There are three main massage-type treatments that are now considered uniquely Thai: nuat Thai (literally: Thai massage), luk prakorb, (an herbal compress used to warm muscles before massage), and foot reflexology.
Unlike the more common Swedish style massage of the west, in which the client lays down while muscles are kneaded with oil in a (generally) soothing fashion, Thai massage is a more active endeavor. While your therapist may use some liniment on particular sore spots, the massage is conducted primarily without the use of any oils or lotions. Rather than being nude atop a massage table, in traditional setting, expect to be assigned a pair of fresh pajamas and to lay down on a mat on the floor. Where western therapist use hands and the occasional elbow to rub your muscles or deeply penetrate tense areas, the Thais will move your limbs in various positions as they work, and think nothing of using hands, knuckles, elbows, feet or knees to twist, pull, stretch and dig deeply into areas you had no idea needed a good rub. They often straddle you (even at a spa on a treatment table) as they work your back, and you may find yourself in the interesting position of having a small woman kneeling on your upper thighs while grasping your wrists and lifting you up into a back arch, giving your gluteus and upper legs a deep kneading as your back receives a long stretch – aahh! Personally, I much prefer Thai-style massage to Swedish, but many people find it a bit too intense.
Luk prakorb the herbal compress is a real treat and definitely worth a try. A piece of unbleached cloth is filled with fragrant, healing herbs such as lemongrass, tumeric, ginger and jasmine. It is then wrapped up tightly and steamed to warm. The therapist then gently rolls the ball over your muscles with a little bit of pressure in order to relax and prepare them for a more intense massage. The herbs also serve a purpose. As our skin heats, pores open and the medicinal properties of these plants which range from soothing sunburn to improving circulation, sink into the pores.
“This is an ancient Thai practice,” says Khun Kiew, the Spa manager at Twin Palm Resort’s Spa. “The herbal compress has been used for Thai royalty since the Ayutthaya Dynasty, [1351-1767 C.E.]” she explains.
Luk prakorb is also popular in luxury spas and used as part of an overall facial treatment. The moist heat opens pores and relaxes facial muscles while herbs nourish the skin and body.