Ok, so Thai massage. Anyone know about it? I had a vague notion of what Thai massage would be before venturing into Southeast Asia, but it wasn't until after my first session that I learned really what it was all about. Being a massage junkie, and particularly a fan of deep tissue massage, I felt well-prepared for anything. Turns out, not so much.
My first massage of the trip was at the Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution, of all places. I mean - a massage at a prison? Sign me up, just for the novelty of it. It turns out that the massage program is a way for the inmates set to be released within six months to learn a trade to provide them with the skills for employment once they leave. So off we went, eager to support the cause.
I quickly learned that Thai massage is more like a combination of massage, yoga and a visit to the chiropractor. There's a lot of manipulation, stretching, cracking… oh, and a bit of massaging. But really, more like pressing - hard! These diminutive Asian women would crawl all over you, move you in unexpected ways, and press down on your muscles with the force of someone ten times their size. Many a time I felt like crying uncle. The massages are generally done on the floor, without oil; draping is fairly nonexistent as well. And for this first time out the gate, I was even given these odd paper panties and head bonnet to wear (?), perhaps for modesty reasons since the massages were done in a room with several other people at the same time. But we were all topless… so go figure.
Despite my naiveté surrounding the whole experience, I came out of the massage feeling great, and would go on to have many many more before my journey was over (in private spa treatment rooms, in my hotel room, with oil, without oil, 90 minutes, two hours… I think I found every possible combination). It was an affordable luxury - an hour massage averaged about $15 - so I booked one at every opportunity. And each time, the local hospitality rang through - beverages and snacks of fresh fruit accompanied each treatment, and as always, there was never any rush.