5 April 2003 - Hatyai, Thailand
A Traditional Thai Massage

After the rigours of a traditional Thai steam bath, it was time to try the more famous Thai massage. Mr Ooi assured me that he knew of a good one in the middle of town, and on Saturday afternoon we jumped on the nearest bus and round into downtown Hatyai.

I say "bus", but what I mean is "pickup truck", because that's what it is. The truck goes up and down a pre-determined route and there's no official bus stop or anything like that. Anybody hailing one on the dusty side of the road is entitled to one.

As a preamble, Mr Ooi first led me up and down the various market places. They are like squashed indoor shopping complexes, selling everything from T-shirts to electronic goods to traditional medicines, criss-crossed by narrow alleyways. You have to walk sideways at times to squeeze past other customers and the occasional motorcyclist. The electricity had gone down as we were getting out of one - I can't begin to imagine the heat and discomfort.

We finally made our way to the massage parlour. I wondered if Mr Ooi had made a mistake, because the inside was gaudily decorated with red carpet, walls and probably the ceiling if I had bothered to look up. There were a gaggle of female masseuurs in the corner, and to be honest, I'm sure any massage parlour worth its salt in Hatyai is flexible enough to cater for all kinds of clientle. However, Ooi was particular enough to say that we were here speicifically for the massage of muscles and stretching of tendons and not anything else. Actually, I'm not sure exactly what he said, because my Thai is non-existant, but I'm sure that was the drift.

For those who don't know (and that included me at the time) the, the procedure is this: you are led to a room and you are given this loose robe to put on. I suppose you're meant to strip buck naked and put it on, but I left my underwear on, because I didn't really think about it at the time. You then get your feet washed and scrubbed and then the massage begins.

It begins with a gentle kneading of the feet, calves and thighs. I now fully understand what a fine line it is between traditional massage and the more exotic kind - about an inch or so, I would guess. The masseuse makes full use of her weight to press down on muscles, and it only takes a slight shift of weight sometimes to move from PG-rated to 18-rated, which would have been difficult to accept anyway, seeing that Mr Ooi was on the next bed. But I digress.

After the first half hour or so, I was thinking "this ain't so bad - what's the fuss?". All I had been subject to was gentle pressure on both the arms and legs, with a little bit of stretching. I am not ashamed that although I may seem nimble and flexible on the outside, pushing my leg anything past the 45 degree angle is one sure way to see me suffer.

But, sometime after 70 minutes or so it starts to get interesting. You now understand what the whole process of the first part of the massage is about. It's to relax you so wholly and completely that you have gradually submitted under the will of the masseuse. Suddenly she starts posing you in various ways, all the while, saying "relax", because the first instinct of your body when it is so handled is to try to move your limbs back to something approximating a normal position. Like one where your arm is wrapped three times around your head.

Remember that this is the traditional version - it's like a line referring to "Career Girl Barbie" from Spilt Gravy on Rice - "Can bend arms and legs everywhere, but cannot part the legs".

But, wow, whenever she says "relax", you know it's a precursor to some muscle-wrenching activity. I didn't realise that my muscles had sub-muscles until that day.

At the end of it all is a calming down period, and there is a head rub. I like head rubs, they really feel good, although in this case I half-expected to hear the word "relax" and find my head turned 360 degrees like some captive owl. When the whole thing is over, I felt very relaxed. Very, very relaxed. It is absolutely incredible, no wonder Errolyn loves massages.

All in all, in cost us 200 Baht each for two hours. This is kinda cheap compared to what you get in KL - more than RM100, I think.


posted on Monday, April 07, 2003 - permalink
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