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A Backpacker’s Guide To Massages In Asia

Editor's Note:  This article is *not* about happy-endings!

Full body massages are a luxury for most Westerners – the occasional gift to be given to a woman, or the benefit of having too much disposable income for a man. 

If you're heading to Asia, you will soon find the opportunities for affordable, quality massages and spa treatments are endless.

I quickly became a connoisseur during my time in Asia. 

Here's my general take on the quality of services on offer in various countries. One's experience can vary widely based on the masseuses' skills.

Balinese massage tables

Balinese massage tables

Bali, Indonesia

While you can get a one hour massage for $5 on Kuta Beach, do you want sand and salt from the ocean being ground into your skin by a surly masseuse while a swarm of Indonesian hawkers try and sell you on their wares? No, I didn't think so.

There are more than enough spas where you can pay an extra dollar or two for air-conditioning, aromatherapy, a comfortable massage table, a little privacy, and the occasional free cup of tea afterward. 

I enjoyed Bali's massages and spas more than any other on my trip. 

I always appreciated how they would place a fresh flower in a small bowl and position it under the hole in the table where my face would be positioned.

Chengdu, China

The Chinese love a good foot massage, and while being able to watch TV and enjoy the massage in a room with my friend and his girlfriend was interesting, it certainly wasn't my favorite experience.

If you're into ancient Chinese medicinal treatments, you can give Ba Guan a try, however, be sure to read about my experience with it first. You've been warned.

Kathmandu, Nepal

I was fresh off the plane in Kathmandu – capital city to one of the most impoverished nations on the planet. 

When I looked down a forlorn Thamel street and noticed a sign for massage, I was still thinking in terms of Balinese and Chinese spas. How wrong I was, yet I decided to follow through.

I walked up a flight of stairs and entered the dark, decrepit office. 

I haggled for a price comparable to what I'd paid in other countries and dressed down in a bare room. 

As for the massage itself, it was OK, but when your environment looks like a flophouse, it is hard to enjoy the experience.

A very spoiled Thai dog

McLeod Ganj, India

I was so sore from the last day of my Indrahar Pass trek that I could barely move. 

The pain in my shoulders and ribs left me bed-ridden for 48 hours, so I decided it was an opportunity to try Tibetan acupuncture and massage. 

I doubted the doctor's assertion that I would feel like new after three sessions, but to my surprise, she proved me wrong. 


I had my first Thai massage in Bangkok a day or two after arrival. 

As I'd heard, it was akin to having a yoga instructor yank your limbs around. 

I was especially displeased when she cracked my neck. 

The whole experience lacked the sensual, relaxing nature of the Balinese massages. 

This was closer to Muay Thai fighting on a bed. 

After a few pleasant massages on Koh Phangan, I decided to give traditional Thai massage another go on Phuket.

On my second round, the masseuse was amazingly strong for her petite size. Eventually, I asked for mercy. 

I had to repeat myself a second time, and even then she continued to use more force than was enjoyable. 

I decided Thai massages were not my bag.


By Cambodia, I was starting to feel massage fatigue, so I needed to make the prospect a little more interesting. 

In Siem Reap, I ran across a small family-run place that offered blind massages. That's right. The masseuses were blind. 

I found my first shiatsu massage to be an enjoyable experience, and couldn't help but feel I was doing my part to support a small, family business.


My first massage in Laos was a disaster. I opted for my first hot stone massage since Costa Rica in 2005, yet the kid who gave it was a mess. 

The stones were smaller than I expected and f'ing hot. It felt like he was dropping scolding hot lava rocks on my back, and every time I'd wince in pain, he'd say “sorry.” 

Fifty sorries later, I was happy to get the heck out of there, and he knew it.

I was willing to bet one of Luang Prabang's proper spas would offer a better service, and indeed, the next massage I received was worth three times the price.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

costa rica massage

Thursday 16th of June 2011

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Tuesday 19th of April 2011

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Sunday 31st of October 2010

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Tuesday 4th of May 2010

Hey Sean, I've long since forgotten the exact rates I paid, however you could get a nice 1 hour aromatherpay massage for $8 (plus tip) in the Kuta area of Bali. If you head to the more expensive beach towns, then the rates go up accordingly. The rates for a Thai massage in Thailand were about the same.


Tuesday 22nd of September 2009

Hey Blake - too each their own! I believe the Turkish massages can get pretty physical too. I actually met an American girl who got all but molested during a massage in Turkey. Ok, she actually DID get molested if I'm being honest about her story.

The prices didn't vary too much from what you'd find in Thailand. I would guesstimate all the 1-hr massages averaged out around $8-10. Sometimes I'd get 1.5 hours to splurge. I also got tons of other spa treatments like a body wrap in Laos and manicures/pedicures. I got a feeling for why women like to hit the spas/salons so often.

Nope, no video of the massage places!

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