One of the things I’ve been looking forward to since arriving in Thailand is the chance to grab one of those famous, dirt-cheap Thai massages. So when the heat and humidity got truly brutal the other day (as it does most days), it seemed like the perfect time to scratch that itch.
There are a few types of businesses that you’ll see in spades in Chiang Mai: guest houses, coffee shops, and massage centers. If I strike out for just a few minutes from my current hostel, I’ll end up passing at least 5 different places promising a full-body, hour-long massage for about $3-6.
So while I certainly could have picked one at random (and likely had a great experience), I ended up asking the guest manager here for a personal recommendation. He pointed me towards a spa known as Lila Thai Massage, which happened to be just down the road and around the corner.
I would later learn that this place was started up by the former Director of the Chiang Mai Woman’s Prison, as a community project to provide honest employment for female ex-prisoners. Apparently, this is a fairly common practice in Thailand, where tourist demand for massages is steady and where women face heavy societal pressure to provide for their entire families. If they can’t find an opportunity to earn a true living, they’re highly likely to reoffend.
So anyway – on to the massage!
I found the place easily, and selected the standard full-body massage from a price sheet (200 baht, or around $6). One of the several Thai women gathered in the lobby pointed me towards a wash basin sitting on the floor in the corner. I was a bit confused for a second, but it turns out that the first step in this massage was to wash the visitor’s dirty, travel-weary feet. As the oldest lady in the room crouched down to scrub my bare toes, I couldn’t help but feel a bit lordly – at least until the ticklishness kicked in. But I held it together pretty well. Mostly.
Next, I was led upstairs and presented with a billowy button-up shirt and a pair of Thai fisherman’s pants. I suppose it only makes sense that you can’t get an effective massage in a close-fitting tee and a pair of jeans. After changing, and trying (and failing) to get a neat clean cinch on the pants, my soon-to-be-masseuse directed me to lay, back-down, on a thin mat on the floor of the next room.
One by one, she gave each limb a thorough stretching, rubbing, contorting, and finger/toe-popping. When I flipped onto my stomach, she actually hopped onto my back to really hit the shoulders. And, of course, to do that move where she sits on the back of my thighs, grabs my arms, and pulls my upper body waaaaay back and up.
Perhaps because this was all so new to me, it was hard at times to totally zone out and ignore the specifics of what was going on. But even so, this really melted a lot of tension away – my shoulders in particular had never felt better. I could definitely see myself going back for more in the coming weeks.
I’m hopping a bus north to Pai in a couple of hours, but will be back in Chiang Mai soon. More updates to come!