By Beth Whitman, on April 26, 2013

Relax in Bangkok’s spas

Spend 15 minutes walking the streets of Bangkok and you’ll discover that a massage awaits you on every block – or rather five massages on every block. For less than 200 baht (approximately $7 U.S.), you can have your feet rubbed, head and shoulders massaged, or limbs stretched, pulled, and pounded in what’s known as Thai massage. Eager lady masseuses provide these relaxing, yet reasonably-priced services. More upscale pampering is available in a wide range of spas and shops in Bangkok. Below you’ll find some of my best finds in the Sukhumvit and Erawan neighborhoods.

i.sawan Residential Spa & Club

Located at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, i.sawan is at the top end of the spa market in this area of town. Located on the 5th floor of the hotel, it features treatment rooms, a nail and hair salon, and six spa cottages for day or overnight use.

I received the Essence of i.sawan treatment, a signature massage best described as Swedish deep tissue with a hint of Thai massage. Given in one of the private treatment rooms in an outdoor garden setting, the room featured the usual massage music and a lovely lemongrass aroma from scented oil infusers. Though my masseuse didn’t deliver the strongest of deep tissue massages, this full body treatment did leave me quite relaxed. Guests have access to the sauna, steam room, hot and cold Jacuzzi tubs, and electric padded massage chairs. Showers and complimentary toiletries are also available.

Treatments are higher by Bangkok standards, starting at just under $100 for a 60-minute massage. Note that taxes and a service fee (not a tip) together totaled more than 15% of the advertised cost and were added to my bill. These costs are not typically added in Bangkok. The spa is open 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m with reservations being highly recommended. 

Massage room at Thann Santuary

Thann Sanctuary

Located on the 3rd floor of the Gaysorn Shopping Plaza on Sukhumvit near the Chit Lom BTS, this boutique spa has eight treatment rooms. Lighting is low, the atmosphere calming, and the feeling intimate, if not a bit unique (I was welcomed by a gorgeous young man in a dress and makeup). At Thann I enjoyed a one-hour foot massage. Rather than being given the treatment in the usual padded reclining chair, the masseuse had me lie down on a thin mattress. I actually found this more relaxing than being in a chair. Higher than Bangkok standards (about $30 for the foot massage), this was the deepest, strongest massage I’ve had yet in Bangkok and well worth the cost. This spa also offers facial treatments and body scrubs. Thann is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m with reservations being highly recommended.

Massage oil at Lavana Spa

Lavana Spa

Lavana is a longtime favorite of mine due to its upscale feel but reasonable prices. You’re welcomed with bael fruit tea (so good I bought some from the nearby grocery store to take home with me) and the usual gentle feet cleansing. If you’re solo, you’ll be taken to a private room with a reclining chair and if you visit with a friend, you can enjoy the experience together in a larger room with several chairs.

As with most foot massages in Thailand, a brief head and shoulder massage follows the foot massage. On one occasion I paid for a two-hour foot massage but received a one-hour foot and one-hour hand, shoulder, and head massage. My masseuse’s English was not good enough for me to properly protest. Lavana is open 9:00 a.m. to midnight with reservations being encouraged, especially during high season weekends when they can easily fill up.

Art of Massage

Located underneath The Westin Grande Sukhumvit and Robinson Department Store, just at the entrance to Tops Market on Sukhumvit at Soi 17, this is a gem. Here, I enjoyed both a one-hour foot massage and a one-hour head and neck massage (consecutively). Together this may have been the best massage combo I’ve had in the city. The facility is small and chairs are typically full, so arrive early in the day to ensure little wait time. Art of Massage is open 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m with reservations being accepted but usually not necessary. If you just swing by, they’ll try to squeeze you in or ask that you return in a short while when the next masseuse becomes available.

Viewfinder Tip: Know that most masseuses in Bangkok speak limited English. 

Most masseuses in Bangkok, even at the top end of the scale, speak limited English making it difficult to express the nuances of what you might need in a massage. Best methods are through the “Oooohs,” and “Ouches,” when you want a lighter touch and using hand gestures if you want something stronger. 

Foot massages in Thailand generally include massaging of the knees and gentle pressure on the thighs. If your shorts, capris, or pants are too long or tight, you’ll be asked to change into baggy pants (provided). You’ll likely also be given a brief head, neck, and hand massage, so it’s best to remove earrings, necklaces, and rings prior to your treatment. Full body massages are given naked and some spas will provide disposable underwear if you’re more comfortable wearing panties.

What are your favorite types of spa experiences?