Thailand has not been kind to my health.
Luckily David and I have both avoided getting serious food poisoning so far, and we haven’t succumbed to any of the scary diseases we read about before moving here (malaria! encephalitis! oh my!). But we have both had major sinus issues.
I fully blame my recent nose problems on a combination of Chiang Mai’s air pollution and my constant interaction with germy little kiddos who don’t have soap in their bathrooms (my final exam last semester included a section where I had to shake 200 kids hands…ick). The air is super gross here, and from what I hear, it’s only going to get worse once the burning season starts in the spring.
So I recently went to an herbal steam house here in Chiang Mai in an effort to heal my sinuses. It didn’t totally clear things up, but I still think it was a fun, affordable activity that most people might not know about.
For 140 baht (about $4 USD), you get one hour in a private little sauna, a towel and sarong, a private locker with a key, drinking water, hot tea, and a nice herbal body scrub.
There was also a little bottle of soap in the shower that you could use too, but I’d recommend bringing your own soap and shampoo/conditioner if you want to do a full shower at the end.
This particular place also has massages for 180 baht, which is a little more expensive than some other places I’ve seen, but that still means you could get a massage and an hour long sauna for less than $10 USD total. Not bad, not bad at all.
The man who greeted me when I went is super friendly and speaks English really well. He was also nice enough to explain all the details to me, since I had never been to a Thai steam house before. There was also a helpful sign in the back that you could refer to for directions.
He led me through the massage parlor to the back of the building where there were a few private, closet-like sauna rooms with a bench inside each one. At the very back of the room were a few showers which he instructed me to use about every 10 minutes.
He told me that you should shower, then steam for 10 minutes, then shower, then steam for 10 minutes, and so on for a full hour.
During the second round of steaming, you get a cup of pastey brown stuff that you can rub all over your face and body, and it’s supposed to have medicinal effects for your skin. The Thai guy told me it’s called tanaka scrub, and that it’s commonly used in Myanmar. It reminded me of the white mud that people were smearing on at Iceland‘s Blue Lagoon.
I double-checked with the Thai guy that it’s okay put the tanaka scrub on my face, and he confirmed it was. I had no breakouts in the following days (I just felt ultra soft for 24 hours!), but of course everyone’s skin is different.
The steam itself is also supposed to have healing properties. Apparently, they use a mixture of 13 different herbs in the steam, including lemongrass which gave it a distinct, fresh smell.
There’s a little handle inside of your steam room that you can use to turn the steam on and off, but I found it was too hot to really touch, so when I felt overheated, I just stepped outside for a breather.
Speaking of breathing, the guy told me to breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose, like you’re meditating. It made me cough a lot in the beginning but by the end I really felt like my nose and lungs had cleared up a lot, making it much easier to do the breathing routine.
Fair warning: The benches in the steam room weren’t very clean (in fact, they kind of looked like they had mold on them) but after so many months in Asia it just didn’t phase me. Things are dirty here. I’m learning to accept that. That being said, if you’re easily grossed out or require luxury spa level cleanliness, this place probably isn’t for you.
At the end of your hour session, you do your final shower and then take a few minutes to yourself to sip some hot tea and water. When I went, I was the only person there so I felt like I could take things at my own pace and really relax.
Overall, I think it was a fun activity, especially for those days when you’re just feeling a little stuffy :)
Also, don’t trust the Trip Advisor map! Find the real Herbal Steam House here: