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In Thailand, especially in Bangkok, there are countless massage salons. Some busy streets have 30 of them, often offering the same prices for the same services, e.g. a 30 min foot massage for 150 Baht.

Are there any indicators or heuristics that I can use to choose a particularly good salon?

Quality of a massage salon for me is a function of:

  • the workers skill in giving a relaxing massage without hurting and creating pain in my body
  • the cleanliness and relaxing atmosphere of the salon.

(I am only interested in a massage without "additional" services. Describing how to avoid parlors with these additional services is not the core of my question.)

  • 2
    One thing that made it comforting to avoid places with additional services is that I only went to those that were either open-air or with glass walls, that way, there was no doubt to what was going on inside. – Itai Jun 22 '17 at 17:00
  • Check Foursquare and other review sites – JonathanReez Jun 22 '17 at 21:08
  • Although I enjoyed answering the question, define quality or good salon? This question as it is currently phrased is off topic for travel and/or encourages subjective answers. I answered it as "how to tell if a massage shop may offer additional adult services..." But then I wondered how this related to travel – Jon Grah Jun 23 '17 at 4:44
  • @JonGrah: I added my definition of quality. Even before that I think it would have been pretty clear what quality means. – problemofficer Jun 23 '17 at 5:20
  • @JonGrah: Because massage parlors are so ubiquitous in Thailand I suppose many travelers will contemplate a visit and this is why I think this question could be relevant for this site. – problemofficer Jun 23 '17 at 13:26
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There is no way to determine quality of the massage from appearance. The only way is feedback from people who have been there.

The only thing you can determine from the outside is, if there are pretty ladies sitting outside with skimpy outfits then likely you will be offered optional services, but that does not mean they can't provide a proper massage.

Not sure what Max is going on about safe place for possessions, Thai massages are done with clothes on, so you aren't separated from your wallet or cellphone.

  • @mts - I edited to satisfy your political correctness. – user13044 Jun 22 '17 at 20:53
  • Can you please provide some reasoning for your statement that there is absolutely no (0%) way to determine quality from appearance. This is a very strong claim without any justification and therefore not convincing at all. This is the reason I down voted this answer. – problemofficer Jun 30 '17 at 3:42
  • My answer is based on many years of living in Thailand and even more years of helping our tour guests figure out where to go get a decent massage. You can doubt my answer if you please, we are entitled to our opinions. – user13044 Jun 30 '17 at 18:53
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First of all, you can never be sure about the quality of the massage you will receive until after you have received it. Even at the same place, different masseuses will give you slightly different massages, varying in both technique and "quality".

That being said, I get that you're looking for legitimate no-nonsense massage shops. Some of the most obvious indicators to me are

Location

Obviously, you should avoid the typical red light areas, such as Nana Plaza, Sukhumvit Soi 22, 24, 26, and so on. Granted, there are some legitimate places in most areas, but as a novice you're better off seeking out an area where your chances of getting a good quality massage are higher.

Opening hours

Usually the "extra service" places will be open later than 10pm, and many (most?) legitimate ones will close about 10-11 pm.

Online research

Do some searches on Google Maps in an area you're interested in, and you should be able to find reviews, photos, website links, etc. so you can make a good assessment if the place is legit, has good reviews, etc.

Masseuse uniforms

Most normal massage places require their masseuses to wear uniforms, often consisting of a short sleeved loose-fitting shirt and a pair of loose-fitting pants. The "extra services" places might also use uniforms, but trust me, you'll know the difference. If there are no uniforms, it could be either way, but it's a gamble.

Masseuse appearance

Obviously, the "extra services" places will typically employ younger and more attractive masseuses, and they will often wear more makeup and so on. If they call out "massage" when you walk past, I would keep walking. Many of the normal massage places have a small seating area outside where the masseuses will sometimes hang out, but rarely will they shout at you when you're walking past them.

Atmosphere

Most good quality normal massage places will have a nice atmosphere inside with some decorations. I often find that the places that have an untidy or disorganized look & feel already when stepping inside the door will usually not have as good massages either. This is of course not always true, but more of a general rule of thumb. Besides, to me it's more relaxing to have a massage in a nice, quiet, clean and cosy environment than in a disorganized, loud or unclean one.

1

Here is some criteria I learned how to determine if a massage parlor is really a brothel or offering extra services:

  • Are their business hours mostly open during the daytime hours like most businesses (somewhere around 09:00-20:00) or only after dark? If they are open during the day, usually it is for regular massage.

  • Where is it located? It's rare that a brothel will be located inside a shopping mall like Central World, Robinson, Tesco, Big C, etc. Also, are there several other bars and massage parlors very close by (particularly if they are attached Unless there is a lot of foot traffic (like Sukumvit Rd)

  • How are the staff dressed? If the majority of the massage staff are wearing booty chokers, tight-fitting shirts/pants, and/or the logo resembles "playboy", then they likely offer extra services. But if they are dressed in a traditional massage attire (loose fitting pants or long ankle skirt, loose shirt)

  • Are the majority of the staff look like they are late teens or in their early 20s? Young staff isn't a bad thing, but it should be offset by older staff training them.

  • Tinted windows are ok, but why are they tinted [very dark]? Is it really sunny on that side during the day? By itself this isn't bad. But if you go inside, look at the ambiance, how are they dressed, etc.

  • Calling out to you "Welcome! Massage!" is usually only in more tourist areas. This is not bad to call out for business. But combine this with some other observations like:

    • are they only calling out to single males vs calling out to all passersby equally?
    • do they grab on you aggressively to encourage you to enter the shop?
    • how are they dressed?
  • Once inside, if you quietly ask the selected masseuse for something extra, is [s]he willing to do it right there? A professional shop is careful to explain to their staff what is/is not allowed inside their shop, including how to interact with customers. Of course, what happens outside the shop is a private matter.

  • Ask some of the other expats or locals where they go to get regular massage.

Thai culture is fairly laid back with a utilitarian & "what you see is what you get" attitude about life. Massage services are inherently sensual; there's no avoiding getting touched repeatedly on various parts of your body and likely having some pleasurable feelings. To avoid becoming a "victim" of some adult added services, just use your instincts and casual observation. It should very obvious from the outside or immediately walking inside the category of service that will be offered.

The quality of the actual massage can only ultimately be judged by taking the plunge. I still know places where you can get a professional foot massage for 150 baht/hr.


If despite your best efforts you do get accosted by a Thai masseuse, you can open up a chat here and let others know and possibly receive some emotional relief.

Ironically, some of the best places to learn about "quality" is by going to the red light districts, particularly massage shops located in Pattaya, Patong, etc. The differences between strictly professional shops vs those that offer extra services will become much more clear with experience.

  • Thank you for this elaborate answer, but it is not what the question is about (even before the edit). I am only interested in the quality of the massage. The offering of additional services is probably one indicator that the massage itself will be bad but not sufficient to make a decision about quality. – problemofficer Jun 23 '17 at 5:15
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Me think they are probably all the same "quality".

One thing to look for is cleanliness and safety.

Enter a salon, and ask if you can look around (under supervision),.

If they refuse, then leave and go to the next one. If it looks dirty, leave.

How do you keep an eye on your belonging ? do they have safe ? or you keep them in the room in which you have your massage ?

If it looks nice and safe, enjoy.

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    You only provided categories to look for but no concrete indicators. Are stolen items really a common problem? I was more interested in indicators for the massage quality. – problemofficer Jun 22 '17 at 17:55
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Short and simple answer: massage shops do not provide massage.

Massage is provided by an individual masseur.

Chances to find the good one (that matches to your body sculpture, preferred strength, pace, masseur hand temperature or stretch power) do not much depend on the price, salon decorations, its location, working hours or any additional services. At least not linear.

The best method is to sort salons in sight by cleanliness, take top three and try the masseurs that you feel are "in sync" at this moment. Take best two of the resulting 4-6 and repeat. Remember to give a tip.

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