Oil massages are my favorite! They feel amazing, the oil moisturizes, and they’re gentle. They are rarely painful like some body massages. Think of an Asian version of a Swedish massage with lots of sliding of hands on skin and muscle.
Some people complain that they sweat more after an oil massage in the heat. An easy cure for this is to shower off right away at the massage shop or head right back to your hotel. Lots of showers are refreshing in the tropical heat!
Here’s a typical scenario for a Thai Oil massage. (Oil massages in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are fairly similar)
You walk down the street and are lured by the siren calls of ladies sitting in front of massage shops: ‘Hello, massage’ or ‘Hello, welcome.’ You approach and are handed a rate card that lists all of the services and prices: e.g. Foot massage 200 baht, Thai massage 200 baht 1 hr, oil massage 300 baht, two hours 5oo baht, etc.
You say you want 1 hr oil massage. You can choose a lady you like sometimes but more often than not, you’ll get the next one on the list. They naturally want to give everyone some hours (there’s usually a board inside where someone keeps score).
You will be taking off your shoes or sandals at the entrance and leaving them there. Don’t worry, they’ll be well taken care of. You’ll be led off to a bed that will be curtained off from neighbouring beds for privacy or if you’re lucky, you’ll get a private room. Usually, the oil massages are upstairs a flight or two.
You are provided with a towel and asked to undress. Rarely, you’ll have to keep your underwear on in places like more conservative peninsular Thailand (Krabi, especially) but usually, you’ll get fully undressed. You lie face down on the table or bed and drape the towel over your derriere. You may be lying on a thin mattress on the floor or on a table with or without a hole for your face. If there is a hole, a rolled up towel serves as a face rest, otherwise there will be a pillow for your head. On the pillow, there should be a fresh pillowcase or a towel.
I keep my clothes in a pile beside my pillow, hanging on a hook where I can see them, or right under the bed. I also make sure not to have my passport or too much cash on me.
Soon, your masseuse arrives and the fun begins.
There are countless small variations to the massage process but here’s a general sequence of events.
Really quick version:
With oil, massage back and legs
Massage front of legs, arms, belly and chest
Massage shoulders and head (without oil)
She towels off remainder of oil or washes you with warm water or offers the shower room.
The longer version:
It starts with getting your feet washed. This may be in a basin of large warm water before you get undressed or she may scrub the soles of your feet with a wet washcloth.
You like face down. She arranges the towel so that she can begin ‘walking’ the backs of our legs with the palms of her hands, covered in oil, starting at the heels and pressing in for a second, then releasing, then moving up a bit. This continues on to the derriere and finally up the back to the neck. This gets the blood flowing and helps you relax. There may also be some squeezing of the upper arms and back of the neck.
During the massage, there will inevitably be some mild conversation. One of the first things you get asked is ‘do you want medium or strong (pressure).’ I like strong but you may like soft or medium pressure. If you start to feel pain, say ‘jep’ which is Thai for ‘hurt’ or ‘pain.’ Oil massages are rarely painful, however, as there is lots of lubricated sliding going on, not the pinching and pretzel bending of Thai massages.
Other conversational items include: What’s your name, where are you from, how old are you. Do you have a lady, wife, babies, etc.
Okay, on to the fun part. The massage! She sits on top of the towel on your buttocks or on your upper legs and begins to massage your back. She squirts some oil on her hands and massages your upper and lower back with a variety of long strokes, short strokes, pinches, elbows, and forearms. Several strokes will continue on to the neck and upper arms and sometimes down on the derriere. Upon completion, she’ll take the towel and drape it over your back and apply hand pressure in several areas. This not only continues the massage process with some pressure applications but also absorbs much of the oil.
Next, it’s on to the legs. The towel goes back on to the derriere but with one side folded up to expose a buttock cheek. Oil begins at the calves with lots of kneading and stroking, and works up to the backs of the legs and thighs and finally up to the buttocks. It feels great!
Note, that several times during the massage, your private parts could be exposed for a few seconds or longer. Don’t worry, your masseuse has seen it all before, thousands and thousands of times. Don’t be shy! It’s all part of the natural and wonderful massage process. As one masseuse said, ‘I’ve seen hundreds of penises and I don’t find them all that interesting!’ I have to admit that at first I was very shy but after a few dozen massages, I got over it.
Once the leg is done, it gets toweled and pressurized with her hands to remove some of the oil and the process is repeated on the other leg. Feet don’t usually get much attention during the oil massage which is too bad but that’s what foot massages are for! A good masseuse will give throw in a bit of a foot rub and toe massage.
Occasionally, a masseuse will devote a bit more time to the derriere and upper thighs. This is sometimes done to get you interested in perhaps ordering some ‘extras’ at the end of the massage. If she’s getting too close to your privates, let her know that the area is off-limits but don’t ever get mad. Laugh it off, keep it friendly and gently say ‘No.’
Now it’s time to turn over. A good masseuse will hold the towel up in such a way that you can modestly turn over without exposing your mid-section to her eyes. This is more for your benefit as there’s certainly nothing to see that she hasn’t already seen a million times before.
You lie back. She’ll get you a pillow to raise your head slightly. She gets to work on one of your legs, massaging your foot and toes hopefully, then the upper sides of your leg and thigh. She repeats the process on the other leg, toweling off excess oil as necessary.
On the spots where your inner thighs join to your torso, she’ll apply both palms and press down hard for as much as 10 seconds, then releasing slowly. This gets a lot of blood flowing to the area and feels great.
Next, it’s on to your belly and chest. The towel is draped over your mid-section and she applies oil in swirling motions to your chest and belly. There is often quite a bit of pressure on the belly, digging right into your intestines in circular motions. Feels great! Towel off the oil, and on the arms.
Each arm is massaged, then some time spent on the hands, massaging the palms and fingers, often with a quick pull to each finger ending in a finger snap. The other arm is treated, as well.
She asks you to sit up and gets behind you to apply pressure to your shoulders and neck. She may continue with a head massage from this position but usually, she’ll sit behind you and you lay back down with your head in her lap. Normally, she’ll have disappeared for a minute just before this to wash the oil off of her hands.
Now she massages your face and top of head (without oil) in a series of gentle strokes and some acupressure applications. Some hair massage with some gentle pulling often comes into play.
The massage completed, she ‘wai’s (bows with her hands raised together) and says ‘kup koon ka’ (Thank you). If you’re lucky, she’ll disappear and come back with a hot bowl of water and will towel you down all over, removing some more oil. Otherwise, you’ll be given the opportunity to have a quick shower. If I’m not too far from my hotel, I usually decline and go back for a shower there, otherwise, I’ll take advantage of their facilities. Wherever possible, I take my clothes with me into the shower so that I can keep an eye on my valuables.
You return to the front of the shop, put your shoes back on. You are usually offered a cold bottle of water or a hot cup of tea. You pay the lady and give her a tip. I usually give 100 baht for a tip, slightly more if it was an exceptionally good massage.
The variations are endless. You may be deprived of a butte and chest and belly rub if you’re in an ultraconservative area of the country, like the Muslim south.
Words of warning: Some places assume that because you want an oil massage which is more sensuous and relaxing than a Thai massage, that you automatically are in the mood for extras such as a happy ending. I love oil massages simply for what they are. I don’t need the extras so I often have to refuse the offers.