I don't know if there is anything more ubiquitous than a foot massage shop on the streets of Thailand. In every city, and even in the smaller villages, they exist. Many times the workers sit outside the shop, coaxing the passerby to enter. "Massage, massage", they cry out to any who will listen.
Jobs are hard to come by in Thailand. Especially anything that will pay a good salary. At times, I will strike up a conversation during a foot massage and inquire into their salary. I know that seems like a rude thing to do in the USA, but they really don't mind here in Thailand. In fact, they seem quite eager to share the information with you if you're interested.
After having surveyed a number of workers in these establishments, it would appear that a good average for their monthly salary would be in the ฿20,000 range. That translates into roughly $700 US per month. Now the cost-of-living is lower in Thailand but that is still a difficult wage to get by on.
The cost of a one hour foot massage averages about ฿300 per hour. That's about $9 US per hour. Most people will tip in the 50 to 100 ฿ range or about $1.50 to $3.00. The masseuse gets half of the massage money and all of the tip money, so for an hour of strenuous work, they will make around six dollars per hour give or take a buck. But they are not paid for the hours of sitting around time waiting on a customer.
There are always more masseuses available than patrons. The masseuse is in a queue, and you get the next one available when you enter. You can select a masseuse if there is one that you know who does a good job, but I've never done that myself. It just seems unfair to the next one in the queue.
But you are at the mercy of the quality of the masseuse. Certainly some are much better than others. The key to a good massage is the amount of pressure they apply to the foot and the leg. You want them to really squeeze out those toxins and remove any tightness that may be present. I usually tip according to the quality of the massage. They are usually quite happy with ฿100 tip for an hour work, and I usually tip that amount if they do a quality job.
I was told by a masseuse once that it was difficult for her to get work, because the men would come in and always request the pretty girls to give them the massage. But I don't really understand that, because if you want a good massage, you want to get the larger, stronger women. Like this lady:
But obviously that's not a guarantee. But the more veteran they are, the more likely you will get a quality massage.
Before the massage starts, they always wash your feet first. In the Asian culture, dirty feet are considered very offensive.
Hard at work on my hairy legs.
I know it's very tempting for the Westerner to over tip in these situations. They know compared to their country that this is an incredible deal. Often they will overcompensate by tipping too much. But that is really a mistake, as it messes up the local economy. It drives up the expectation for even the locals to do that when they cannot afford it. It also can be a source of resentment to those who do not tip a wacky amount.
I would say that over 95% of the masseuses in Thailand are women. But occasionally, upon entry, I will be unfortunate enough to get a man next in the queue. I have a deep aversion to having a man massage and this is the only time that I will reject the next person in queue. But they always seem to understand and there's no hard feelings.
The life of a masseuse in Thailand is a difficult one. They only get a couple of days off per month and they work extraordinary long hours of up to 16 hours per day. But most of that time is just spent sitting around.. If you do the math on the ฿20,000 they make per month and divide that by the hourly wage when they're working, you come up with about 100 hours of massages per month. That's only slightly over three massages per day of one hour in length. That means out of their 16 hour day, they're sitting around for 13 hours of it. Most of this time is sitting outside the shop, that means outside the air-conditioning too. They are expected to solicit customers who walk by the shop. I heard one remark one time how happy she was to get a customer so she could come in out of the Thai heat and enjoy the air conditioning for an hour. Yeah, life is not easy in Thailand.