By Ian Chow, Certified Massage Therapist / Infant Massage Instructor / Oncology Massage Trainer
Length: 7 mins read (1481 words)
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The massage industry is definitely thriving again with many major brands now spring board back to almost how they used to be (at least in the operation, may not be financial yet due to the losses from past years with the Covid pandemic).
At the same time, I also see the birth of many individual therapists who operate at their house or providing outcall services. Some of them are legit with proper training but some just learn from their peers or worse, YouTube. The moment they start their routine, you can almost tell that you will be going through some cringe worthy moments if you are lucky, if not, a torment for the next 60 mins or so.
Meanwhile, when comes to quality especially when you are aiming at general wellness massage, going to an established brand definitely won’t go wrong. Not only you can be sure of the hygiene level but also the technique and consistency by the therapists representing that brand.
Recently, I pampered myself and went back-to-back to four well-known brands, possibly the four main premium massage retail chains currently in Malaysia. Plus, also for me to see how the mainstream industry is at the moment. Below are the brands that I have chosen (in no order of importance, in alphabetical order).
Ayu Borneo – currently with 10 branches around Klang Valley and came into the market strongly after the pandemic.
Healthland – currently with 16 branches around Klang Valley with 4 Signature outlets.
Siam Oasis – currently with 6 branches around Klang Valley with 1 coming up soon. Also expanding extensively in Johor Bahru and has two joint venture branch with Healthland.
Thai Odyssey – the longest standing brand among the four which currently has 26 branches alone in Klang Valley and many more in 6 different states.
All these brands have a variety of services offered including loyalty packages and gift vouchers. To ensure the fairness of my opinion, I have picked similar service (massage modality), time length and the hour that I go to. I am not a fan of the traditional Thai modality hence I picked oil based Thai massage for 90 mins. Here are my thoughts:
TLDR: All the four brands have great standard and class when it comes to ambiance, cleanliness, customer service and therapist skill; you won’t go wrong. What set them apart is mainly the price with Ayu Borneo being the most affordable plus, it also boils down to your own personal preference and brand loyalty.
What you see at the store front, what you smell and hear as soon as you step into the outlet will certainly form the first impression. If you have been to more than enough massages, this almost become the tell-tale sign whether you will be enjoying your actual massage session soon after.
When it comes to ambiance, I do favour Thai Odyssey (not to say the other 3 are no good). But there is just something that Thai Odyssey did with their space design / flow and the lighting that makes me feel extra comfortable.
Then, Thai Odyssey and Siam Oasis do have proper room for the session meanwhile Ayu Borneo and Healthland are curtain partitioned. Also, what I dislike about the latter, the curtain are always open a bit when the session is happening. I do find that lacking of privacy. However upon reading their T&C, it states that it is the local town council requirement that this is to be done with all male client (with the curtain open at 10%)
For all the brands, their rooms come equipped with cloth hanger, small desk and ample space for you to put your belonging, not forgetting, a comfy massage table which is important as you will be on it for the next 90 mins or so.
In general, I find all the 4 brands did not lose out in any way in this section.
Having said that, in the smell department, I find that each brand is pretty generic which is heavy on lemongrass. Why not consider collaborating with some aromatherapist to come up with a signature smell; ala a 5 star or boutique hotel, there is always a signature smell as soon as you step into the lobby.
A suggestion: It will be a high point for the performing arts industry and a feather in the cap for the brand, if any of the Big 4 could actually work with our local sound scape or sound designer to come up with a custom-made soundtrack to be played at their outlets.
This is another important factor that will also create a good or bad first impression. The Big 4 does not fail in this aspect. You can expect warm and friendly receptionist manning the counter. They may or may not be local but they are definitely very customer service oriented. Even the therapist themselves are friendly despite at times being a long day for them.
One item that I wish for these brands to do, not addressing their team members as “masseuse” but address them as “therapist” instead. “Masseuse” has this connotation that it is associated with those providing erotic massage. It is high time for us to bring the industry up a notch by using proper terminology and the Big 4 certainly has the power to make that change.
Facility & Cleanliness
All of them keep a high level of hygiene and sanitization practice. The therapist do wear mask throughout the session too. They have done away with the face shield and glove which I am glad cos I really don’t see any point of such practice to prevent the spread of Covid, when they already have other measures in place.
In terms of facilities, all of them do have a waiting area, foot washing area, a segment for body massage area, a segment for foot massage area and toilet inside the same vicinity (including those outlets that are located within a shopping centre). You do have to change to the provided slipper and they will keep your shoe nicely for you.
After the session, you will be served tea but you could also ask for it before the session begins which they will gladly do so. In fact, Siam Oasis did offer without asking.
With the Big 4, I have done a detail review of their session hence I won’t repeat what I went through for each brand. If you are interested, you can read more about it here:
Ayu Borneo, Healthland, Siam Oasis, Thai Odyssey
I find all four of the brands have quality and consistency in how they conduct each massage session. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the therapist are mostly graduates from the same school or being taught by the same teachers. In short, you won’t go wrong with any one of them. You can be sure that you will get a session with good standards in place, every time you go.
For Siam Oasis and Thai Odyssey, it is part of the package where you can choose the oil that you prefer. There is quite a number of choices e.g. for energy, relaxing, muscle etc. Meanwhile Healthland and Ayu Borneo, you have to pay extra for it.
Meanwhile, one item that stood out slightly for me is where Ayu Borneo signature massage do come inclusive with hotstone treatment.
This is the one area where there are some differences. Among the four, with the service that I chose, Ayu Borneo is the most affordable (comparing the normal price). On top of that, they also have happy hour rate from 11am to 5pm on weekdays which makes their rate even more economical. Plus, there is an option to upgrade to a session of 120 mins (with RM10 top up) instead of 90 mins. Even after the upgrade, they are still the cheapest among the four.
Heathland do have happy hour as well (11am to 3pm) and their happy hour also extend to weekend (but with slightly higher price).
Thai Odyssey and Siam Oasis are pretty premium in their pricing.
For all the brands, upfront payment has to be made before the session begins. I don’t remember this was the case before the pandemic but this is not a huge deterrent factor.
At the end of the day, beside all the above, I guess the next criteria on how one chooses which brand to frequent will also depend on the brand loyalty as well as location convenience. Oh! An observation by one of my massage buddy; Thai Odyssey and Siam Oasis are mostly located inside shopping malls meanwhile Ayu Borneo and Healthland are at shop lots.
For me, I will still continue my brand hopping but for now, will favour Ayu Borneo and Healthland due to their happy hour price.