While living for month in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, I decided it was finally time for me to experience this famous massage they do here in Thailand named, funnily enough, a Thai massage. Having had only one other massage in my entire life I figured it couldn’t be much different. A massage is still a massage, right? Well, it’s not. A Thai massage is a workout in itself. Limbs are twisted into impossible figurations, joints are pulled to near-breaking point, and a little woman grabs your wrists behind you, puts her feet into the midsection of your back and pulls as if her life depends on it. In short, it kinda hurts.
But, you’ve got to try these things at least once. And if it’s only once, then you’d better do it right. So, off I went to the prison Spa and Massage Center. That’s right, I said prison.
The Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center was established as a center for learning and experience for the prisoners of the Chiang Mai Womens Prison. In a bid to better prepare them for reintergration into society, the women attend classes or receive vocational training during their sentence in trades such as massage, computing or baking (among many others), to help them build the necessary skills, experience and confidence they need to survive on the outside. In the last six months of their sentence they are given more opportunities to work outside the prison, either in offices or at the center itself, with lighter supervision. The learning and application of these skills allows many of the women to generate their own income long before they’ve left the prison which they can use as a base to set themselves up.
Enter Spa and Massage Center. This peaceful center is based in a beautiful old teak house just across from the old prison walls and is run with the upmost efficiency. You have to arrive first thing in the morning – before 10:30 – to book a space as there are limited vacancies and the place works on a first-come first-served basis. It is super popular, and there’s no ringing ahead or booking in advance, either. Even if you have to wait an hour or so, like I did, there’s a cafe on site which is part of the training center as well. Prices are similar to other massages in the area: I paid 180 baht for an hour.
Apart from the stern looking police officer-cum-receptionist you wouldn’t even know this place is part of a prison. There are no bars on the windows, the waitresses come and go mere meters from the outside world, and there are no walls or gates surrounding the complex. The massage parlour itself is elegantly decorated, with – I’m gonna say it – luxurious bathrooms to change in, and a serenely quiet room despite the number of people moving around in it. The women were quiet and polite and perfectly professional, and certainly delivered on the goods. As I said before, this was my first dabble in the Thai massage department, but some thorough (for my standards anyway – have you read the name of the blog?) research into the review columns of various websites have certainly suggested these girls are the best on the block. The entire Chiang Mai block that is.
Her thumbs of steel left me loose and limber, and I was sent on my merry way – still in my fluffy slippers – with a cup of tea even.
So if you’re in Chiang Mai, or heading that way, and you are in dire need of some physical abuse (I’m joking, honestly) therapeutic Thai massaging then go and see these ladies. It’s not only a great massage but a great social project in action.
Click on the map to see where to go!