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How about visiting the women's prison for a message and lunch



CHIANG MAI, Thailand - For a brief moment, the soothing music and gentle touch of the trained masseuse catapulted me to a luxury resort. Then I opened my eyes and saw the corrections guard.
Wearing a light brown uniform, she sauntered over to one of the masseuses milling about and whispered in her ear. I was instantly jolted back to reality and remembered where I was.
While the relaxing massage and calm atmosphere was reminiscent of any comfortable spa experience, the trained masseuses wearing crisp pink uniforms were not: they were female inmates convicted of various crimes. Located right in the heart of the old city, the Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center helps women inmates develop skills that will help them better reintegrate into society. In Chiang Mai - a city of 150,000 in northern Thailand known for its rich culture and historic temples - that includes learning the techniques of Thai massage.

A woman sits at the Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center where visitors can receive Thai massages from trained inmates.
I arrived at the site early - appointments can fill up fast and you can't book in advance - and was greeted by a swarm of smiling women in crisp pink uniforms. I paid my 180 baht (about $5.50) for a one-hour massage to one of corrections officers and was handed a matching set of muted orange pants and shirt to change into. Once changed, my treatment started with the gentle washing of my feet before I was escorted to one of several massage beds positioned throughout the room. About 20 women prisoners scampered about, getting ready for an influx of clients. The women, who are all non-violent offenders, complete 180 hours of massage training.
My masseuse, who knew basic English but also used hand gestures to get her points across, instructed me to lie on my back. Unlike the long, sweeping strokes and muscle kneading of a Swedish massage - which is the most the popular type of massage in the West - Thai massages involve yoga-like stretching movements. The masseuses often use their own legs and arms to contort the client, and this massage was no different. At various times, she stretched me, bent me, pulled me and popped me. The pressure, which sometimes included her entire body weight, was just right, while the peaceful music, low lighting and tasteful decor lulled me into total relaxation.

Following a massage by a trained inmate, visitors can order a variety of foods and beverages at an on-site restaurant
I've never been one to talk much during massages, and this time was no different, though I had hoped to learn a little more about the woman providing me with such an unorthodox experience. But the language barrier posed a problem. Besides, she seemed intent on focusing on the task at hand, and I was intent on feeling the stretch in my arms and legs. Afterward, I was handed a cup of tea and escorted outside to a beautiful garden, where a small contingent of people were waiting for their appointments, and taking selfies.
I met Echo Xiao, a 32-year-old from a suburb of Beijing who was about to get her third massage at the center. Xiao, who had heard about the vocational training center from a friend, said she appreciated both the massage price and the training center's mission. "I think it's wonderful because they can work and have something to do," she said of the inmates. The training center grounds also included a restaurant called Chuan Chom that served a variety of Thai dishes and an assortment of beverages for a few dollars as well as inmate-made products like handbags. At one point during my post-massage lunch of chicken and rice and iced coffee, I witnessed one of the inmates welcome several friends and family to the center. They embraced, talked and snapped photos of each other as she smiled and tears streamed down her cheeks. For visitors here, the center is tourist attraction - a story to tell back home. But for some women serving time at the facility, the massage center could be a chance at a new beginning in their lives.
The Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A one-hour foot massage is 180 baht (about $5.50), while a one-hour Thai massage is the same price. A two-hour Thai massage is 360 baht (about $11).

Inmate-made products are available for purchase at the Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center.
First published May 8th 2015, 7:28 pm


Just around the corner from the town house is this tiny convenience shop (maybe 200 ft) where you can buy 3 eggs or 2 corn on the cob or a giant bag of ice for 5 baht

It really brings back memories


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The old city is one of Chiang Mai's biggest attractions. Built over 700 years ago, the city was once an entirely walled square surrounded by a moat. One can imagine what an exotic place it would have been centuries ago - a thriving centre for Buddhism, artisans and merchants thronging with monks swathed in orange, soldiers and elephants. It was a sight that no westerner was to see until Chiang Mai was visited by an Englishmen, Ralph Fitch around 1586.
Today of course Chiang Mai's Old City is more developed but there are still many tantalizing glimpses of its exotic past. Some of the original city walls still remain particularly the great brick bastions at the four corners replete with their walkways and arrow slits to protect against invading armies.
In the middle of all four sides of the city are the original gates. The main gate, Thapae, is on the eastern side and facing the river Ping and has been rebuilt complete with a stretch of wall to give people an idea of what the walls were once like. The entrance to Thapae Gate is now pedestrianised and is many people's starting point for an Old City tour. The other gates are Chiang Mai Gate to the south, Suan Dok to the west and Chiang Puerk to the north. The moat today, rather than repelling invaders, is an attraction with its spraying fountains which are often lit at night.

Much of the old wall and corner bastions were pulled down some time ago to provide bricks for the construction of the city but extensive renovation including original bricks was carried out in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. Now most of the five gates and the four corner bastions are in reasonable condition and several stretches of wall still exist.
Now this could be done as a single hike but eight kilometres in this heat might be a bit much and you’d miss out the numerous interesting sites to be seen. We would propose to do one side at a time; perhaps say clockwise down and anti back for instance since there are plenty of sites to be seen. Apart from a proliferation of temples, you’ll find markets, interesting shops, some spectacular trees, with luck some inner city bird-life, plenty of Chiang Mai’s great cafes and bars and lots of general bustling street life.


do you remember your neighborhood when it was all mom & pop shops before walmart and cosco? Well you have a chance to re-live that experience

the photo above is an old Thai woman who puts a sewing machine on the sidewalk every day with a sign on English