Massage parlors are like tuk tuks in Thailand, they are everywhere. And at four bucks a pop for an hour foot massage, it would have been a shame not to indulge. Especially, right after spending the hot morning walking miles all over Chiang Mai searching for the perfect souvenir at Khamthiang Market. After this tiresome trek, I could have easily just popped into one of the several shops near my hotel, as I am guilty of doing many times before. But, today I wanted a different, more unique experience. No, not me?
A foot massage given by a female prison inmate would fit the bill nicely.
Chiang Mai is home to the Womens Correctional Institution where they have set up a massage rehabilitation program in order to help the inmates easily integrate into society.
Though these massages used to be done right on the prison grounds, the prison has been moved to a different location. Now the pampering is performed in an inviting teak building, located on Rachvithi Road, just a short walk from the closed prison doors.
I arrived in the late afternoon expecting a significant wait, this was supposed to be a popular joint in town.
The female receptionist, a guard dressed in beige, told me it would be about forty-five minutes. Much better than the typical two hours I had read about online. Luckily, the location also has a tiny cafe, run by the inmates, and free wifi. I took a seat on the cozy patio, ordered a Thai green iced tea and patiently waited for my number to be called.
After a short while, the woman at the reception desk called my number and escorted me inside.
The interior looked no different than the average Thai massage parlor, except for the presence of the lurking female guards.
My foot massage was typical to the ones I had had before in Chiang Mai, though it was done by a sweet, quiet and young prison inmate. As my feet were being rubbed, I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was. How did she end up here? Were there different sorts of rehabilitation programs to choose from? What are her dreams after her release? All the questions would be left unanswered.
After the hour had expired, I paid my 150 baht ($4.85 usd) and put a hundred more in the tip bucket out front. I walked towards my hotel not only with my tootsies feeling relaxed, but also with my heart happy to have helped in some small way.