Any visitor to Thailand would agree that there are about as many places offering massages as there are places to eat. And like places to eat you find the good, the bad, the wannabe’s, and the I-just-want-your-money-and-for-you-to-vacate-this-space-asap. My first visit to the Sunday market nearly had me running to the airport and as I had some hours to wait for my pick-up back to the hotel I decided to have a foot massage at a place on the sidewalk. The woman was staring out the window watching passersby and all her co-workers moving about the whole time she was working on my feet; she spent 4 minutes on one foot and 26 minutes rubbing my calves. I could do a better job and I don’t claim to be trained in the skill.
I have had wonderful traditional Thai massages in other countries and I was not going to settle for these fake and moneymaking wannabe parlours.
So research done and I hire a private driver to take me to Maw Hom. In a village called Baa Kluay about 30 minutes drive outside Chiang Mai this herbal medicine doctor has established a centre where you can get the real deal. Maw Hom grew up on the Burmese border where her grandmother was the local herbal doctor and midwife. Maw Hom is registered with the Thailand Ministry of Health and her centre is also registered to train students under supervision of the Thailand Ministry of Education. Here she trains practitioners and teachers from all over the world at all levels.
My drive to the village was crazy as its peak holiday season and even at best of times Thai traffic moves as if all the drivers can’t wait to meet their Makers. But then we turn off the main road onto a smaller side road and then into a place where you wonder how is it possible to feel such tranquility moments from chaos. Lush gardens, teak houses, a pond, fruit trees and many herbs and medicinal plants, the presence of birds and the some bees certainly helps one feel at peace. The name of the centre says a lot. Its called Baan Hom Samunphrai and it means The House of Sweet Smelling Herbs.
After changing into cotton Thai style top and pants I followed my therapist up into one of the teak houses. It is built in the Thai style on stilts and it sits over a beautiful blue pool. This room has shutters that can be closed to rain or extremely hot weather when the a/c is needed but today its all open to the elements: lovely fresh smells, some chickens announcing the arrival of fresh eggs, birds singing and chirping in the trees all around, the soft drone of Maw Hom’s voice giving a lecture in another house some distance away. A traditional Thai massage is not one you can sleep through. I was aware that my therapist was working with my breathing (or maybe the other way round). She soon found my troubled spots. As she does not speak English I did not tell her my ailments but she knows her craft and set to work. At one point I had my eyes closed and felt something closing in on my face and was amazed to see its my own feet being guided there by the therapist. After about two hours I was shown to the steam room. This is always a highlight for me. I just love it. In the centre of the steam room they place a bamboo basket containing all sorts of fragrant herbs and what a delightful hour I spent there, inhaling good smells and sweating out the bad stuff.
After a refreshing shower and changing into my own clothes I was offered some herbal tea, water and fruit and I was able to stroll around the garden and just soak in the peacefulness before heading back to my hotel in the city.
Now, in my mind, Chiang Mai competes with Cirence in Turkey for the best Thai massage ever.