I focused on my breathing, attempting to block out the pain, “oh yes, this is gooood. Really good”.
“You so strong! I push so hard and most, they say stop, you stop! But… you okay?”
I was told by a Thai that a good massage is the right of every Thai person. It is an essential part of daily life. We had decided we wanted to give it a try and as we walked down the street we were drawn to a sign that was advertising just that. It was a cartoon sketch of a woman on her stomach with her back arched painfully high. Her arms were being pulled backward by a women kneeling behind her with a long sleek pony tail. It looked painful yet both characters had serene smiles painted on their faces.
Shoot, for $5 an hour, we couldn’t pass it up. Brad and I both requested traditional Thai massages, less commonly known as Thai Yoga Therapy.
As we stood in the street, a lady in her fifties cheerfully welcomed us in. She made a quick phone call and by the time my feet had been soaked and scrubbed in water, another woman appeared on a scooter, beads of sweat on her face, eager to get to work. I followed the motorcycle lady around to the other side of a bookshelf which divided her massage room from the street. She flipped on two oscillating fans while I lowered myself onto a hard mattress on the floor. I quickly realized that the Western interpretation of a massage did not translate into the same thing in Thai. I repeatedly caught myself on the verge of laughing or crying, unable to believe Motorcycle Lady’s power. She not only used her hands, but the weight of her entire body, alternating between the use of her knees, elbows, feet and toes.
I was twisted into pretzel shapes, bounced on top of, and my fingers and toes were pulled until they snapped with the sound of popped bubble gum. Sometimes Motorcycle Lady would sit in front of me, and using one leg as an anchor, would press her toes into my upper hamstrings. She would then dig her heel deep into the crevice of my inner thigh and crotch, each time pushing a little harder and a little longer. While a foot to the groin may sound pleasant, it mostly just hurt. Finally I was able to lay my head on a pillow which rested on her lap. I thought this sounded quite pleasant as well, yet what this position allowed her to do was dig deeper into her briefcase of pain. She sought out and found each knot in my back, twanging on them like guitar strings. It was intense.
Like every good massage however, it ended nicely. My temples and eyebrows were rubbed and my head was tenderly scratched. The whole experience was absolutely fantastic in the strangest sort of way.
This glorious massage went down in a town called Prachup Khiri Khan. It’s the town that sits at the county’s narrowest point, where there are only 8.1 miles from the Burmese border to Thailand’s coast. We arrived via a busy road filled with tiny trucks and their tremendous loads of produce.
In the back of one of these trucks a net covered an exploding pile of coconuts. Nestled atop were two workers and a gnarly looking monkey, trained in the fine art of pulling coconuts. He looked bored and tired, uninterested by the commanding view from atop. Farther up the road, we stopped to buy banana chips and a full tank of gas, only to realize that we were short on cash by nearly the entire sum of the bill. No problem – a cheerful gas attendant ported Brad down the street on his motorbike to a nearby ATM. I was held as collateral, anxiously awaiting Brad’s return.
Once in Prachuap, a leisurely walk down the beach made it evident that this village was far more focused on fishing than tourism. It was unpretentious and intriguing and historically interesting: it was location of the first invasion by Japanese troops along the Gulf Coast during World War II. The bay was picturesque with tropical blue water and bobbing wooden trawler boats.
Boats congregated and fisherman busily waded waist deep in the water, carrying seemingly endless bins of fat juicy fish. We watched a local man purchase a bin of fish, and then it was the job of a little boy to find and pull out the fish that were damaged and unsellable. The remaining bins were moved from the beach to the road by an assembly line of workers. The workers shielded their bodies from the sun fully covering their arms, legs, and faces. They wore long sleeves and pants and wide brimmed hats with a flap of extended fabric reaching down and around the neck and tied under the chin.
At midday, instead of people on the boardwalk, trays and trays of framed metal fencing rested against the cement wall. Atop were neat rows of squid and bits of fish left to dry in the sun. Across the street residents napped through the hottest hours of the day. They snoozed the hours away on raised platforms with thatched roofs, essentially the Asian equivalent to the Western patio, less the lawn chairs, table and umbrella. Napping in Thailand (and through much of the non-Western world) is a common sight. It is just what they do during the warmest hours of the day.
In the evening, we wandered into a busy restaurant. Being so close to Burma, there was plenty of Burmese influence within the town. In fact, the girls running the restaurant were Burmese, as evidenced by the thanakha cream smeared on their cheeks. After much hand signaling and giggling from our waitress, we ordered a few random dishes: spicy seafood salad and deep fried silver whiting fish with a green mango salsa. The spicy seafood salad, or yam ta-lair was exceptionally delicious- a perfect balance of sweet and spicy, made of a mix of shrimp, squid, octopus, and mussels, mixed with green onion, coriander, and celery leaves and soaked in a spicy lime sauce. As for the deep fried silver whiting, that came out as quite a surprise: a plate of a few dozen bite sized fish, butterflied and fried, with ribs and spine intact and irremovable. I quickly decided that this was going to be a throw away dish, way too much work for such little meat. The thought of sorting out needle sized fish bones in my mouth was also quite unappealing. I stared at the dish in frustration, but Brad went for it, dipping the little fish bodies in the mango salsa and popping them in his mouth whole. I eventually did the same, and then, like the Thai massage poster from earlier in the day, we melted into our chairs, serene smiles painted on our faces.