I had a whole day all to myself to discover the old walled city of Chiang Mai – aimlessly wandering around discovering unknown streets and hidden soi (alleys), turning left, no why not right, going wherever my eyes and feet lead me. I took my sweet time in shops touching and admiring every wonderful item contemplating how I could fit everything in my backpack (of course, after some reasoning on my part I knew it wasn’t possible).
I visited temples not bothered by a fixed timetable nor by the never-ending groups of tourists photobombing my shots (okay that did bother me!). I took detailed pictures of tooth-bearing serpents, sitting buddhas and glowing golden-tipped stupas. This was a day to savor!
But I do have a small confession to make – I did have a slight plan in mind. Ever since I knew we would be going to Thailand, I was determined to get a massage.
A real massage.
A Thai Massage.
So on this day free for me to do whatever I pleased, my only concern was where to go to get my long-awaited massage. Let me set this up for you: massage salons in Thailand are at every corner – no, wait, not every corner but rather every ten steps. Really, seriously – how is a girl to choose?? But fear not, after doing a little research flipping through my PDF version of Lonely Planet, I decided to basically eliminate all but two of the salons: the Thai Massage Conservation Club and the Vocational Training Center of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute. The major difference between the two is that one of them only employs blind masseuses while the other only employs female inmates transitioning to life after imprisonment. Both good causes but I could only choose one.
As the day went on and my whole body was aching from all that walking and temple-seeing, I needed to make a decision. I chose to go to the Thai Massage Conservation Club (Thai Blind Massage). I based my decision on the fact that the visually-impaired are known to have a sort of sixth sense – one that I figured would make a difference in the way they gave a massage.
And I was right.
First of all, erase any images you have of massage salons decorated with glittering chandeliers, damask wallpaper and invitingly comfortable white leather lounge chairs with the typical splashes of gold accents. Done? Ok now you can read on.
The majority of massage salons in Thailand (with the exception of a few higher end ones) look more like the reception area of a run-down insurance office from the 1970’s. I know it doesn’t sound very glamorous but let me assure you all their efforts go into giving their clients a very efficient massage – one to be remembered.
When I walked in I expected to be taken to a private room, asked to fully undress and handed a white sheet to cover myself. Wrong. There was only one common room with five massage tables and optional sliding curtains that were closed only for certain people (I assume) – example monks (there was one next to me getting a massage). And, to my surprise, I remained fully dressed.
My masseuse was, of course, blind but spoke enough English to tell me what to do – now back, now left side, now stomach. I chose the full-body massage and it began smoothly with my feet (ah…so nice!) then my thighs (&&!?#* the pain!!) and then each part of my aching body causing me to grimace and squint each time he firmly pressed his diligent little fingers in my flesh.
When my masseuse would find a knot, he would let out a small chuckle, grin and teasingly ask me in his Thai accent – you okay? I hardly had enough breath to answer but he already knew I was in deep pain which seemed to add to his pleasure – not so much mine. He knew exactly where I needed the most work done and persistently continued to massage those exact areas until he was satisfied – and until I was
almost in tears. I was relieved that he was blind this way he couldn’t see the tears I so desperately and unsuccessfully tried to hold back.
The whole time I was being massaged, all the masseuses were quietly chatting and laughing – it wasn’t the peaceful setting one would expect from a massage salon. It wasn’t noisy in any way but it was unusual for a Westerner like myself. Just like when my masseuse was behind me diligently pressing his knees into my back, he casually let out a loud, unapologetic burp! I looked around to see if anybody would react and listened for a condemning remark but everybody just went on like nothing happened – it was just normal. So normal in fact that another masseuse also let out a burp. Good thing nobody could see the quizzical look on my face.
I’ve, of course, had massages before back home in Montreal but this one was different in more ways than one. First of all, the fact that I was fully dressed made it more comfortable and much-less awkward (like it can sometimes be when you’re butt-naked). Second of all, my masseuse was fully committed to performing the task at hand (no pun intended). No need for relaxing background sounds of waves crashing or soft, sleep-inducing music or the use of any massage oils – his bare hands were enough to get the work done. This was serious business.
After an hour of wavering between pleasure and pain it was over. I wasn’t sure if or how I would make it back to the hotel (about a 20-minute walk). I felt like I had been hit by a thousand rolling boulders. After thanking my masseuse, I slowly got off the table and made my way out the door and then it happened – I was floating on air! I felt like I had a whole new body void of any recollection of any pain I previously had – I had never felt better. I had a huge smile pasted on my face all the way to the hotel; I couldn’t believe how good I felt!
In the end despite all the pain and tears, I truly enjoyed my experience. I can say it was well worth it especially for only 200 bahts which is less than $6USD. At that price, I definitely plan on getting another massage – but next time I’ll make sure to bring some tissues (how cute is this stuffed planter tissue box?).
Have you ever had a Thai massage? Pain or pleasure? Let me know in the comments below!