Although Thai Massage might come first to mind when thinking about the healing arts systems of Thailand, there are actually many more than that.
This list highlights 11 of them, however it needs to be said that this is not meant to be the final list. There are other healing arts systems which are not mentioned here, however this list contains some of the better known ones.
1. Thai Massage
Thailand is famous for Thai Massage, and rightly so since this is where it was developed. However the actual origin of Thai Massage is India’s yoga system. It was imported into Thailand about 1500 years ago.
In the last 20 years it was discovered by westerners and since then it has become popular in many countries all over the world. Spas everywhere are scrambling to add it to their menu of services, and Thai Massage therapists are in high demand.
Often Thai herbal ball treatment is offered as an add-on to Thai Massage. These are heated herbal packs which are pressed on the body. This is generally not a separate stand-alone modality, which is why it is listed as part of Thai Massage.
2. Thai natural medicine
Few people outside of Thailand know that Thai Massage is only a part of a sophisticated natural healing system in Thailand. This is not very obvious to tourists and visitors since Thai herbal clinics and Thai natural healing schools only cater to Thais.
Unlike Thai Massage, which is highly commercialized and heavily advertised everywhere in Thailand, natural and herbal medicine fly under the radar of most foreigners. Signs are only in Thai, the schools only teach in Thai, the prescriptions are all in Thai, which means that it is largely invisible to visitors.
Thai practitioners of natural medicine study for years and are very skilled in dealing with a large variety of diseases. Only in the last few years have a small number of western therapists begun to apply some of the elements of this system in the western world.
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3. Shamanic healing methods
Besides Thai Massage and Thai natural medicine there is a third element which is even less known or understood by foreigners and even the Thais themselves. These are shamanic practices which take many forms. I have personal experience with some of those.
When my Thai wife was a young girl, she contracted a deadly disease which did not respond to any medical treatment. As a last resort her parents took her to a shamanic healer who cured her in a highly unusual way. You can read the story here.
Then I had the opportunity to film a very unusual exhibition by a “Thai yogi” who meditated in a vat of boiling oil. You can read the story and watch the video here.
4. Thai Foot Massage
This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in Thailand. Thai Foot Massage is offered everywhere – at the mall entrance, at festivals and food fairs, at markets, on the beach, on the sidewalk of a street, and in countless massage shops.
The setting is normally a recliner chair, and the cost is generally between $5 and $10 per hour. You never need an appointment or a reservation. There are no intake forms or any other formalities. You just show up, sit in a chair and a therapist will usually be available right away.
Thai Foot Massage is thoroughly enjoyable and is a great way to relax and take a break from your daily activities. After a good session you feel like you are walking on clouds.
5. Oil Massage
Pretty much every single massage shop in Thailand offers at least three modalities: Thai Massage, Foot Massage, and Oil Massage. The Thai oil massage is similar to the western Swedish massage. Since it requires taking your clothes off it is usually done in a private environment.
However you can also get oil massage on most beaches in Thailand in plain view of everyone with just your swim suit on or a towel covering your midsection.
Cost and quality can vary dramatically from simple beach massages for $10/hr to exquisite sessions in stunningly beautiful spas with some serious pampering at much higher prices.
6. Hot Stone Massage
Hot Stone Massage is a newcomer in Thailand. It is mostly offered by mid range and higher end massage facilities, and the cost is generally several times that of a Thai or Foot massage. It requires special equipment and preparation time to heat the stones.
Just like oil massage it is done in a private room. Basically it is an oil massage done with heated stones. Hot Stone Massage is considered a luxury treatment. It is hardly ever offered by lower end massage shops, but is on the menu of many spas.
7. Chi Nei Tsang
This modality was developed by Mantak Chia in Thailand. It is an abdominal massage system which can be done with oil directly on the skin or without oil even on fully dressed persons as taught in Thai Healing Massage Academy’s online training course.
Chi Nei Tsang is based on the principle that every part of the body can be reached and affected by just working on the abdomen. This modality is only offered in a few places in Thailand. It is especially known in Chiang Mai, since it was developed in Mantak Chia’s Tao Garden spa and training institute which is near the city of Chiang Mai.
Chi Nei Tsang has been exported to western countries by Mantak Chia’s students. It is a refined healing art which requires a lot of sensitivity on the part of the therapist. Once learned, it is a powerful and highly therapeutic system to work on many physical and emotional issues.
8. Karsai Nei Tsang
This is a further development of Chi Nei Tsang. It is also called “genital massage” since it is done in the area of the genitals. However it is a strictly therapeutic system. There is nothing sensual about it. In fact, it can be quite intense and even painful, as this author can testify after having experienced it.
Karsai Nei Tsang was also developed at Mantak Chia’s Tao Garden. It focuses on dissolving blockages in the vicinity of the reproductive organs. This modality is quite rare and there are very few therapists trained in it.
9. Gua Sha
Gua Sha is a Chinese import to Thailand. There is a sizable Chinese community in Thailand, and there are quite a few Chinese doctors and herbalists in many areas.
Gua Sha is a scraping therapy which is done with oil and a scraping instrument. It looks quite gruesome since the scraping turns the skin dramatically red. However there are plenty of people who swear by its benefits for releasing unhealthy elements from the body and stimulating the healing process.
Gua Sha Wikipedia
10. Tok Sen
Tok Sen is a therapy which is applied with a wooden mallet along the energy lines of the body. This is a regional therapy which is mostly found in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand. It is supposed to stimulate healing energy in the body.
Some western therapists have exported it to their home countries and practice and even teach it there. However Tok Sen is not a well known therapy outside of Chiang Mai province.
Acupuncture is another Chinese import which is mostly practiced by members of the Chinese community of Thailand. These therapists are generally well trained and plenty of people attest to the positive results they are getting from acupuncture treatments.
Acupuncture is probably the best known Chinese healing art outside of China. It has found its way to many countries. Generally lengthy and in depth training programs are required to become an official acupuncturist.
Acupuncture has achieved a significant degree of acceptance in the western world even by the medical establishment.
This list of 11 is not meant to be the definitive number of healing arts which are offered in Thailand. It only lists some treatments which are fairly common or established. There are others as well.
For example in Chiang Mai there is an Ayurvedic clinic.There are still some monks who have unusual healing powers. A Thai friend of mine is an iridologist and I know of a Thai healer who uses medical Qigong.
There is even a very unusual healer in Chiang Mai who uses a method which he learned from Shaolin monks. I am sure there are other healing systems which I am not aware of.
The purpose of this list is to broaden your horizon about the healing arts scene in Thailand which goes way beyond just Thai Massage.
Some of the healing arts systems in Thailand have been imported from other cultures, like India and China. With globalization, internet access and easy travel more and more options are becoming available.
Especially Chiang Mai is a Mecca for all those healing arts with a main focus on Thai Massage training. Bangkok has a wide variety of healing arts as well.
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years and he is the creator 20 Thai Massage online training courses.