…put your hands all over my body…

This post is probably not what about what you think it’s about, but the lyrics in the title seemed fitting, even though, thanks to Jackie Oates and Eliza Carthy, all I can think of with this song is ‘Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body’ instead of the Madonna classic.  I’m not telling you why the lyrics got changed (it’s not dodgy, don’t worry) but now that’s all you’ll ever hear for this song.  You’re welcome.

No, this post is about my first experiences of professional massage. See how the title makes sense now?

In Bangkok I paired up with a lovely Irish lady I met called Yvonne and we had a Thai massage in one of the streets just off Koh San Road.  We thought it would be more fun to go in together and it was entertaining.  As Yvonne had short shorts on, she was given a pair of trousers and we were both led into a seedy looking back room, divided by a slightly stained curtain and directed to lie on some cleanish covered mattresses on the floor by two male masseurs.

We then had 30 minutes massage (costing about £2.50 I think, can’t fully remember now, sorry) where they applied pressure to different areas of feet, legs, back, arms, shoulders and neck.  I have to say, I didn’t think my leg could bend that far, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable.  We have now discovered that my feet are ridiculously ticklish and if you use that against me I will not be pleased.

The only issue during this massage was that someone else (male) was getting a massage from a lady behind the curtain, very near to where my head was positioned and there were, let’s say, interesting sounds coming from the other side. It sounded slippery, but luckily he was just having an oil massage.  Phew.

Anyway, Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it’s useful) describes Thai massage like this:

‘The massage recipient changes into loose, comfortable clothes and lies on a mat or firm mattress on the floor. It can be done solo or in a group of a dozen or so patients in the same large room. The receiver may be positioned in a variety of yoga-like positions during the course of the massage, but deep static and rhythmic pressures form the core of the massage.

The massage practitioner leans on the recipient’s body using hands and usually straight forearms locked at the elbow to apply firm rhythmic pressure. The massage generally follows designated lines (Sen) in the body. Legs and feet of the giver can be used to fixate the body or limbs of the recipient. In other positions, hands fixate the body, while the feet do the massaging action. A full Thai massage session typically lasts two hours or more, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body; this may include pulling fingers, toes, ears, cracking the knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and manipulating the recipients body into many different positions. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage, which the practitioner will adjust to fit each individual client.’

I’d read in the guidebooks that a good option in Chiang Mai, is to have a massage from a blind practitioner.  It provides jobs for local blind people and is a different experience, as their lack of sight means they have heightened other senses, resulting in a more intense massage than usual.

I gave it a go, and, yes, this is certainly more intense, but I felt more relaxed afterwards than I had before.  I didn’t go to the Women’s Prison Clinic, as I’d planned (mainly because I couldn’t find it) but there were other options closer to my hostel and recommended by the travel agent who was sorting out my Vietnamese visa for me.

I didn’t have to change, as I had loose fitting trousers and a vest top on, so lay down on the bed and the lady got to work.  There was certainly more pressure and she reacted when I winced.  This was mainly around my left knee, as I’m always concerned about it dislocating, but that wasn’t easy to explain when I don’t speak Thai and she had basic English.   My calves were also an issue, when she rubbed and pressed them it felt like I was getting cramp, but I am putting this down to being more active at the moment and my legs not quite being up to it yet.  The rest of the massage was really good, although it is odd to have someone pulling at your toes so that they click, and putting pressure on your spine next to your skull.

(Previously the main times when I’ve had cramp in my legs have been Saturday mornings after Friday Night Curry Club in Mwanza, where I’d drunk too much whiskey and not enough water. So my own fault. )

So when I wandered over to the Blind Massage here in Saigon, I thought I knew what I was in for.  I paid my 60,000 dong (£1.74) for an hour in an air conditioned room and was handed a ticket with braille on explaining what I’d paid for.  I waited outside the Women’s section for a little while and read my book before being taken through.  The lady said I should take off my dress and put my belongings in the cupboard, which I did, but then she put a hand on my shoulder and indicated I needed to take off my bra too.  This is new for me, I don’t normally have my boobs out in front of strangers, even in changing rooms, but I did it anyway, threw it in the cupboard,which she locked and gave me the key.  (I kept my pants on, I’m not sure I was meant to though.)

I lay face down on a massage table with a hole in for my face, a little small for my face, to be honest, and, having covered my middle with a towel she got to work.

The room was cool, the bed reasonably comfortable and the place smelled of Vics Vaporub.  I thought that was what she was rubbing into my back, but it was talcum powder.

She was really good, working on my shoulders and back with gentle but firm pressure in straight lines and circles then non-painful karate chops, then she moved onto my legs, then asked my to turn over and did the front of my legs.  She went outside briefly then came back and massaged my temples, forehead and scalp, again with some circular motions and karate chops – not really expecting those.

This was definitely the best of the three and I’m really tempted to go back tomorrow once I’ve been to the museums and before my 6 hour bus trip to Cambodia on Monday.

I’m still covered in talc though.

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