Chiang Mai massage: An eye-opener

Posted by on Sep 25, 2012 in 2012 Travels | 0 comments

I have just had the most amazing massage. Let me tell you about it.

At today’s lunch break of my thai massage course (day two), three of us went to the local cafe on the corner. It was hard work explaining that I didn’t want anything with meat but I was happy when my food arrived. This was an improvement on yesterday when I chose fried rice and kale only to be confronted with a load of pork. Some explaining was required.

Anyway, so we joined Horacio, a Spanish guy who’s also at Sunshine Massage School but is a week ahead of us. He said that they’d been told that they had to get as many massages as possible whilst in Chiang Mai and next on his list was a massage at the School for the Blind. “I’ll have some of that!” I thought.

And so after class finished at 4pm and some Googling later, I was in the back of a tuk tuk heading for a dark street within the old city walls. The driver pointed me towards a white backlit sign and zipped off into the humid night.

A gecko darted across the sign and, as I approached, a lady sitting behind a desk greeted me. “You want massaaaaage?” I chose a standard hour’s Thai massage and I paid the astoundingly small amount of 180 baht (about £3.60).

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She led me into a back room with about eight beds lined up. Four were taken with Thai people receiving massages. The masseurs and masseuses skillfully moved around the bodies and the customers were like zombies – dead weights being pulled and stretched in every direction.

The lady pointed to a bed and I was introduced to my masseur – a young guy of probably no more than 20, wearing an earpiece that I guessed went to a mobile phone in his pocket. I’d already said to the woman that I wanted a soft massage as I’d read online that they were known for their needlepoint accuracy and deft touch.

I was pleased I piped up as I dread to think what a hard massage from this guy would be like. But, boy, he was good. We’ve been learning so far on the course about massaging the legs – working with the flows of energy or ‘sen lines’ and you massage along these to remove blockages. Yesterday I was struggling to locate sen line 1 and 2 on Alan, a 6ft 3in muscley American guy. This masseur could have found them a mile away.

He worked around my body using his palms and thumbs and released knot after knot. At times he was standing on the floor and then he would clamber up so he was kneeling on the bed next to me. The fact that he couldn’t see made me feel more able to obviously watch his technique.

The guy on the bed next to me was dying. The woman working on him seemed to be performing some kind of magic fast-fingered combination on his knees which made him cry out in agony. He resorted to stuffing a towel in his mouth to stifle his groans and when he saw me looking at him, he pulled the curtain in front of his face. I’ve always been told not to stare. I never learn.

An hour later and my masseur’s speaking clock told me it was over. I thanked him and walked out. I stopped to talk to the lady on the door and asked where was good to eat nearby. She suggested a place down the dark, silent road and I set out with trepidation. I’m now sitting in what can only be described as a goldmine. It’s a place called Huen Phen and I’m surrounded by beaten up Buddha statues, treadles from old Singer sewing machines, pot plants and wooden Chinese dragons. There’s old french posters on the walls and Nina Simone playing. It’s like sitting eating in an ethnic antique shop in Camden Market. There’s also printed articles on show from when it’s been featured in Conde Nast Traveller magazine and some Japanese magazines too.

I was brave an ordered papaya salad with local crab. I think it was a step too far. The crab was chopped up and its tiny pincers clawed at my papaya. With tea, It came to less than £2. Anyway, good to try these things!

I guess that’s the case with my entire evening – you’ve got to give everything a go or you’ll never know.

So far I really like Chiang Mai. If only it wasn’t quite so steamy hot…

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