Being a Woman in Bangkok: beauty and shopping take a toll

A beauty spa is really a torture chamber in disguise. All my life I’d innocently assumed rich women go to be pampered – Cleopatra style. When Beth suggested we treat ourselves to a massage, body scrub, and sauna during her final days in Thailand, I though, “Why not? Might as well see for myself what this ‘spa’ business is all about.”

This is how it all begins. Look innocent enough, eh?

First came the “oil massage.” We started on two mattresses behind a curtain, stripped to our skivvies.  The massage progressed just as my only previous Thailand “oil massage” did.  Unlike the kneading movements used by American masseurs, in Thailand, long firm strokes are the rule.  I kind of felt like a household pet, but when in Rome… (or Bangkok).  Unfortunately, things went from different to awkward when it was time to go belly up. Erroneously, I thought the Thai oil massage experience I’d had three years ago with Nicole was a one-off fluke. Not so.

No point in skirting the issue, so I’ll just come out with it. They massage your boobs.  And sometimes worse (according to NeverEnding Footsteps travel blogger in a now-unpublished post about how she was “poked” during a massage).

I told Beth in advance that jug-rubbing had happened to me previously, that I didn’t like it, and that I hoped it wouldn’t happen again. Beth even commanded my masseuse, before we got started, “Don’t massage her boobs.” The woman nodded and smiled, “the way that foreigners do when they’re aware you’ve just finished a sentence” 1thanks David Sedaris.  And I’m aware that I’m the foreigner in this example.  And trust me – I do my share of sentence-obviously-finished nodding and smiling when abroad!.

The picture of immodesty… as usual.

I can be an offensively immodest person, as anyone who has ever seen me bounce around in my Brazilian bikini or forego a changing room can attest. If all this pillow-petting felt the way a back-rub does, I’d be all for it. But no. It just feels weird.  When it comes to words, however, I can also be too nice for my own good. (If you’re a stranger.  Friends and family may or may not sometimes use words like “bossy” and “steamroller” when describing me.)  When my hoped-against fate arrived, did I lay there naked doing my verbal best to change the way this woman did her job?  No.  Instead, I said, “Um, Beth. She’s doing it.”

Beth is not afraid to lay the smack down on poor strangers who have the gall not to know “your” language and are just doing what they’ve been trained to do.  She took charge, telling the woman, “I told you. Don’t touch her boobs.” The absurd situation prompted me to start laughing, which caused my masseuse to believe Beth must be telling a joke, so she joined in with the laughter as her hands slid back and forth over my nipples.  Beth shrugged, no change was made, and I stuck it out – giggling with Beth the whole time.

Finally the awkward massage ended and we moved on to the body scrub.  Entering the spa-treatment area, I got my first behind-the-scenes glimpse of what I nicknamed “The Torture Chamber.” The soundtrack had sharp intakes of breath, ripping noises, and grunts and groans of pain, all set against the backdrop of whirring machinery. I stepped into my private room, changed into some disposable underwear, and noted a tub of peanut butter and one of honey as I hopped up on the table. All I could think was, “Mmmm… sandwich!”

The radioactive-colored body scrub.

Turns out a “scrub” is synonymous with “ravaging your skin with menthol-coated sand paper.” The peanut butter substance gave my skin a Chernobyl-like glow and a bee-sting burn as she spread it all over my body. Naked and covered in wet, gritty, paste, I begged the beautician to turn off the air conditioning.  She did.  Then, thankfully, she added the “honey” (vitamin E), toning down the burning from habanero to jalepeno.  Of course my jugs were also well-and-truly involved in the process.  After being thoroughly coated, she wiped off the whole mess with a towel and plunked me in a warm bath. My thoughts as I soaked alternated between, “I’m never doing this again” and “Men have no idea what women put themselves through in the name of beauty.”

Eager to avoid further agony, I opted for a foot rub instead of a sauna in the already 85-degree Thailand. I did observe part of Beth’s heat torture though. Instead of a room built of cedar and steam wafting off hot rocks, the business had a box with a chair inside.  The box had a soft front and top that zipped close. Beth, in her shower cap, looked hilarious with just her neck and head sticking out of this little contraption!  I don’t know how she tolerated being heated beyond the already sweltering ambient temperature.  When we finally walked back out onto the street, my sigh of relief stirred a breeze all the way across the city.

“With 15,000 stalls, it is said to be the biggest market in the world.”

It would be hard to top the dramatic experience that spa-going was for me. But we did. Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is a huge Saturday/Sunday affair covering several city blocks and selling just about anything you can imagine. By the end of the day, we’d walked miles searching high and low for rings, necklaces, t-shirts, scarves, earrings, shoes, dresses, kercheifs, DVDs, bags, tank tops, Thai iced coffee, and knicknacks. By the afternoon, I’d maxed out on sensory overload. It was at this point, as crankiness overwhelmed me, that I realized adults need naps just as much as children. Or meditation.  Or medication.

Enjoying our last night together in Bangkok

A hot pink taxi, Beth’s first, delivered us back to our hotel where we rested up for a night of celebrating. Over buckets of cocktails and one last “buko” (coconut), we reminisced and Beth informed me “I learned to walk from you!” I think it was her nice way of saying, “I will never walk for miles and miles with a rolling suitcase ever again.” Thanks for coming and traveling in Thailand, Beth! ♣

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Photo credit link: Chatuchak collage


1 thanks David Sedaris.  And I’m aware that I’m the foreigner in this example.  And trust me – I do my share of sentence-obviously-finished nodding and smiling when abroad!


  • March 2, 2012 at 5:27 am

    I am still ROFLMAO!!!!!!

  • March 1, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Nicole! Don’t leave me hanging like that!

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