BANGKOK -- Thailand has long been known as the massage capital of the world. Now, it has a Guinness World Record to prove it.
A record-breaking 641 massage therapists mass-massaged 641 people simultaneously for 12 minutes to win the honor Thursday at an indoor exhibition hall in Bangkok. The event was organized by the Ministry of Public Health to promote the Southeast Asian nation's massage and spa industry.
The therapists more than doubled the previous record – attained in Australia in 2010 – of 263 people being massaged at the same time for five minutes.
"It was easy because this is what we do every day for a living," said 53-year-old Chayanan Chanwuttisawan, one of the mostly female masseuses who took part in the event. "I'm proud of myself and my profession. I never thought we'd have a chance to be recognized like this."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the spectacle, and a senior representative from Guinness Records, Rob Molloy, was on hand to certify the feat.
Although some of Thailand's massage parlors notoriously double as fronts for prostitution, the vast majority are legitimate spas offering everything from aromatherapy to foot rubs to Thai "traditional massage" – an ancient art offered at shops across Bangkok that is still practiced and taught at the city's revered Wat Pho temple.
A traditional massage lasts two hours. An abbreviated version was on display Thursday as therapists, dressed in traditional garb, demonstrated their skills on a sea of thin sky blue mats spread across the floor. To a soundtrack of dreamy music that included the sound of chirping crickets, they went through their repertoire with a series of massage positions choreographed by the tinkling of a bell.
The event ended quietly, but hands went up and therapists cheered after Mollow confirmed they had won a Guinness Record shortly afterward.
"I felt I was enchanted," Yingluck told reporters afterward. "I felt calm and relaxed watching them. I felt really relaxed."
Chayanan said the therapists who participated were given a video from the Ministry of Public Health to practice with. They are part of an army that the Health Ministry estimates numbers 50,000 nationwide and an industry that generates at least 13 billion baht ($415 million) annually.
Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri has said he wants to see the industry bring in even more revenue. The National News Bureau of Thailand reported last week that the government "is aiming to make Thailand the world's ultimate destination for massage, with plans to improve the quality of the workers, offer more massage classes to the public and set up a massage center in every hospital."
Associated Press writer Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.