Thailand’s culture is one of peace, serenity, and kindness. Sure, Thailand has its moments. You might not say Khao San Road, Patpong, or their ping-pong shows are particularly serene, but on the whole you’ll agree, that Thai people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet. Expat lifestyle in Thailand is equally as laid-back, and an important part of any visit to the country is a visit to a massage parlour. Bloggers wax lyrical about the fated, aroma-filled rooms, as if all ailments can be cured by the touch of the master magical masseuses.
Before making this trip, Katherine managed to fool me into believing that Thai massages are sent from heaven itself. Eager to get involved in Thailand’s culture, and under the spell of jasmine-soaked naivety, I was excited, albeit nervous, to try the massages.
Well you can imagine my trepidation when Katherine coaxed me into a massage parlour run by ex-Prisoners in Chiang Mai. TripAdvisor gives the place it’s top rating, so we thought where better to try? At least it’ll make a good story. We approached the place money-in-hand and had our feet washed. Immediately put on edge by someone washing my feet, we followed the diminutive masseuses into the moody, dimly-lit parlour and noticed that there was no one else in there. Who would save me if I could take no more pain?
All of the important items and icons from the stories were present; rows of beds, incense, pictures of the Thai monarchy, and images of Buddha. We were handed our robes, changed into them, and laid on the beds as instructed. What happened in the next hour is too dark to describe. Safe to say, it was not relaxing. A combination of sharp joints (mainly elbows) in deep-muscle tissue, stifled cries of pain, and silent whimpers of ‘what are you doing?!’ and I resolved to never return to one of these hell-holes.
Three-weeks later, I’m lying on a massage bed smothered face-down by a Tiger Balm-covered pillow wondering what the hell happened. In Koh Tao, we’d given it another try. Katherine didn’t really enjoy her first massage either, and we thought perhaps we’d had a bad experience (duh). We did the necessaries; shoes off, robe up, lay down, resign to your fate.
It was Groundhog Day. Elbows in crotches, heels up backsides, knuckles in neck-joints. You’re twisted into inhuman positions, stretched in ways muscles are not designed to stretch, especially if you’re an inflexible 6ft 3. I tried. I tried so hard to enjoy it. I tried so hard to feel relaxed. I focused on breathing, on the tension that was being released by the master magical masseuse’s piston-like fingers. But is very hard to concentrate on relaxation when someone’s elbow is buried deep in muscles an inch to the left of your vital organs.
The most amazing thing of this whole episode, is that people actually feel relaxed after these massages. I watched my lovely girlfriend walk out of the torture chamber euphoric that this massage was perfect; ‘so much better than the first one’ she says, eyes-wide, grinning.
There is absolutely, categorically, NOTHING relaxing about a traditional Thai massage. There is nothing relaxing about the terror you feel hearing your spine crack and thinking you’ll never walk again. There is nothing relaxing about having your muscles, nerves, and bones voluntarily pulverised by a stranger, to achieve some feeling of relaxation. No pain, no gain? Just don’t bloody bother.
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