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Tuesday 25 Jun 2013
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Need a massage in Thailand? Try a food court, a temple or even a prison!

Stacie and I had checked out of Eco Resort and booked into Thailandwow, a hostel inside the old city walls. It was a bit of an effort, but we finally found a songthau which could take us to the right street. The old city is made up of streets and numbered alleys and our hostel was down one of these. When we arrived at the hostel, we were kept waiting for a while before checking in. Then we discovered our twin room actually opened directly off the dorm, so we had to walk through it to get to the bathrooms, which were downstairs and opened directly off the corridor - this included the shower cubicles which only had curtains across, not even a door! The fan was hanging precariously off the ceiling above our very uncomfortable beds and the whole place felt tired and forgotten. Stacie and I sat there feeling exhausted and unimpressed, before finally snapping out of it and boking back into the Eco Resort for the rest of the week. It may have been further out but the songthau price wasn't bad between us and the place was much much better than this dump of a hostel.
With that decision made, we perked up and went out to find a restaurant we'd had recommended to us. It was brilliant. The restaurant was upstairsand open on all sides with the bar andkitchen in the centre. The floor was polished wood with a low bench table running all around the outside. We sat on cushions and dangled our feet over the edge. They had more tables set in sunken pits around the room for bigger groups to sit in the same fashion. The food was excellent. We're both getting better with the spice level and managed to eat a good portion of the Tom Kah Gai (spicy coconut soup) but it was the fried Morning Glory that took us both down. Fried green vegetables in Oyster sauce is a common dish in Asia and usually has a few onions, garlic and a spot of chilli in. We carefully avoided the red chilli slices but got caught out by the small green ones hiding amid the green vegetables (seriously!? Hiding green chillis in green veg is just mean!) I got caught first and coughed, spluttered and shovelled down spoons of steamed rice before just sitting with an icecube on my tongue and whimpering. Having laughed at me, Stacie got caught 10 minutes later by the same thing and had a similar reaction. We had to order a bottle of beer just to try and take the heat level down. Definitely one of the hottest chillis I've ever been caught with! Despite the chilli, the meal was excellent and we loved the setting.

The next morning we headed back over to the Eco Resort and spent the whole day sitting by the pool, reading and blogging and generally enjoying the relaxation after such a busy three days. Rachel met us in the evening after her cooking school and we headed over to the night market for dinner. We bartered for some clothes until the rain kicked in and we legged it into the indoor food court for sushi and banana roti. The we all opted for an hour's foot and leg massage while the rain pounded down on the roof. It was a good massage, but quite painful in places after the hill trekking of the last two days.

Stacie and I did a cookery class with Asia Scenic Cooking School the next day and met a lovely American couple who turned out to be in the military (a helecopter pilot and military attourney, no less), based in Japan. They invited us to stay if we make it that far on our travels. I'm very tempted! The cooking class was fun, but not as good as the ones I did with Ailsa a couple of years ago. After lunch we went for a wander to see some of the temples in the old city and found one offering massages. Legs still aching, we decided to get another foot massage, but ended up with a full body massage. Thai massage involves kneading, stretching and pulling limbs to work out the kinks in muscles and crack joints. It was actually not as hard as I'd expected, although my lady thought it was very funny each time she hit a bruised spot and I winced - then started taking the mickey out of me! I did feel better afterwards and it was only £12 for an hour! I love Thai prices.

On my last day in Chiang Mai, Stacie, Rachel and I went off to find the Women's Correctional Institute for a massage. Yes, that's right, the women's prison has a massage spa where the prisoners are trained in Thai Massage as part of their rehabilitation programme. We'd read great reviews, but it took us ages to find the place as everyone kept telling us the prison had moved. eventually we found it, but not before we'd been distracted by a great little t-shirt shop which printed their own designs. Ooops, another 3 t-shirts for my already overloaded backpack! The Prison Spa turned out to be one of the nicest spas I've been to, with a very calm atmosphere, beautifully scented and full of flowers... oh, and female prison officers in smart military style uniforms! We were given blue pyjamas to change into (just like surgical scrubs) which Rachel and Stacie managed to put on backwards, much to the amusement of all the ladies there. The three of us were led to neighbouring beds and greeted by our masseuses. They all looked so normal that it was funny to keep remembering they're actually prisoners! Apparently it's only the minor offenders that are allowed out on this programme and they're still locked up again at night. The massage was excellent, by far the best so far, but not without its painful moments. They pull each toe until it cracks, which for me is usually ticklish and makes me laugh. Rachel hates her toes being pulled, so I heard her wince a second later. Stacie heard us both giggling and was about to ask why, when her lady suddenly pulled her toes too. All we heard was Stacie whispering "Jeez! The toes!" and that set all six of us off into helpless laughter until I actually had tears in my eyes. Our masseuses thought it was as funny as we did even though they must see the same thing every day.
It was a brilliant farewell to Chiang Mai. I'd have loved to stay longer and especially to go up to the little town of Pai a few hours north, but the Stray Bus was calling me again...

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