I know. I should be better about researching an experience ahead of time. But a massage? What could be risky about that? So here's a confession: I did not understand that a Thai-style massage is not like the massages we wimpy and pampered Americans enjoy at home. A Thai massage is not for the faint of heart or those with a low tolerance for pain. Imagine yoga, which I know some of you like, done to you by someone else who is apparently committed to your discovery of the kind of enlightenment yoga brings to its devotees. After years. But this woman--she had 90 minutes to enlighten me, and she did not waste a moment pampering me.
Betsy and I asked to be together, so off they whisked us to a lovely darkly paneled room that held two futons, each with a pillow and blanket. A beautiful orchid sat on each pillow. A pair of cotton pajamas was neatly folded at the foot of each futon. So far, so good. Our two massage therapists, neither of whom spoke much English, motioned to the pajamas, lowered the lights and left us alone to change. We put on the p.j.'s and lay down on our respective futons, awaiting the kind of sleep-inducing, soothing massage experience we've come to know as wimpy, pampered Americans.
The therapists returned, and that was about it for soothing. I'm not sure what was going on on the other futon, but my therapist and me--we were lacking a certain understanding. She started on my feet, which was okay until she pulled my toes straight out from my feet, causing the loudest knuckle-cracking I've ever heard, at least from me. After she peeled me off the ceiling, she proceeded to knead my achilles tendon and calf in a way that reminded me of the kind of pain one gets from, oh, say, climbing a mountain without any preparation. I moaned. I think she took that as pleasure. Believe me. It wasn't.
Quads? Same thing. And then the yoga stuff began. She pushed, pulled and twisted me in ways that, when practicing yoga solo, I don't do, for a good reason: I can't. She, however, was fully involved and invested in my well-being, using her full body, including her feet, to put as much distance between parts of my body as possible. She worked her way down from shoulders to hands, and then did the finger-pulling she'd prepared me for with my toes, again causing a digital cacophony (and I mean that in the old-fashioned way). Oh my god, I thought. I am paying for this?
She then flipped me over and did more complicated yoga poses, making me feel like I was an unwilling participant in Dancing with the Stars, casually thrown about by a much more skilled, and generally unkind, partner. It was when Betsy looked over and saw her placing her feet on my side and twisting, and no doubt had visions of nursing me through a back injury for the coming week, that she, my guardian angel, yelled, "No! She has a bad back!" I'm not sure the therapist understood the particulars, but she got the message and relented, leaving me whimpering on the futon.
After an hour of Thai torture, she and the other therapist thanked us and exited, leaving Betsy and me looking at each other in great dismay. "This wasn't fun," I said. But more importantly, it wasn't over. They came back! Each sat behind us and propped us up against them, and then proceeded to knead our heads. Betsy liked this, but then, she likes wearing dressy shoes. I just wanted to go back to the hotel and take a hot bath, certain that my joints, muscles and probably internal organs were going to be very sore the next morning.
After the head-kneading and a few more sadistic chiropractic-like manipulations of our necks and shoulders, they thanked us again and left us alone to weep and put our clothes back on. We followed them, meekly, back down the stairs where they served us green tea and looked on approvingly, like we were works of art they had created, sculptures carved of unsuspecting stone. I drank the tea, Betsy pretended to, we tipped them, and left, running out into the dark Bangkok night, afraid to stay at HealthLand one minute longer, lest we be targeted for additional enlightenment.
I'm writing this about 14 hours after my first (and likely last) Thai massage, and am happy to report that neither of us is in the amount of pain we'd anticipated. As we licked our wounds in our hotel room last night, Betsy read from a website. "Thai massage is intended to be invigorating, not relaxing." Oh. Well, yeah, that might have been good to know about ahead of time, but there it is. Another unexpected and unplanned experience, which is the best part of travel. Right?
At the moment, I am in seat 10D on Druk Air flight 129, enjoying a cup of tea served by the prettiest and most beautifully-dressed flight attendant I've ever seen, and laughing with Betsy about our 36 hours in Bangkok. Favorite image: we saw four monks clad in their traditional bright orange robes filing out of a hot pink taxi near Wat Pho. They looked like a walking version of Baskin-Robbins rainbow sherbet, lacking only a sugar cone and some sprinkles. As I said: these lovely Thai folks? They love their color.
In about three hours, we'll land in Paro, 8000 feet higher, and hopefully dryer, than Bangkok. We drove to the airport in a horrendous downpour that started around 3 am (yes, I was awake) and by 5:30 had started to flood the surface streets around Mahidol. It was the storm Dean Windisch had warned us about, and it was easy to see the havoc it was wreaking in just a couple of hours. We were happy to leave it behind, and excited to finally be on our way to Bhutan. If you've read this far, here's my best phonetic spelling of "thank you" in Thai, the only phrase we learned: Kap koon ka!