A quintessential part of Thai life, massages are the perfect way to embrace the many facets of holistic wellness. Here’s how an ideal Thai wellness experience must look like. By Snigdha Bhowmick
I am stretched in a bow-like position, while my masseuse stands on my back digging her heels in. I let out a whimper, she quickly reduces the pressure, and I feel the knots in my back unravelling. Immediately after alighting from my flight in sunny Phuket, I had made a beeline for one of the many massage centres in the old city to kick-start my long-awaited holiday. It was a holiday that I had been planning for some time. I had frequent back spasms from scrunching over a laptop all day long, and Thailand’s wellness offerings were the ideal antidote.
The traditional Thai massage, called Nuad Thai in the local language, is a non-medicinal therapy involving body manipulation that helps in rebalancing one’s energy. It revolves around 10 energy lines called sen sib that carry physical, emotional, and spiritual energies between meridian points around the body, I’m told at Rayavadee Krabi. The blockage in these energy lines manifests as back pain and knotted muscles. Therapists use their hands, elbows, knees, and feet, along with herbal hot compresses, to reduce inflammation, unblock lines, and align the four body elements: earth, water, wind, and fire. “The massage increases the energy levels of the body along with flexibility and blood circulation, hence promoting healing, and treating sore backs, tired limbs, and strained necks,” explains Poonam Saha, who manages the spa at The Leela Palace New Delhi.
However, many modern Thai methods are said to have originated from ancient Indian techniques of yoga. It is believed that when monks headed to Thailand to expand the reach of Buddhism, one of the travellers was Jīvaka, the personal physician of Lord Buddha. These techniques travelled through him some 2,500 years ago, and were incorporated into the medical therapies that began to crop up in Buddhist temples all over Thailand. This is where the foundation of the present-day Thai massage was laid.
After a couple of days in Phuket, I head to Hua Hin in the southern part of the country to check out an award-winning spa that is known for integrating holistic massage therapies with yoga, physiotherapy, and healthy meals. Chiva-Som International Health Resort is a spa hotel with more than 200 therapies on offer. Its elaborate spa menu not only allows absolute relaxation but also sets the tone for a healthy lifestyle. Their unique wellness plan, called A Taste of Chiva-Som, involves a personal health and wellness consultation, and three meals designed to help you detoxify and feel lighter.
Next, I head to the Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok. While it may be famous among tourists for its reclining Buddha statue, it is also considered as the seat of Nuad Thai, which has been added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The walls and pillars of the temple hold inscriptions depicting the use of traditional medicine and references of sen sib. I treat myself to a two-hour-long massage and realise that it is the best temple I have visited so far.
Lazy Man’s Yoga
I’m informed that Thai massage is also known as the ‘lazy man’s yoga’, but I prefer to think of this lazy goodness as gender-neutral. I’m led into the wellness area of Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, ubiquitously called The Spa, where I am asked to change into a loose-fitting shirt and a comfortable pair of pyjamas. It is quite different from the oil-laden aromatherapies I’ve experienced earlier, as you don’t need to strip down to your bare minimums. The therapy starts off with a foot-cleaning ritual, then I’m escorted to my private massage room. My therapist relaxes my body parts by stretching each to its limit and then moves onto the rocking and pulling motions. There is a lot of pushing and pulling of tendons, stretching of joints, and deep-tissue kneading with elbows, knees, feet, and fingers.
My concluding activity in Thailand is to experience a final massage at the airport. First and Business Class passengers of Thai Airways can avail a complimentary spa session inside the Royal Orchid Spa at Suvarnabhumi Airport. A relaxing 60-minute session is the perfect way to get back to the daily grind.
Thai Airways, Malindo Air, and AirAsia operate direct flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai to Bangkok. GoAir recently launched direct flights to Phuket from Delhi and Mumbai.