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Ooh, My Aching Back!




As you’ve probably surmised from the title, I’m getting to feel my age is catching up with me. Although I’m still a spring chicken at heart, the rest of me starts to protest at any efforts that involve any exercise which is more than sedentary ambulation. Of course the exercise of reading the numerals that compose my age would definitely look better being read from back to front, but deep down you know it’s just a figment of your imagination. Dream on.

So, with all these new creaks and cricks and wonderment at finding aching muscles in places that I never even knew existed, some form of relief had to be sought.

I’ve obviously tried ointments that claim to ease aches and pains but the only effect that all these seem to have had is to stink up the room and leave a trail of similar odour behind me. So these have been relegated to private use within the confines of my room.

Note of caution to add: Do not hold your member if you decide to have a pee for at least an hour after rubbing on these substances as they can wait in ambush even after you have washed your hands three times.

Note two: The ones that don’t smell don’t work. Trust me.

I know some people take painkillers and such. I’m not one of them so there’ll be no opinion on whether these are good or bad. Up to you, as some of the girls like to say.

So what other alternatives are there?

Well, the signs for ‘Massage!’ proliferate. Surely that in itself should tell you something. Lots of old people with bad backs. No? Ah. Well, you do have to be careful to differentiate the kind of the massage before you walk in the door.

There’s the standard, no-nonsense one. After that you get the nice, at right at the top (bottom?) there’s the naughty. Your choice.

The massage parlour is easy enough to recognise. The locals call it Ab-Ob-Nuad (Bathe-Bake-Massage). It makes no pretensions about being anything other than what it purports to be. Most, if not all, will have a restaurant area with singers in attendance. Oh, am I forgetting the most important bit? Yes, the fishbowl. It’s the glassed-in area where the available masseuses sit, awaiting your pleasure. Take your pick. Over a beer or two, if you have to.

In another life (when I was still single and had more hair on my head) I was brought to one of these places. It’s quite straightforward – you negotiate a level of servicing, pick a girl, you pay your fees and go to a room. You’re expected to be finished after two hours. In that one experience, the only lingering memory I had of it was that my nether regions froze over not too long after emerging from the tub as the central air-conditioning couldn’t be regulated.

The only difference, in my opinion, between taking a short-time girl out of a bar and going to a massage parlour is that with the massage parlour you get a gigantic bathroom with a bed in it thrown in.

Then there’s what some folks consider ‘nice’. These usually masquerade as a standard massage place, many with provisions for complete privacy (cubicle with attached shower stall and a door that can be latched). The girls that are employed at these places are generally younger and make it clear early on that ‘extras’ are available. Management are either in on it, or turn a blind eye to the activities. Places like these are generally known through word-of-mouth. I guess it is a day-time alternative for the night-time activities, and I have no problem with that. I do, however scratch my head when some folks part with serious beer money just to have a girl pay particular attention to massaging just one muscle? I’d do the beers and exercise it myself, thanks.

Having now veered off track, it’s time to get back to the crux of the problem. My aching back.

Proper massage-only places do exist. They are advertised as traditional massage, known in Thai as Nuad Pan Boran or Nuad Pan Thai.

My introduction to this form of therapy was when I was staying at a hill resort near Nakorn Nayok. I was feeling a bit stiff and the place looked inviting (It was a small sala –gazebo for those unfamiliar with the word- that had a nice birds-eye view of the resort.) I opted to go for a full-body course as opposed to the hourly rate and was given a pair of pyjamas (for the lack of a better description). I was then subjected to being twisted every which way and was surprised at the end of it I didn’t look like a pretzel. But I did come away feeling quite refreshed and filed the experience away for another day.

Many moons later, with the aches resurfacing, I spotted a large massage place in a popular shopping center. The charge at the time was two hundred and fifty baht an hour, with two hours being the recommended minimum. I opted for the minimum, and picked up my pyjamas for the commencement of the torture session. (They will be gentle if you ask, but the outcome doesn’t work as well.)

You’ll know you’re in the correct place when the whole place smells like the walls and furniture have been soaked in liniment. You’ll also be able to tell the traditional masseuse from the others; her hands somehow seem to zero in on the muscle that’s been giving you the most trouble (no, no, not that one!), and they seem to be made with a soft form of liniment-seasoned leather.

I became a semi-regular patron there; one of my favourite old ladies had been in the business for almost twenty years and was just as proud of it. When they raised the rates I didn’t go as often, but when she left I stopped coming back.

There’s a small place just opened up in my soi, I’ve already been there twice. It’s a real traditional place and the hourly rates are half that of the other establishment.

The thing that clinched the decision is that it is located right opposite my regular Issan food beer restaurant.

Stickman's thoughts:

I still remember the after effects of my first traditional Thai massage, back in Phuket in '97. I felt like I was walking on air for the next few days. Sadly I have never been able to recapture that same level of after-massage satisfaction. I guess I must be getting old!