I must admit, I was apprehensive. Thankfully in our everyday lives we very rarely have to interact with criminals, so voluntarily entering a working correctional institution in Chiang Mai, and getting a massage off an inmate was going to be…interesting!
Massage in Chiang Mai
We’d heard about a women’s correctional institution in Chiang Mai which runs a program providing inmates with a stepping stone back into being productive members of society. That stepping stone in Thailand is (of course) Thai massage. So we signed up, intrigued to see what the place and people were like.
We arrived and were greeted by three female guards who kindly, but firmly, stated that there wasn’t enough time for us get our massages that day. As we were running short on time in Chiang Mai, and wouldn’t be able to return, we gently pressed and asked if perhaps one of us could get a massage. After a bit of shrugging and discussion between the guards, we had our massage time slotted in at the very end of the day!
We were led into the massage room, which consisted of 10 mattresses on the floor, and a number of inmates massaging people. Quickly scanning the room, there was no outwardly discernible common thread to the girls. Some looked very young, were tiny and couldn’t have looked more innocent if they tried! Others, a little older and streetwise. We wondered what they had done to end up in the prison. What crime had our masseuses committed? What would they think of us?
A quick welcoming ‘Sabaidee’ and I’m led to the back of the massage room to change into my prison issue threads – I ended up looking more like an inmate than any of the masseuses.
As for my massage: no aromatherapy oils, no soothing music to drift off to, no hot towels. Just me, a mattress and a female inmate ready to soothe away my aching muscles, or so I thought. What came next was an hour of intense Thai massage, the most brutal (but best) I have experienced yet. I think my masseuse took great delight in bending me in ways I didn’t imagine possible, and laughing at me when my lack of flexibility became apparent.
On more than one occasion the massage almost descended into wrestling, with the masseuse clambering on top of me, wrapping her legs around mine (imagine a figure four leg lock from WWF and you’ll be close) and stretching out muscles I never knew I had. She seemed to be revelling in it, me not so sure. All the while she was happily chatting away to her fellow colleague/inmate.
An hour later and it was all over. We thanked our masseuses, changed back into our civilian clothing and we were back on the street walking past beautiful temples and cafes again. Had we really just been in a female prison to get a massage?
Afterwards we wondered whether this was a good thing for the inmates or simply a chance for foreigners to see some criminals. The scheme is sponsored by Royal decree, and in the end we chose to believe in the worthy endeavours of rehabilitation for the inmates. It seems everyone wins; we got a cheap massage, inmates get training for their eventual re-integration back into society, and they also get to look and laugh at the variety of people who to visit them for a massage. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai it’s worth checking out!
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