A real Thai massage in Bangkok

I land in Bangkok just after midnight, and by the time I get to my hotel it’s after 2. I figure this is great news for getting my sleep on track: to recoup from my 28 hours of travel and the impending jetlag, I plan to sleep, eat, and relax until I don’t want to anymore. So I pass out until 11 the next day.

ImageI’ve booked what is supposedly a two-star hotel, and I’m unsure what I should think of the result. The room itself seems clean-ish, although I can’t be positive due to the dinginess of the furniture. It is located on a one-way street tucked away in a maze of small local shops — most displaying long bolts of cloth, so I assume they are tailors. I wander around and inspect the hotel’s pool. That, at least, looks just like the photos online: long and clean and devoid of people.

The restaurant is also devoid of people when I have coconut curry seafood for lunch, sitting on a balcony with the breeze blowing in from the street. The food is delicious, but so spicy that it burns the roof of my mouth. I search in vain through my Thai phrasebook for next time, but “not too spicy, please,” is not to be found.


And then I set out for my main goal for the day: the massage. I ask about one at reception, but there’s a slight problem. Of the two women on duty, one is a non-local who speaks very little Thai, and the other is a local who speaks no English. After ten minutes of confusion, I’m taken outside, pointed in one direction, and told to walk that way. So I do. Halfway down the street, I remember that I have no map and no address for the hotel. Also, I do not speak Thai. I figure that’s fine; I’ll just keep track of where I’m going. I walk in a straight line until I get to a busy street displaying various spa and salon signs. Then I wander until I find a door with the word “massage” on it, and the prices: 150 baht ($5) for 1 something, 250 ($8) for 2 something. I assume those are the prices per hour, and indeed they are when I walk in and ask. I peek around, and there are five local people sprawled across six low padded tables, getting prodded, stretched and slapped by four Thai women and one Thai man. The other clients are all lying in loose-fitting, modest clothing with their eyes closed as their limbs are manipulated. I look down at my summer dress and feel a moment of panic. However, my masseuse calmly hands me a pair of thin cotton pants and a shirt, and shows me to the bathroom.

This outfit is so enormous and shapeless that once I put it on I can’t help giggling at myself. The drawstring waistband wraps around my waist twice. I parade out in this ensemble, lie down and immediately wonder if I’ve made a mistake coming here. Again, I speak no Thai, and the tiny woman attending to me is making me think the locals must be extreme yoga devotees with rhino skin just to ensure the massages don’t dislocate their hips and/or mottle them with bruises. After ten minutes of torture I grimace. She asks in sign language if everything is Ok, and I reply in what I hope is a legible gesture that I’d like it a little softer, please. This actually seems to work. However, the damage has already been done, and later I discover that, indeed, my shins are mottled in blue.

The entire duration of my massage, the Thai masseuses chat with each other as their clients all pretend to be comatose. Twice, my masseuse answers her phone with one hand while she pokes me with the other. Casual massage, I keep thinking. This is how it’s so inexpensive. No frills at all, at least by Western standards.

When my hour is up, I leave, trying to figure out if I feel better or worse. I walk back to the hotel with no problems. Mission accomplished, I guess.

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