Bent over my map of Chiang Mai with Dao, the matter-of-fact mother of Libra Guesthouse, she runs through a few highlights of the city, hands on her petite hips, concluding with, “For best Thai massage go here,” she says plucking up a pen and circling an intersection in the heart of the Old City. “It’s a woman’s prison.”
Did I hear her correctly? I don’t want to keep her and decide not to inquire further. I nod politely in my ignorance, “Okay, kòp kun khâ. Thank you for the insight, Dao.”
Upon further research, I learn that you can indeed receive a massage from the inmates of the Women’s Correctional Institution for 180 Baht/hour (roughly $6). The women are not axe murders but serving time for minor offenses and are part of a rehabilitation program for the final six months of their sentence. They’re taught cooking and massage skills and basic English language. Wages are set aside for the women. Most of them find the work rewarding and look forward to applying their newly acquired skills once free to function in society.
I arrive at the facility just after 11:00 and am delighted to learn that the wait is only 35 minutes. I take a number and order an iced tea from the site’s café. It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning. I sit in the garden taking in the sunshine and the sounds of the city streets while I wait. Street vendors serve up absurdly sweet yet refreshing juices, birds chirp in the trees overhead, motorbikes pass.
A young woman no older than nineteen years old in embellished turquoise scrubs comes to fetch me. “Number two?” she asks sweetly in timid, broken English. I finish off the last of my iced tea, kick my shoes off at the door and slide my feet into the house slippers she delicately places in front of me.
Entering the facility felt like any other spa or massage establishment – the sound of a trickling water fountain and soothing music, the aroma of fresh flowers and dim lighting – all creating a soothing ambiance.
I change into the customary massage garb. The kind inmate escorts me to one of many tables and begins the rocking movements of palm walking, thumb pressure and kneading that is a traditional Thai massage. Looking at her, it’s difficult to imagine her in a less wholesome environment. I wonder to myself what she is in for.
The massage was nice. Not the best I’ve ever had. The one noticeable difference being her slow, calming movements, whereas some therapists move quickly and aggressively over your body. I can aver my face did not contort in pain; my breath did not cease even for a moment. It was completely enjoyable.
My single complaint: It seemed shorter than an hour. I felt robbed. But hey, what can you expect in a prison?
Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution
100 Rachawithee Rd
(053) 706 1041
8:00 – 16:30