Archive for December, 2011

Price of Pleasure

Massage tip #1: don’t ever ask a Thai masseuse for a strong massage.

I consider myself an expert, a connoisseur, of massages in Southeast Asia. I’ve had about 100 massages in this part of the world – on the beach, in fancy hotels, down back alleys, from blind masseuses, women in lingerie, in Bali, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. And my absolute favorite are Thai massages.

In the United States, massage therapists use their fingers, hands and sometimes their elbows. But here in Thailand, they also use their forearms, knees, shins, and feet. Their foot is bracing your thigh while they’re leaning back and pulling on your calf. They get into each and every crevice, frequently I have to open my eyes and see what contortionist trick they are employing this time. It’s amazing.

I’m still on Koh Mook, Thailand, a small island with only one massage business (usually there are hundreds of masseuses in Thai cities). They have three open-air massage huts on the beach, and since they have a corner on the market it’s almost double the going rate at $11 an hour. I walk up to the desk and ask for a Thai massage. She calls over to another woman who approaches me. My usual strategy is to seek an older, thicker woman, and always steer clear of the inexperienced 18-25 year olds weighing under 100 pounds (in Vietnam, most of the masseuses match this description). This masseuse looks a bit green to me, so on the recommendation of a friend, I ask for Cat, telling her I want a strong massage. The receptionist tells me she is Cat, looks me up and down, sizing me up, shakes her head as if I can’t handle her and insists on the other woman.

It turns out Meow is an amazing masseuse and really works on my frozen shoulder. She clucks in sympathy when I occasionally grimace in pain from my shoulder. A few days later, I return and ask for Meow again. By the end of the second massage, Meow tells me if my shoulder is still hurting, I should ask for Cat. Finally, I’ve been greenlit to see Cat!

So a few days pass and I return asking for Cat. I’m lying on my back and she starts on my left leg. From her first touch, she is rough and it hurts, and not the good kind of hurt. Usually masseuses ease into it but Cat is immediately manhandling me in unpleasant ways. I grit my teeth, breathe deeply and tell myself this is what I wanted. By the time she gets to my second leg, I realize I’m being silly and there is no way I can enjoy this so meekly ask her to make it a bit softer. Cat immediately laughs, mocking me, repeating my request for a “strong massage!” Not wanting to get on her bad side, I return her laugh and tell her she is too strong for me. She tells me she is not too strong, waggles a single finger at me and softly presses it into my thigh and it hurts like crazy. As she starts working on my frozen shoulder, her cell phone rings and she answers it, cradling it and chatting away. Now she’s really not focused on me while she’s continuing her rough style and I start to yelp in pain. Even after she hangs up the phone, she is digging into my shoulder and I’m screaming and laughing at the same time at the absurdity. Occasionally raising my head to look at the other prospective customers, drooling and telling them not to worry, I have shoulder problems.

The next morning, I wake up and my shoulder really does feel so much better! But I also notice my legs, arms and back are littered with bruises. So I’m taking a break from massages for now. And next time, I’m asking for Meow.



Read Full Post »

This is Paradise

My final weekend in Seattle was rough. I’d spent weeks saying goodbye to friends and running errands. So my last 48 hours were mostly spent alone. I packed up my room so my mother can find a roommate, and portioned all my future belongings into three bags. A backpack for six months of travelling (weighing in at 32 pounds, way too heavy!), another bag some friends are bringing to Bali next month so I’ll have personal effects when I settle down in Vietnam mid-2012, and a final box my mother is bringing when she visits me in January 2013. It was fun to select my must-have items and imagine my new life in Vietnam, including occasions to wear my many party dresses! It wasn’t all smiles though, and I cried a lot that weekend. Phone calls, emails, in-person goodbye’s – I was a mess. Fortunately, a friend drove me and my mom to the airport as we clutched each other for a tear-filled ride. Once I got to the airport, I was absolutely fine and ready for the journey ahead.

I’ve been in Southern Thailand for one week and it is absolute paradise. Stayed in Ao Nang, Krabi, a small beach town and did a whole lotta nothin’ – just the way I like it. My quiet resort was outside town, just a short one mile walk to a lovely yoga studio. A few weeks ago I developed a frozen shoulder, and hauling a 32 pound backpack across 10,000 miles has only worsened the pain. Daily yoga practice has really helped with increasing my range of motion and reducing the pain. Three massages in one week has been pretty amazing as well! And lots of swimming in the sea. Staggeringly beautiful Railay Beach is a short 5-minute boat ride away. It’s the beach scene of movies. Limestone cliffs surrounding a white sand beach. Crystal blue water so clear I can see my toe-nail polish. Craggy islands dot the horizon. And it’s not even crowded!

My first yoga class was bliss. It’s an open air studio with the sounds of the country wafting through the room. Chickens clucking, birds chirping, trees rustling. A smile lights the corner of my mouth, a deep sigh permeating my body. The Thai yoga teacher comes around adjusting people, and during the final relaxation (savasana) he gongs the bowl next to me and I feel heat and electricity between us, instantaneously developing a crush. After class, he immediately approaches me and we brazenly flirt, to the point I feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s one thing for me to have a private crush, but would I really go on a man-date my second day in Thailand?!?

Today, I’m in transit to another beautiful quiet island, Koh Muk. I’ve taken the long cheap route that takes 8 hours and includes 2 mini-vans, a ferry and boat ride. But I don’t mind at all because while waiting for my next van, I went to the local outdoor market and ate delicious chicken satay and cucumber salad for $1. I’m staying in a $16 bungalow near the beach, with sunset yoga at the local dive shop. Maybe I’ll even go scuba diving on Christmas!



Read Full Post »