What’s it Like to Have a Hammer Massage? Tok Sen Questions Answered

I’ve recently been trying out massages in Chiang Mai. Yesterday I had a massage in a temple – today, we’re going less spiritual and more construction worker come beauty therapist.

I’m having what’s known as a hammer massage.

a wooden mallet like hammer and dowl used in Tok Sen massage

Hammer massage, or Tok Sen as it’s traditionally known, is native to Chiang Mai and used in farming communities to ease the aches of the day. Despite that, it’s not always taught in massage schools.

The techniques of Tok Sen are normally passed down through the family and so, unless you’re born into a family that uses it, it’s not something even some Thai massage therapists are used to.

In fact, one of the therapists in the spa I went to told me he had never even seen the hammer before, let alone seen it used. There was much interest and buzzy Thai chatter going on as I lay down.

What Happens During a Hammer Massage?

I really had no idea what to expect from Tok Sen except that it involved a hammer. That was enough to pique my interest so I’d just booked in! One day this approach is going to get me into trouble.

Thankfully today wasn’t that day. Actually, it turns Tok Sen involves both a hammer and small round piece of wood. That’s what’s actually placed on your body, then hammer then hits that.

The therapist works along the energy lines of your body in quick tapping strokes.

Woman giving a hammer massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand

As with the Thai massage each body part is treated in turn – I think it went back, legs, feet, arms, hands, head.

Once the therapist has finished tapping the area – they stretch and manipulate the muscles. This bit hurts – the tapping however doesn’t.

In fact, once you get used to the fact that it is like having a massage in a blacksmith what with the noise and all, it’s strangely soporific.

I never fall asleep in massages – mainly because I’m waiting for them to hurt me – but I was seriously drifting off during this one.

Well until she got to my glutes with her diggy little fingers that is – that triggered me to swear.

It seems by the laughter that this triggered from my therapist that I can add expletives to the foreign words your masseuse may know. Ah well, at least she eased off a bit.

I really enjoyed it. Part because of the novelty factor, part because it did relax me with (minimal) pain.

What are the Benefits of Tok Sen Therapy?

Tok sen works on clearing the energy lines of the body releasing any blockages in energy that might be causing pain or other health concerns. 

Sen actually means energy.

The rhythmic tapping of the massage is also thought to calm us – and, once you get used to the noise it is actually pretty relaxing

There are a number of suggested benefits of tok sen including reducing pain, boosting immunity, improving circulation and general relaxation. 

Where to Try Tok Sen in Chiang Mai

If you want to give it a try, I went to a place called Rest and Relax which is on the right if you are facing The Plaza Building on Th Chang Khlan. It’s just a little bit before you reach the entrance to the Night Bazaar. The hour-long treatment cost 200 Baht. They do a lot less wacky things as well.

Hammer Massage is NOT the oddest massage in Chiang Mai

Afterwards, I wandered off back to my hotel for a nap all proud that I had tried the strangest massage Chiang Mai had to offer.

Pah, had I.

That night we went to what’s called Saturday Walking Street. It’s basically a fairly touristy market though good for a wander.

About halfway down though is a shed offering massage. I took a look at the sign and saw the phrase ‘hot foot massage, 500 baht’.

Thinking this was a bit pricey for a foot massage, I was just about to walk on when I saw flames.

Massage therapist standing on client in Chiang Mai

Huge, bright, burny flames and a man sticking his foot in them. He then put that foot on his prone client and massaged his thigh with them. WTF?

I stood there fixated for about 10 minutes. He’d massage, then after about five strokes he’d place his foot in some oil then on a surface in what was effectively a bucket of burning coals and heat it up.

Flash of fire during a fire massage in Chiang Mai

I’m guessing it’s the oil falling into this that triggers the flame. NB: My camera got a bit dramatic in the picture above – it’s not quite that bad!

I was DESPERATE to have a go, but The Boyfriend was with me and I couldn’t see a bar to leave him in while I went off and got flambeed so I had to skip it. Guess what I’m looking for next holiday………

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