In a room softly lit by flickering candles, with soothing Asian music the only sound, a young man kneels next to a woman lying on her back on a thick mat. Both are fully clothed. He grasps one of her legs, bends it at the knee and presses and rotates the lower leg until it forms a 90-degree angle. Then, as she keeps that knee bent, he takes her other leg in his hands and, with the leg fully extended, presses it toward her face.
They hold this pretzel-like position for several seconds as she breathes rhythmically, then he increases the pressure.
On the next mat, a man stands behind a woman seated in the lotus position. He bends his knees, pressing down on her shoulders while he gently grasps her head in his hands and pulls upward, stretching and rotating her neck. More rhythmic breathing. More stretching.
This is classical Thai massage, a discipline that has been practiced for more than 2,500 years in Southeast Asia and now has found its way to the Scottsdale Airpark.
That’s thanks to Chau Lam, a massage therapist from New York who founded Thai Royal Massage soon after arriving in Arizona in 2010.
“When I moved here, I recognized that Arizona didn’t have Thai massage,” Lam says, “and that’s when I realized I could start a business to provide it.”
The first location was in the Mekong Plaza in Mesa, a marketplace featuring Asian food, products and services. It was a natural fit for Lam’s massage services, which include traditional Thai massage, foot massage and head-to-toe reflexology. The business grew quickly after its January 2011 opening, thanks largely to word-of-mouth recommendations from customers who came from all over the Valley.
“We had a lot of repeat business because of our customer service,” Lam says. Social media also helped, with positive reviews on Yelp and other sites.
“Our goal was to open another location six months to a year later, and we opened in Old Town Scottsdale in 2012. The North Scottsdale location was going to open in 2013, but there were delays with the lease and construction, and we opened the end of May this year,” says Lam. “We chose the Airpark area because it is a great fit with our business model, which is to provide high-quality Thai massage to our customers. Also, this location cut down the travel time for our existing customers who live in the area.”
With his latest location, Lam also expanded services to include facials (for face and back), waxing and other skin care. He renamed the Airpark business Thai Royal Massage Spa to reflect the added spa options.
The customers and therapists work on thick mats in a single large room, with curtains partially separating the mats. Couples and groups of families and friends often book sessions together. Appointments run from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the service. To celebrate the grand opening of the Airpark location, customers there will receive 20 percent off any services through the end of the year.
Lam began with eight employees. Today he has about 40. The practitioners are experienced massage therapists who take additional training in traditional Thai techniques.
“When we first opened, it was kind of hard to find the practitioners who did Thai massage,” Lam says. “Now they have heard of us, and I have people calling me to ask about positions here.”
The Thai Difference
Traditional Thai massage incorporates Hatha Yoga, acupressure and reflexology. The practitioner uses his or her entire body—arms, elbows, knees, even feet—to move the client into a variety of positions, using firm, rhythmic pressure and stretching to improve flexibility.
It’s like yoga, only someone else does the moving for you. And like yoga, the positions can be intimidating for the initiate.
“When people first see it, some of them get scared,” Lam says, “but after they get it done, they love it. The staff knows how far they can go with the pressure.
The technique promotes healing of mind, body and soul, Lam adds. “Before they come in, our clients will be really stressed, and after they come out, their minds are refreshed—they’re like a new person.”
In fact, the customers can be so relaxed that they will just walk out the door, locker key in hand, wearing the spa’s flip-flops and forgetting the shoes they stowed before their session.
Lam plans to open his fourth location, in Chandler Gateway, before Christmas. That location also will offer spa services.
“Our goal is to open a new location each year,” Lam says. “We’re looking to grow all over the Valley.”
Thai Royal Massage Spa
Scottsdale Airpark: 15444 N. Greenway-Hayden Loop, 480-315-2828
Old Town Scottsdale: 4408 N. Miller Road, Suite 104, 480-429-2828
Mesa: 66 S. Dobson Road, No. 105, 480-668-2828