I have gotten a bevvy of queries asking for the scoop on Thai massage schools in Chiang Mai, and so scoop you shall have! Here is my review of ITM Thai Massage School, as a solo female traveler from America.
ITM Massage school was recommended to me by a number of fancy online sources, but also by a friend of a friend who studied here for a month and loved it.
Other popular schools in Chiang Mai (which is THE place to learn Thai Massage) are The School of Old Medicine and Sunshine Massage School, but others abound.
At ITM, the course advances in level each week, and you may do as many weeks as you wish. My fifteen-person Level One class lasts five days of seven hours per day, and about half of us are signed up return next week for Level Two, or Two and Three, or Two and Three and Four.
(Me, I still don’t know how long I’ll be here!) Assisting the official instructors with the class are the veterans who have been training at ITM for over four weeks to be massage teachers. They wear cute matching T-shirts. The instructors wear tailored yellow.
The gong bonged at nine am as us newbies were finishing our payment and registration, and we all gathered to repeat a mantra and stretch our muscles so we could be ready to stretch the muscles of others. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Every day we get a free one hour yoga class!
At ten we had a fifteen minute coffee and tea break (beverages provided) and it became clear that ITM is a veritable mini United Nations. Milling around the steamy mugs of Lipton and Nescafe were truly fascinating people from: Malaysia, France, Thailand, Colombia, Sweden, Brazil, Japan, Russia, the U.S. (woo hoo!), Italy, India, and more!
Everyone had that rosy yoga-induced glow and the radiance of a healthy and health-giving soul. Someone who is not yet identified (see photo) had ridiculous purple high heels.
We all washed our feet in the classy foot washing trough, then sat in a circle around a rotating series of teachers who demonstrated moves one through eleven of Thai Massage from our manual using a volunteer.
“Wait,” you exclaim, confused, “that sounds like you were learning a choreographed dance, or something!” Indeed, I hadn’t realized this before, but (according to ITM), there is a specific series of moves in a Thai massage that one must follow.
We all get little booklets with the steps illustrated and explained in shorthand, and it’s up to us to take further notes as we watch the demonstration. It is also up to us to practice the many hours needed to memorize these moves.
Here is an example of the “choreography”. These are the actual written instructions under Step 1 of Thai Massage:
– PP foot 1-2-3-2-1 and PPW foot
– PPW (arrow up) calf, PC knee
– PPW thigh (up arrow and down arrow)
– Reverse PC knee, PPW calf, PPW & PP foot 1-2-3-2-1
“What the blazes?!!” you holler. But in truth, it all becomes clear when you have been walked through the shorthand glossary at the back of the booklet (ex: PP = Palm Press), and when you’ve seen it all demonstrated.
But it’s one thing to nod your head sagely as a master performs an art, and it’s another thing entirely to pick up the tools in your very own shaky little hands.
Olivia and I immediately grasped each other to be massage practice partners for the day, as we had bonded at the foot washing station, saying our feet hadn’t been this clean in the many months we’ve been abroad.
Like me, Olivia is a 28-year-old woman taking a leave of absence from her job to travel around the world alone, and like me, she is moving into her fourth month abroad. Unlike me, Olivia is from Brazil, has a glittering nose stud, and is a DOCTOR, which means she has a slightly better idea of what’s going on under our massaging hands.
Also, Olivia speaks Portuguese, and thus it’s rather a challenge at times for her follow the rapid Thai-accented English instruction! But she does it with panache. She’s so cool! I just want to squeeze her! And I did. All over her feet and legs.
For the next bunch of hours (interrupted briefly for lunch and then another lesson), we propped our manuals open with water bottles and snuck glances over at them as we performed the moves on each other. The instructors and instructors-in-training circulated and corrected our form and answered our questions. Half the time it was physically demanding, but utterly fascinating, and half the time it was (yeeaaah baby!) a free massage.
Olivia and I stayed until the end of the optional practice hour, and then promptly stuffed ourselves with cookies at the hippie cafe next door. I think we accidentally hit some reflexology “hunger” button in each others’ feet.
We have been assured that tomorrow’s class is “harder, but more fun, because it’s less hand pressing and more twisting the person like a pretzel”. I’ll let you know. (I wish I hadn’t typed the word “pretzel”, because now I’m hungry again!)
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!