Leafing through the Lonely Planet looking for things to do in Chiang Mai I knew straight away I had to pay a visit to the Women’s Correctional Institute for a Thai massage.
It is what it sounds. A programme runs for women coming to the end of sentence to learn how to massage so they have a trade once they leave prison. The institution runs from its own building which is slightly out of the centre of Chiang Mai. If you’re walking there and you feel like you’re walking towards a dead-end, you’re going in the right direction. This is the building you’re looking for.
The centre gets incredibly busy, partly due to the novelty but also because they do great massages. You’re greeted by a receptionist in a prison guard uniform who tells you either to wait, or come back later. I go there early so didn’t have to wait too long.
Once inside you get changed into a loose top and trousers and await your massage. The room is darkened and the windows are covered. There’s about 25 women in there, all massaging their own client. They must do a couple of hundred each day.
It was my first experience of Thai massage and had to ask her to be soft! It lasts for an hour, and that’s a lot of bending and elbowing.
After the massage I had a look at the little craft stall of goods also made by the inmates.
In the prison’s Khrua Chuanchom restaurant I had the traditional northern Thai dish of spicy pork in tomato salsa, and a pineapple smoothie. Nothing about it was that exceptional but it was incredibly cheap.