Her hands explored my back with the assurance of a surgeon. An elbow eased into a knot in my shoulders brings a sharp shot of pain followed by a strange sense of relief. My arm is stretched backwards into an unnatural position, seemingly loosening tension from my stiffened frame.
I am in a corner of a plain room full of dozen thin mattresses, surrounded by the tuneful singsong conversation of masseuses, punctuated by occasional yelps of pain or relief. It was a relief simply to escape the suffocating humidity that wilted the most hardy of people and lay down in an air-conditioned room in loose-fitting cotton clothes which resembled hospital fare. A simple sign offered one, two or three hour sessions for the equivalent of a few US dollars per hour.
The masseuse started on my legs, working from the feet, stretching, prodding and probing every joint. Each toe is stretched and pressure is expertly applied to points of the calves and hamstrings often with a gentle rocking motion. Her hands, elbows, knees and feet are all utilised as she methodically works up and down my back and neck as if exploring for the solution to a complex puzzle. No square inch of my body is untended as the therapy continues down the arms before I am gently rolled over and the massage starts again from the legs.
The extraordinary feature of the massage is that the masseuse is blind. There is a belief that Thai massage is better performed by the blind, their sense of touch being attuned to locating the slightest irregularity in the body. I was impressed that the masseuse commented in broken English about the state of my lower back, long a source of mild pain and discomfort, working this region with a greater intensity and focus.
Many train at a Thai massage school several blocks away on the grounds of the stunning travel wonder of Wat Pho. Among the whirring of fans, masseurs and masseuses, both sighted and blind are trained in this ancient art.
In the neighbouring building, people admire a gleaming golden reclining Buddha. The gilded statue of almost fifty metres shows Buddha, laying on one elbow and with drooping eyelids, relaxed as if he could be chatting to a friend on a beach or viewing television. His feet (at three metres high and five metres long) are intricately carved with mother-of-pearl detailing multiple pictures with huge flattened toes patterned in spirals. Among the gentle aromas of incense, it has a serene and peaceful ambiance. Visitors worship silently while travellers try to discretely snap the awkwardly angled statue.
Around the temple among other colourful stupas are small statues and stones with carved details of a number of human figures. In the late 1700s , the Siamese king of the time consulted teachers, spiritualists and doctors who with their knowledge pooled with collective know-how on the human body. Lines indicating certain points of the body along with instructions capture the art of healing various ailments. This provides the blueprint for today’s Thai massage.
My head tingles as the face is cautiously massaged, rubbing around the eyes, stretching the ears and stimulating the scalp. Finally I’m asked to sit up, stretching my arms back and chopping away at the shoulder blades.
Changing back into my street clothes, I feel incredibly revived and relaxed. Shop carefully or ask advice, but having a Thai massage is a superb experience. Beforehand, wander the brightly coloured buildings of Wat Pho and the experience the staggering reclining Buddha and the detailed history of this wonderful art.