On our first day in Bangkok my friend, Jules, and I headed off to find Wat Pho to marvel at the 46 meter long and 15 meter high reclining Buddha and work out some of that too-many-hours-in-coach plane fatigue with a traditional Thai massage.
But first, some lunch. We stopped at the first place packed with locals – Coconut Palm – and ordered up fish cakes to start, a Thai style salad for Jules and chicken phad thai for not-ready-to-be-adventurous-yet me. The food was fresh, flavorful, spicy, but not too spicy for gringas with a 3 out of 5 stars state-side spice ordering habit and under $10 for two people, with two beers.
Satiated, we went in search of Wat Pho. After getting lost once or twice (the tourist maps are sooo bad a cartographer who bothered to actually include all of the streets could make a fortune), being told by a tuk-tuk driver that the Wat wasn’t open for just enough time for him to give us a two-hour city tour at a ridiculously low price (a scam all tourists are warned of) we arrived – and it was open.
After purchasing our ticket and noting the number of people violating Wat dress codes – FYI certain Russian tourist whose sleazy boyfriend was blatantly checking us out, tank tops and short shorts are not appropriate, especially when your bra strap is visible and your tits are hanging out – while we “glistened” profusely in respectful long sleeve tops and long pants/skirts, we made our way to the reclining Buddha.
It’s impossible to convey the magnitude and magnificence of this Buddha through photos or words. Its feet alone are taller than the tallest NBA player and are inlaid with 108 – yes, 108 – mother-of-pearl inlays depicting different auspicious characteristics of a Buddha. Its expression can be interpreted as serene, mysterious, or to some inappropriate husbands who shall remain nameless, in the process of being “satisfied.” But it is the murals on the walls, the structure of the reclining Buddha’s shelter, and the details of the Buddha itself that elevate it from a big Buddha to an awe-worthy artistic achievement.
Wat Pho is not just about the reclining Buddha, however. Wander the Wat grounds and you will quickly stumble upon courtyards filled with shiny, sparkling Buddhas and wry sculptures that look as full as you feel.
Continue on a bit and air conditioned massage pavilions filled with massage students willing to massage and stretch you for only 450 Baht (about $15) await. Tired from the plane trip and never having experienced a Thai massage before, the pavilion beckoned.
After sipping complimentary flavored water while waiting my turn, I was led to a changing room and given loose pants to put on. My tank top and long sleeve top could remain (though I quickly ditched the long sleeve top that was sticking to me). Shoes off, pants off, massage pants pulled up and … “Wait, these don’t have a tie.” Massage pants taken off, feverish search for a tie, a button, something to keep these size 20 pants onto my size 6 hips. Nothing.
I pulled the pants back on, and discovered that my tank top was tight and sweaty enough to hold the pants in place if I pulled it over them. Sexy. With visions of a pants-falling, thong-flashing disaster imminent, I headed out of the changing room and to the triple king-size massage futon that I would share with two others and three masseurs. And then the beating began.
Thai massage is considered traditional Thai medicine and is supposed to be therapeutic more than relaxing. In fact, I don’t think relaxation is even factored into the process, although there are short moments of relaxation before a toe or elbow pummels you into flinching awareness. In a nutshell, its purpose is similar to acupuncture or acupressure in that pressure is placed along various points in an effort to untrap air or energy that isn’t flowing as it should. In addition, masseurs pull, push and stretch you into yoga-positions and positions never contemplated in nature. Toes and fingers are cracked, backs are cracked, and you are stretched to the limits of your flexibility and beyond. By the end of the one-hour pleasure and pain session, the tension was gone from my body, areas were cracked that I didn’t know could be cracked and bruises were surfacing on my anemic and thus, bruise-prone body. Alarmingly, I was no longer glistening and in danger of losing my now no-longer-affixed-by-sweat pants.
I held up my pants as I awkwardly hobble-walked to the changing room and noticed all the people around me who had cleverly rolled or knotted their pants into stay-up position. Why didn’t I think of that?