl, Gigi, used her fingers exclusively for my feet, not using a hard plastic stick as many others do. Jasmine tea was provided. At the end of the massage, she asked me if I wanted some ‘thanaka’ (this is the creamy paste that women all over the country apply to their face). This seems to be one of their trademark extras. I said ‘yes’ so she fetched a large round stone, applied a bit of water, then began rubbing a piece of thanaka wood on it to produce some paste. This paste she applied to my cheeks and to my legs. The receptionist said the age range of girls working here is about 18-24. They seem to be well-trained and everything was very professional. A very pleasurable experience.
The next place I visited was Health Blessing Massage and Spa on Street 19 (63&58). I had two massages here, back to back with the same woman. First I had an hour-long Thai massage which was practically indistinguishable from one you’d get in Thailand. I was given long pants and a shirt to wear. For the oil massage, I was asked to strip everything off and drape myself with a large towel. The oil used was nice and slippery and smooth. Part of her style was to give long strokes, such as a stroke starting at the bum, travelling continuously up the back on to the arms and all the way down the hands, and back again. I’m not sure if this is a personal thing or if it’s a Burmese style but another masseuse later on did the same thing elsewhere. Very pleasurable. Similarly, she would work from the thigh down to the foot, massage the foot a bit, then return to the thigh in one continuously unbroken manoeuvre.
Later, I discovered the ’19 Street Spa’ on the north side of Mahabandula Road. They, too, were busy, and I had to wait 40 minutes to get an opening. Like all of the other masseuses in Burma, she did her job quietly, no conversation. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or if these girls just don’t know much English, but they seem to be the quietest workers of all the countries I’ve visited. That’s not a bad thing, in fact, many people prefer to have a quiet massage session. One hour Burmese/Thai massage was 7,000 kyat and a one hour oil massage was 12,000 kyat.
For my final Yangon massage, I stumbled upon a beauty salon on 49th street, north of Mahabandula that offered massage. A half dozen girls doted on me as I was the only customer in the salon, offering me tea. I took a one hour oil massage which was somewhat pricey at 20,000 kyat but it was pretty good. There was no bum or chest/belly massage, however. A waif of a girl, Piu, gave me a very strong massage. She, too, did some long continuous strokes up the back and down the arms to the wrists and back again. It was a dark space space, on a massage table without sheets (it looked like a clean place so hopefully they were wiping down the vinyl table surfaces down). There was some quiet music and absolutely no talking. I asked her her name but that was the end of the conversation. I heard her speak some good English later so I have to conclude that it’s not shyness but a cultural thing that they conduct massages in silence. She was very intense in her craftsmanship, working slowly with lots of thumbwork, keeping continuous contact.
A search for Massage in Yangon on Tripadvisor will reveal a few other places. Probably the most expensive one is at the Strand Hotel where an hour will run you $75 US or more (needless to say, I didn’t get to sample their wares).
From what I’ve read on the internet, the massages in these downtown shops aren’t really Burmese but are a local form of Thai tourist massages. That may be but they still do a good job. I read in one place that there are traditional Burmese masseurs and masseuses who travel to local Burmese families and will give massages to everyone in the house (but they are not available to the average tourist). If any Burmese citizens have inside information for me, please let me know!
Nowhere in these downtown Yangon massages (or anywhere else in Myanmar) did I experience a hint of any naughtiness. I hear that happy endings are easy enough to get in the upscale hotel spas, the kind you have to ride an elevator up to.
After a hard day of exploring Bagan’s thousands of temples and pagodas, one deserves a nice massage! But finding a place is not easy! Yes, there are a few spas in high end hotels but these places will cost you $30 an hour or more for just a foot massage and $75+ for an oil massage! (the well-heeled can check out the following
- Aureum Nature Spa at Aureum Palace Hotel
- Blossom Spa at Amata Boutique House
- Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort
- The Hotel at Tharabar Gate
I found one that was a little more affordable at the spa at the Bagan Thande Hotel Spa and signed up for a ‘Thai’ style body massage ($20 US). I had a very competent massage here in a quiet, clean space.
Halfway down the main road between Old Bagan and Nyaung U town, I found three massage shops. At the first, they offered an hour for 20,000 kyat but unfortunately, they would only provide me with a male attendant (which didn’t interest me). Across the road was a cheaper place at 10,000 kyat an hour but again, no ladies were available for me, only a male masseuse. Finally, I found a simple sign on someone’s house saying ‘Myanmar Traditional Massage.’ I jumped right in and was led to a large hard bed in the front of the house. It was only 7,000 kyat an hour and an older woman gave me a lacklustre pressure massage while I was fully clothed. On the other side of the curtain, the rest of the family was cooking and watching TV. The massage wasn’t the greatest but I was desperate!
All in all, I found Bagan to be a big disappointment as far as good, budget massage goes. Anyone who starts a decent foot and body massage place here is going to make a killing!
Again, I sweated a lot searching along dozens of roads, finding no massage places. A search in the Yellow Pages yielded only one foot spa and no massage shops. Undoubtedly, they are out there but in my brief visit, I was only able to find two, one with the help of a moto taxi driver. The first was Miki Beauty and Health on 28th street near 81st street (across from M3 Hotel). They had an open room with several massage tables. On offer were Shiatsu/Body massage and Reflexology/foot massage at the very reasonable price of 7000 Kyat each per hour. I opted for the Shiatsu and got a pretty good massage (fully clothed). There was a lot of the usual pinching with thumbs and forefingers as well as presses up and down meridians. There were no real bends and stretches though. The worst part was a local guy who came in and laid down a couple of beds away and as soon as his massage began, started loudly snoring for the next half hour!
Not far away, I stumbled into the ‘OBA Beauty and Spa’ with a big foot massage sign outside (84th Street between 34 and 35 street). I dashed in and got a really good foot massage for 10,000 Kyat. I was led upstairs into a large dim room with a dozen reclining chairs and a half dozen masseuses working on various customers. My masseuse had very strong hands and fingers. She proceeded to give me well over an hour’s worth of massage. It began with a foot soak for five minutes, then she massaged my calves for another five minutes while my feet soaked some more. Then, came a good strong foot and leg massage for about an hour. I was then asked to turn over on the nearly horizontal reclining chair and got another fifteen minutes of back of legs and back massage. The whole process was nearly an hour and a half. Highly recommended! I gave her a 3000 Kyat tip although that may have been too much.
Undoubtedly, there are more massage places in Mandalay but I ran out of time. Your best bet is to ask a taxi driver to take you somewhere. They are the ones to ask, as well, if you’re looking for naughty massages.
Exchange Rate: about 1200 kyat (pronounced ‘chat’) = $1 US dollar