Finally, there is foot reflexology or simply “Thai foot massage”. These are my personal favorites, and I have had many, many foot massages over the years. Yesterday, I went to what I consider to be the best place on the island, Nuat Pan Thai (or simply: School of Thai Massage). A small, traditional massage school, it has none of the bells, whistles, oohs or ahhs of the many resort spas here, but what it does have are a collection of traditionally and well trained therapists.
I have been there several times and always with the same results – excellent. A foot massage can be a rather intense experience. The principle, for those that are unfamiliar with reflexology, is that for every part of the body, there is a corresponding point on the foot. In my experience, this is absolutely true, and a foot massage can tell you rather quickly where you may be having weakness or health issues internally, based in the incredible PAIN you feel when your therapists digs into the corresponding foot point.
As Khun Pong, my young therapist yesterday said, “We cannot massage the inside of the body, so we must go through the feet.”
Often using a mai nuat tao (a small, dowel-like object made of wood and tapered on one end) to press and rub, the therapist devotes nearly 30 minutes to each paw. A good massage releases toxins from internal organs and may leave you feeling fatigued or even feverish if you are not well to begin with. But usually, after a good night’s sleep, you will feel much better by morning.
Unlike nuat Thai, therapists often use a mentholated linament for reflexology, and in addition to having your feet treated, you can also expect to get your lower legs rubbed and pressed at key point along the sen lines. Each massage ends with about five minutes on the neck and shoulders as well.
At Nuat Pan Thai, they make their own linement and they teach both Thais and foreigners. For less than $300.00 US, you can take a 180 hour course at your own pace, complete with testing at the end. An hour of nuat Thai or reflexology – with tip – will set you back about $10.10 US at current exchange rates. Resort-based spa treatments – even when they are traditional Thai – are a whole other ball game when it comes to pricing. For the equivalent treatments you can expect to pay between about $45-$130 US.
One of the great benefits of a spa, however, is that you have a bigger selection to choose from and oft-times, here in Thailand, creative combinations of Eastern and Western therapies. One of my very favorite spa treatments in Thailand is an aromatherapy massage. This is a combo of Swedish and Thai techniques (always in a gorgeous spa setting) using a fragrant oil of your selection. Thus the nuat intensity which can limit relaxation is modified by the gentler kneading of Swedish-style method.
Anantara Resorts and Spas have been at the forefront of ‘exporting’ Thai traditional techniques such as nuat and luk prakorb to other parts of the world. Originating in Thailand, the brand’s spa arm now has branches in a number of countries, including Indonesia, Maldives, Turkey, Jordan, UAE, China and, believe it or not, Tanzania.
Bangkok’s Wat Pho is considered to be the headquarters for the preservation and teaching of nuat Thai. In addition to the numerous artifacts within the compound demonstrating that purpose, their school of massage operates in a building adjacent to the compound, and shops packed with herbal medicines, powders and potions line the road that parallels its western boundary.
Wat Pho’s Thai Traditional Medical School, established in 1955, is located just outside the complex. In the ensuing 50+ years since its founding, the programs at the school have become internationally renowned, offering massage training courses to locals and foreigners alike, and teaching as many as 200-300 students a day. The courses are short: 30-hours of training can be completed in 5 full days. While 60% of the school’s students are Thai, the remaining 40% come from across the globe, and a survey conducted by the school in 2003 revealed that it has provided training to residents of 70 different countries. The school also offers training in Rusii Datton exercises to the public each morning from 8-8:30 am. Each 30 minute session covers 12-15 of the 80 yogic positions.
Despite Wat Pho’s impressive collection of healing knowledge, however, much of what may have been known of nuat Thai’s origins was burned in the fires of Ayutthaya in 1767 during the Burmese sack of the ancient capitol. The information found in the temple library and inscribed on its walls, for example, is considered to be but a fragment of what the Ayutthayan kingdom once possessed.
I recommend you try a Thai massage, should you ever get the chance. Unless you are actually in Thailand, you probably need not worry about the pressure being too much, since, like the degree of spice in the food, therapists will tone it down for western tastes.