Mention Thai massage to anyone and the most common response you'll get will be "ouch", "it hurts" or "it's torture".
To some, a massage is meant to relax and to allow the mind to unwind. But to those initiated into the art of Thai massage, it is a session of endurance, mindfulness and, well, painful pleasure.
Having only tried cheap, roadside massages in the Land of Smiles, my introduction to traditional Thai massage did not start off well, especially after a bad experience at a relatively popular wellness chain in Bangkok many years ago.
But my fear of backbreaking, painful massage was dispelled after a 70-minute herbal scrub and massage session at Ayuthaya Royal Thai Spa. And I thank my yoga practice for this, but more of that later.
Tucked away in a quiet corner on the third floor of Rendezvous Hotel, the award-winning spa has been around for 11 years. It was previously located at the Gallery Hotel and its second branch can be found at Treetops Executive Residences along Orange Grove Road.
I caught a gentle whiff of aromatherapy oils right before I opened the door and as soon as I stepped in, the peaceful ambience of the spa immediately set my senses at ease. The facilities and room looked new and clean. The spa wasn't too big, with eight treatment rooms in total.
I was given a choice between an oil massage and a traditional Thai massage. I went with the latter, a bit fearful of what I had just signed up for but there was no backing out.
We started off with the herbal scrub, which I found a bit too abrasive on my skin at first but I started to get used to it after a few minutes. My therapist Wart (pronounced "Waht") gave me a thorough scrubbing and never failed to checked with me if I was okay. In less than 5 minutes, I started to feel relaxed.
After my entire body was given a good scrub, I took a quick shower and was given a pair of comfortable, lightweight cotton pajamas. Unlike other massages, traditional Thai massage is usually done clothed as it is a form of "dry" massage with no oils used.
Techniques used include a lot of deep thumb pressure and rhythmic strokes, pulling and stretching, as well as being moved into certain positions to stretch the muscles. Some areas, such as my tight shoulders and calves, did hurt quite a bit as Wart tried her best to remove the "knots" in the muscle tissues.
While Wart used a lot of her hands to massage, she also used her legs, feet and elbow to target various muscle groups and in different postures too. Certain postures, such as twisting the torso and then pulling the arm to stretch the muscles, might be a bit too much for some but for those who practice yoga, these stretching postures may seem familiar.
Because of the stretching poses, Thai massage is also known as Thai yoga massage. The session ended with a seated forward bending position with Wart using a pillow to gently lean on my back to press me forwards.
After changing out of the pajamas, I was led out to the reception area for a nice cup of warm Matoom or bael fruit tea.
I left Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa feeling energised and mindful of the extent and limitations of my body. Unlike other massage sessions where my mind was entirely relaxed, Thai traditional massage allowed me to focus my mind on various parts of my body, pretty much like yoga. It did feel as though I had just ended a yoga session, which is probably why some people refer to Thai massage as "lazy yoga".
Will I do Thai massage again after my experience here? Definitely. Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa has changed my mind about Thai massage and I must say I am now a convert.
According to managing director Rosalin Montrisuksirikul, besides the Royal Thai Massage and Thai Herbal Body Polish which I tried, another signature treatment of theirs is the Thai Herbal Heat Compress ($88 for 30 mins), which is an ancient holistic treatment that helps relax aching muscles.
Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa also offers facial treatments, manicures and pedicures, as well as spa packages that combine different treatments.
Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa is at Rendezvous Hotel, 9 Bras Basah Road #03-03, Singapore 189559.
Get 50 per cent off a la carte Royal Thai massage session at Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa (original price starts from $168). Promotion ends Aug 31, 2015 and is valid at Rendezvous Hotel branch only.
Visit http://www.ayuthayaspa.com or call +65 6223 9180 for more information.