When I arrived in Chiang Mai at the beginning of February, one month into being in Thailand, I still hadn’t had a Thai massage. Why did it take me so long? There are a couple of reasons. One – I would never pay for a massage at home as I find the idea of paying someone to touch me a bit on the weird side. Like, I don’t need to pay someone to get my jollies, know what I mean? Two – if I was going to have a Thai massage, then I wanted it to be from this one particular place I had heard about in Chiang Mai. A women’s prison.
I didn’t want to have a massage in a prison for any kinky reasons, sorry to disappoint, but I was very intrigued by the idea of a prison encouraging its inmates to give massages to people in the local community. So what is so cool about it? I will tell you. The Chiang Mai Correctional Institution aims to inspire a culture of optimism within its inmates, to help them believe that there are opportunities waiting for them on the other side of the prison gates. Those are all nice words, but this facility practices what it preaches by teaching the inmates vocational skills that will help them upon their release.
This is where the magic happens.
While the massages used to be done on the prison site, the prison has now moved just outside of Chiang Mai, so the massage centre, as well as an associated café, has moved just down the street to a beautiful teak house right in the centre of the city. So, I arrived at the grounds of this teak house and was promptly greeted with a smile from one of the inmates working in the café. I ordered a lemon ice tea and set about booking my first ever Thai massage. It turns out that the place is pretty popular and I was lucky to snag the last appointment of the day – get there early to ensure that you can get your massage. When you enter the facility, you’ll also notice many craft products on sale – again, all made by the female prisoners who are being taught new skills that will benefit them on the outside.
Oh hai, prison products.
I turned up to my Thai massage appointment without really knowing what to expect. I was handed some huge trousers and a top to put on, and I emerged from the changing room to be confronted by a sympathetic face of my masseuse. I had, of course, put these garments on totally incorrectly, and she had to re-dress me – not embarrassing at all. And then we got stuck into it. If you’ve ever had a Thai massage you will know that it doesn’t really resemble the kind of massage that you would get at home. It’s a lot more, erm, aerobic. While being being prodded, squeezed, and manipulated into all kinds of positions, I was certainly grateful for my flexible body. When I say prodded and squeezed, I don’t mean it in a bad way – it was actually quite pleasant to have my body moved into these weird contortions, and I much preferred it to all that sensual stroking of Western massages. The only part I wasn’t so keen on, was having my fingers pulled one by one – I’m amazed they weren’t all dangling out of their sockets by the end of the experience.
The massage felt good, yes, but undoubtedly the best part of this massage experience was being able to contribute to getting these women back on their feet. This is no slave labour – all of the inmates get paid a wage for their work, and since they aren’t exactly frittering away their cash while behind bars, it means that they can leave prison with a tidy sum, helping them to integrate back into society with far greater ease once they have served their time. If that’s not bloody cool, then I don’t know what is. And don’t worry about having your massage from Thailand’s answer to Myra Hindley; the women working in the facility are all serving sentences for non-violent crimes. I’m not really sure if it’s necessary for them to be there at all, but as long as they are, then at least they have this program to get them on the straight and narrow. Three cheers for the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution!
If you would like to receive a Thai massage or foot massage from an inmate of the facility, head over to 100 Rachvithi Rd right in the heart of Chiang Mai. Enjoy!