Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chiang Mai: Lila Thai Massage

Besides the whole elephant thing, Justin and my favorite thing in Chiang Mai was Thai massage. I had never had a Thai massage and Justin had never had a massage of any kind, but after an arduous day of elephant riding we decided to give it a shot. We were riding around looking for another place when one of Thailand's afternoon thundershowers hit. Hopping off the scooter to wait out the storm, we found ourselves accidentally in front of the storefront of one of Lila Thai Massage's 4 Chiang Mai locations. God watches out for fools and expats, and particularly expats who are total fools.

Justin had been intrigued by Lonely Planet's listing of the Chiang Mai Womens' Prison Massage Center. According to the Kamlangjai Project, a program for female inmates affiliated with princess from the Thai royal family, Thailand has the fourth highest number of incarcerated women in the world (remarkable, seeing as the leaders - USA, China, and Russia - have vastly higher populations, and a fondness with incarceration). Women offenders, presumably nonviolent ones (it seems drugs is a common offense), are trained as masseuses to allow them find legitimate work when they are released. We had a similar program in Ohio where I grew up, where inmates could train in landscaping. The women complete 180 hours of training and then must pass a national licensing exam.

It seems, however, that the women had trouble finding massage parlors which would hire them. Hence Lila, a chain of massage parlors staffed by these former inmates.

So Justin and I went in, not really knowing what we were getting into but game. The staff all has enough English to get through the spa "menu." We chose the 1 hour Thai Traditional Massage. The price is excellent - 180 baht, or about $6, for the full hour. The lowest I saw near the old town was 150 ($5). Things start off with a foot bath, since feet are a bit gross in Thailand. I mean, culturally, they're considered dirty and low (the furthest part of the body from the head, which is the spiritual center). But they're also literally gross because it's hot and you've been walking around in sandals all day. So I fully support the foot bath.
Check out the family cankles!
After, you change into a comfy pajama-ish pair of pants and shirt and the Thai massage begins. Justin read a description of Thai massage as "like assisted yoga." Basically, imagine that massage and wrestling had a baby. Your masseuse will use her entire body to give you a working-over. Jean-Claude Van Damme's critically-acclaimed masterpiece Kickboxer includes the immortal line "They kick differently here! With knees, and elbows!" Well, in Chiang Mai, they massage differently: with knees, and elbows, and feet, and forearms, and you name it.

You have to be in good shape to even have a Thai massage. Here are some positions you might find yourself in during a Thai massage:

The Full Nelson:
The Dirty Dancing Warm-Up:
And the crazy thing is that all these contorted poses work: Thai massage feels amazing. It's like a methodical low-impact workout and stretch for every single cell in your body. Afterwards, you have all the great mellowness of a massage combined with the virtuous endorphin buzz of a workout. Justin and I went on a bit of a binge and had three Thai massages in six days, and honesty could probably have gone for at least another one or two. The women at Lila were terrific (we tried 3 of their 4 locations) and I strongly recommend them. If only they'd open up a Japan branch... at Chiang Mai prices!

1 comment:

  1. They will fight you in the traditional method, wearing as little clothing as possible.