No, I don’t mean that all too frequent use of the word, as in “happy time massage.” I mean a true, therapeutic relaxation for the achy muscles of the body. Asia is a mecca of cheap, excellent massages. I’m a big believer in massage to relieve tension and toxins, especially after long transit, carrying heavy backpacks or party nights. I tried a few places around the world, and here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Don’t let a pretty girl standing outside her shop be your masseuse.
They can be distracting (to men) and usually have no idea what they are doing. It will end up being an hour of gentle rub-down leaving you feeling tingly like gerbils just ran around on your skin, but not deep muscle relaxation. You can let her coerce you inside, but make sure the girl trained or knowledgeable about the body does the massaging.
2) Don’t go to a shop where you can’t see inside.
If there are blinds or curtains or no chairs visible, it’s not a good sign. They are probably hiding something.
3) Don’t go if it’s dirty.
The shop should be immaculate. Everything should smell new and fresh and pleasing to the senses. Dirty could mean dirty towels, tables, water, oil, hands etc.
4) Don’t get pressured into more than what you want.
This is hard, because they make it sound amazing. Think what you want before (30, 60, 90 min) (face, feet, back) and make a good deal with them. But sometimes you should listen if they say they are experts in a certain style.
5) Don’t be afraid to show them your problem areas / communicate.
If they speak English, great, if not, use body language. Make sure you get the correct muscles taken care of during your time. They will usually ask a few minutes in, “Okay?” That’s your chance to say, “Stronger, softer, faster, slower etc.”
6) Make sure they are wearing a uniform.
If they are in their casual attire, they’re not taking their job seriously. This rule isn’t necessary if you are just doing a foot massage. Anytime anyone touches your feet it’s a good thing.
**Bonus Tip: Don’t even bother going if you’re sunburned. Just get the baby oil, aloe; put on some soft cotton clothes and pump the A/C.
So essentially, common sense, yet I have made all these mistakes. Find a professional, clean looking place; a happy, helpful staff; tell them exactly what you need and relax. Different countries specialize in different styles. Taiwan and China are great with foot acupressure. Korea does extremely strong sports massages. SE Asia usually does a version of Thai/Swedish.
I’ve found in SE Asia, you can pay between 7-15$ for an hour massage at small shops, and 30-70$ at higher quality resorts. Quality always ranges, so start with a 30 minute test run, then you will know if you want more. They are always happy to oblige. Some places use oil and may require you to be naked or in underwear. Others will use a towel over your shirt. Also remember to rehydrate immediately after to flush all the toxins that have been released through the muscles into the bloodstream. Coconut water, with the added potassium, is great if available. And don’t drink alcohol for a few hours as your kidney is overworked with the released waste.