russian-sauna

Getting whipped and other massages around the world.

I had a lovely relaxing massage this week and while I was lying there in contented bliss I thought about some of the not so relaxing massages that I’ve had in my travels. I do love a massage and in some countries where they are nice and cheap I’ve been known to have one every day. But, they haven’t all been that relaxing – over the years I’ve had everything from being whipped with a bundle of twigs to being pummelled by a beefy, hairy giant and having a blind woman trying to tear my limbs off. Here are some of my most interesting massages that I’ve had in my travels…

Thai Massage (By The Blind)
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I don’t think massage is quite the word for it. More like Pulling and Poking. While my masseuse chatted sweetly and calmly to the masseuse working away next to her, she tried her very best to pull my limbs off – while poking my back hard with her fingers. I had to bite my lip a few times to stop my self squealing like a little girl. When we got out my (now) wife Beth said, ‘I got the shit beat out of me. They were crawling all over me and pummelling my butt.’

Banya Massage (or Branch Whipping)
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
In a ritual barely altered in a millennium the hearty folk of Kyrgyzstan subject themselves to searing heat, freezing pools and a bit of ferocious whipping. You could say that the banya is the dominatrix of the sauna world. The changing room of the Zhirgal Banya was resplendent with heavy wood panelling and matching pews with dozens of naked men in various stages of steam and sobriety. At a desk just inside the entrance, facing the naked men, sat two very-bored looking ladies handing out towels. One of the woman waited until I was totally naked before she waltzed over and gave me a towel. I headed straight for the sauna and lay down in the middle of a bunch of naked men and closed my eyes (there were too many sights all around me that I simply did not want to see). After a few minutes the fellow sitting next to me nudged me. He held up a pile of birch branches and said, ‘You like me to hit you?’ I shrugged, ‘Okay.’ When in Rome and all that. He then proceeded to whip me with quite some fervour. It wasn’t what you’d call relaxing, but my skin did turn a nice bright red colour.

massages-around-the-world

Hammam or Turkish Bath
Istanbul, Turkey
My Turkish Torture, I mean Turkish Bath, took place at one of the oldest bath houses in Istanbul – Çemberlitaş Hamamı, which was built in 1584. Inside, I was greeted by a a ‘locker attendant’ who barked at me: ‘You. Undress. Now.’ I then headed into the steam room (the hararet), which had a high domed ceiling with walls and floor of silver-grey marble. I was instructed to lie on a massive heated marble slab where my masseuse, who looked as if  was once part of the Turkish heavyweight wrestling team, approached me with a rough mitt in one hand and  a bucket of suds in the other. He then began singing lustily as he exfoliated my skin, or more like tore it off, while he poured boiling water and soap suds all over me. This was followed by a massage, which involved my large friend mounting me and trying to tear my limbs off. He finished off the ‘relaxing’ massage by throwing a bucket of ice-cold water over my head.

The Incredibly Inexperienced Masseuse
Sapa, Vietnam
I am always up for cheap massage, so while I was visiting Sapa for a job I was doing for an NGO, I hit a massage centre at the first opportunity. My massage lasted about seven minutes – which was about five minutes too long. I was given the 14 year old work experience kid, on his first day – with his first ever customer. For the couple of minutes he waved his hands randomly around my back, then started to, well, basically poke me with his fingers. After a few minutes of very uncomfortable poking I finally turned around and said,’ You know what, I think I’ll skip the massage.’ He didn’t seem that surprised.

‘Herbal’ massage
Somewhere near Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
I was treated at the ‘Herbal Massage Centre’ by a tall, lanky Sri Lankan fellow with Andre-the-Giant hands. My head massage consisted of getting my head pummelled with some – and I’m guessing here, but I think I was right – curry powder. The massage concluded with my face getting rubbed with boiled pomegranate leaves. By the time I finished I smelt (and felt) like a chicken curry.

ubud

The noisy massage
Ubud, Bali
My massage couldn’t have been more idyllic. A friend had recommended a little place hidden away in the rice fields outside of Ubud. It was a stunning setting and with only two small massage huts it was extremely quiet and peaceful. And it was for about five minutes. Then the dogs started barking. And an old couple started shouting at each other. And the roosters – as in all the roosters – started crowing. I couldn’t think it could get any worse then someone started up a power tool. A very noisy one. I left my nice relaxing massage so stressed that I really needed a massage.

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