Thai Massage: Prepare to be touched

Everywhere we’ve been in South East Asia so far we hear voices calling to us from every direction, all of them saying the same thing in the same tone:  “Eh Laydee, you wanna massage?”  We sought out a massage in Hanoi and it was so bad it’s not worth mentioning.  Ever since then we cringed at the idea of trying another.  With these massages, anything could happen.  We could get hurt, or swindled, or just end up wasting time. 

In Thailand, however, we had heard the massages were regularly phenomenal no matter where you went.  With this assurance, we decided to try again.  Thai massages are legendary, we just didn’t know why.  It wasn’t until my foot was thrown over this lady’s shoulder and her heel wedged itself into my bum that I found out.  When they say full body massage, they really mean full body.  And not just your body, but the masseuse’s full body too.  The other day in my massage the woman threw my arms over my head, pulled my whole body backwards onto her bent legs and had me arch my back using her as support.  Then she stood on top of me.

At one point, I looked over at Jill and her masseuse was sitting on her butt, leaning forward on Jill’s back nudging her elbows into Jill’s muscles.  Jill looked so serene I figured she was either really enjoying this intensive treatment or had simply been squashed dead.  She did look flatter.

In a traditional Thai massage, the masseuse starts at the extremities and works inwards.  They pull on your fingers and toes, press firmly on different spots in your forehead, and alternate compression and stretching, gradually working toward your butt, back, neck and shoulders.  Then they contort you.  They contort themselves.  Eventually, such contortion forces your muscles to submit. 

The most impressive thing about these massages was how creative they were.  I never knew how compression upon one’s thighs helps relieve tension in the whole leg, or a headlock can be a great position for someone to twist your back for you.   Did you know that standing on some one’s bum and pulling back on their arms stretches them out and actually relaxes them? 

Massages, I feel, have the potential to be both uncomfortable and awkward.   You don’t know what is going to happen next, and because of this it gets difficult to relax.  What I found particularly difficult was that I couldn’t rely on humor if ever I got uncomfortable, either physically or socially.  These ladies rarely speak good enough English, so getting a massage essentially entails a strange woman with whom you cannot communicate pressing her hands right into your groin and you can’t do anything about it.  My advice is to get passed this.  It is not your job to ease tension, it’s theirs.  That is what you are paying them to do.  You might as well sit back and relax and enjoy it when they stand on top of you.

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