If you’ve ever received a great therapeutic massage in Southeast Asia, you know what it’s like to enjoy true service while getting excellent value for money. I’ve been on a quest to find that anywhere outside Asia, and so far, not many spas can compare. The spa at the Mandarin Oriental is the only Asian-style spa that I could find so far that as true Asian service, but the prices are of course on the luxury side of the scale. My man received therapeutic massages in Asia and dragged me to several of the Chinese “spas” in Southern California, but these places are a travesty and many of the people giving the massages are clearly not properly trained or qualified to give massages in the first place.
I’ve always wanted to try an authentic Thai massage and now that I’m a regular yoga practitioner, I’ve been looking to get a massage that is combined with deep stretching. Known today as “Thai massage” or “Thai yoga massage”, this form of therapeutic massage is actually an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga/stretching postures.
I searched for “authentic Thai massage” and found that Chaba Thai Massage & Spa had a lot of decent reviews on Yelp. Thankfully their website also listed the owner’s credentials, so I was comfortable that Chaba was indeed a legit Thai massage establishment. Somporn Guenther is the owner/operator of Chaba Thai Massage & Spa. The website used to say that Somporn was educated in the art of Thai Massage at the Watpro Traditional Medical School in Bangkok, Thailand, has 500 hours of Massage Therapy schooling at the Americana College in Los Angeles specializing in Traditional Thai Massage and is also CAMTC certified.
The spa’s description reads: “With it’s Traditional Thai decor and furnishings, along with its relaxing Thai music and complimentary herbal tea, Chaba Thai Massage & Spa provides its customers with an atmosphere of actually being in Thailand without leaving the country.” That wasn’t just creative copywriting. You wouldn’t think that a spa located in a dingy-looking strip mall straddling the freeway would be nice, let alone authentically Thai, but that description was totally accurate. I haven’t seen or felt that kind of Asian ambiance since I was in Bali, and while I was in Chaba I actually did feel like I was back in Southeast Asia for a few minutes.
There are no facilities other than the lounge, but what a beautiful lounge it is. The Newport Beach location is constructed with all decorative wood on the walls and floors. Tropical plants and flowers (albeit fake) adorn beautiful water features and all the other intricately-carved Thai decor. Buddha is omnipresent, adorned in gold, and sitting peacefully in wood, adding to the Zen vibe of the place. Both this location and their former Costa Mesa spa were constructed to resemble an upscale Thai Massage & Spa establishment that you’d find in Thailand. I also appreciated the signs asking nicely for quiet and no talking on cellphones while in the spa. The therapists reinforced this, always talking in whispers.
Because I didn’t really know what I was in for, I booked only an hour-long Thai massage ($60). There are other treatments on the menu, like scrubs and hot stone massages. Their treatments are an hour, 90 minutes, or 2 hours. On the website it stated that “Traditional Thai massage is an ancient system of healing with its root in yoga. A fluidly blends gentle rocking, rhythmic, acupressure, twist, assisted stretches and meditation to relax and revitalize body and mind.”
At the time of booking, I was pretty stressed out and physically felt a bit sensitive, so I was hesitant to book anything longer than an hour for my first try at Thai massage. Thankfully I needn’t have worried so much, but it’s a good thing that I did take precautions. Somporn asked me when I checked in what I was looking for, and also asked me if I wanted to someone to walk on my back during my appointment. I politely declined so she had me fill out a particular set of forms. If you want someone to walk on you, it’s a different treatment room and a different set of forms to fill out, because this is the US and you can’t have someone walk on your back without waiving your right to sue afterwards if anything goes wrong.
On the forms they also get you to indicate what areas of your body you want the therapist to focus on and what level of pressure you are comfortable with. They also ask you to indicate what you don’t want touched or are sensitive about. My calves are sensitive to deep pressure, so I made sure to tell them that.
After taking my shoes and putting them away, my little Thai therapist led me through the beautiful lounge to the treatment room, which was also constructed in dark wood on the walls and floors and made me feel like I was in Thailand. She told me to undress on the top, gave me a giant pair of cotton pants to wear over my underwear and then instructed me to lay face-down on the table. There was no face cradle. Instead she had set up one towel that went under my chest, and another that went under my forehead. It was surprisingly comfortable.
Most of the massage involved acupressure and other gliding strokes or movements. She really got into the areas that were troubling me — namely my back, shoulders and neck — and climbed up on the table and sat on my legs to dig in. It was a lot like the Shiatsu massages I’ve received in the past. She asked me at the start if stretching during the massage was OK. Of course I said yes. I would say that only a small portion of the massage involved stretching and assisted yoga postures though, which I was a little bummed about because that was the part I was looking forward to the most.
Although the massage was a little short on the stretching, overall it was excellent and the therapist clearly knew what she was doing. Everything she did was well-considered, intentional. I could tell she was very strong, but she was applying her strength appropriately for me. She stuck to the level of pressure I asked for and even went light on my calves as I requested.
She did use some kind of lotion or oil on me, even though authentic and true Thai massage supposedly does not use them. I’m really wary of the products some of these lower-end spas use (especially the Chinese spas) because most of the time they will will make me break out — wherever they were put on me. One of the nicest parts about this massage was that when she was done with an area, she busted out a hot towel to wipe off the product, and the towel was infused with lemongrass. It was a nice surprise, and really lovely to boot.
I was a bit worried that she would massage my face with oil or lotion on her fingers but again, she was very considerate and didn’t do that. Instead, when she massaged my face, she pulled up the towel that was under my head, put it under her fingers and massaged me without ever touching my overly-sensitive skin. This was a nice touch, and I was pleasantly surprised and super appreciative of this fine detail.
I really enjoyed and appreciated the stretches that we did do, which mostly involved my legs and back. Even though I’m pretty flexible, she stretched me pretty far, and effectively.
Service by everyone at Chaba was gracious and considerate, in true Asian form. After my massage, my therapist offered me hot tea or water. I chose tea and was given some kind of green tea, which she had set up in the lounge so I could sit for a minute before I left. There’s no real need to check out per se, as you pay in advance for the treatments you receive. The only thing you do at the end is tip, and that’s got to be done in cash.
If you are looking for a massage that provides excellent value for money, Chaba is the place to go. Every one-hour massage treatment is $60, and a hot stone or herb ball add-on is an extra $30. One-hour scrubs are $85. There are no spa facilities like a sauna or steam room, which is kind of a shame, but again, at these prices, who can complain?
- Couples Treatment Room
$$ = Cheap and cheerful
$$$ = Mid-range
Chaba Thai Massage & Spa can be found at:
1000 Bristol St. North, Ste 19
Newport Beach, CA 92660
HOURS OF OPERATION
Open Daily 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
Call (949) 863-1773 to book your appointment.