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Thai massage could get UNESCO heritage status

Jack Burton



PHOTO: The Culture Trip

The body-bending, bone-crunching, sharp-elbows and karate-chopping of Thai massage could soon be added to UNESCO’s prestigious heritage list. If you’ve ever walked a street in the kingdom, you’ll have been greeted with invitations for “massaaaaarge!”

From upscale Bangkok spas to streetside shophouses in Pattaya and Koh Samui, “nuad Thai,” or Thai massage, is everywhere. An hour of the back-cracking specialty can cost as little as US$5 or a whole lot more at the specialist spas hosted by many of the country’s high-end hotels.

Now, it may soon be added to UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage” when the organisation meets in Bogota later this week.

40 year old Krairath Chantrasri, who teaches massage at the Reclining Buddha School in the famed Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, helps thousands of Thai and foreign students who flock to the centre every year.

“I’m a continuation of our collective knowledge.”

Thai massage or “Thai yoga massage” is a traditional healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. The idea of Shen-lines alias energy-lines was first used is “Thaiyoga Massage”. These are similar to nadis as per the phylosophy of yoga by Gorakhnath. – Wikipedia

At Wat Pho and across the country, trainees learn a catalogue of moves targeting acupuncture, nerve and muscle points with thumbs, elbows, knees and feet, combined with deep stretches and contortions.

Like ‘kung fu’ in China, doctors and monks are said to have brought these methods 2,500 years ago from India to Thailand, passing secrets down from master to disciple in temples, and later within families.

Thai massage really took off in 1962, thanks to the creation of the famous Wat Pho school, which has trained more than 200,000 massage therapists, who now practice in 145 countries.

The school’s director Preeda Tangtrongchitr says… “For many people who are disabled or in debt, this job is an opportunity because it requires no material, only their hands and knowledge.”

Therapists at a high-end spa can charge around US$100 an hour in Thailand these days, but two or three times more in London, New York or Hong Kong, where Thai massage is booming.



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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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