I'd never had a two-hour massage before, and I wasn't sure I had the patience for it, but as soon as we entered the spa I was ready to stay as long as possible. The place embodies the harmony particular to Asian design—roughness balanced with refinement, opulence that is more insinuated than announced. It is the most beautiful spa I've ever visited. We waited for our masseuses on an oversized sofa upholstered in iridescent silk, sipping spicy ginger tea from celadon cups; walked to the treatment room on a path of smooth gray river rocks; lay on wooden massage tables draped with handwoven cotton sheets; rinsed after our massage under a copper showerhead the size of a giant sunflower. The masseuses were two gentle local women with bashful gazes and long braids who murmured to each other in Thai and then gestured for us to choose a scent for our oils.
The massage was a combination of Swedish, which works deep into the muscles, and Thai, which relies more on manipulation and pressure—or at least I thought that before I lost track of what was going on. At one point John actually fell asleep and started to snore, which is one argument against a couples' massage; otherwise, there was something wonderful about being in the same room and ending up almost giddy from the combination of lavender oil in the air and our legs being so loose that they nearly buckled. Two hours of massage struck both of us as about 15 minutes longer than necessary, but it was still hard to imagine an experience that smelled, looked, or felt better, anywhere in the world.
OUR DAYS IN CHIANG MAI WERE PERFECT: long, fattening breakfasts of tropical fruit and French pastries and Belgian waffles and Japanese pickled fish, afternoons of bicycling around the nearby farms and villages or exercising in the gym, massages late in the day when the heat closed in, drowsy dinners of Thai and French specialties, and the daily parade of the hotel's family of water buffalo, roaming the property on their dainty legs, sneaking bites of the shrubbery as they passed. There is so much to do in the area that you suffer a little trying to decide whether to lounge around or take side trips. We broke away long enough to do a half-day elephant trek north of the city and to make a surgical strike in Chiang Mai's shopping district, where we stocked up on ceramics and silk. And one night we took the hotel bus to the extensive night market in town, another clamorous madhouse of food and clothes and trinkets and crafts.
But the greatest draw was still the Lanna Spa, and even after four or five visits, I still felt enchanted by it. This was certainly the essence of saen sabai, and John and I were getting so comfortable and relaxed that we started having those indirectly direct conversations about how perfect it would be to honeymoon—in the hypothetical circumstances in which one might find oneself honeymooning, of course—at the Regent. If we'd been utterly seduced by the place, we weren't the only ones. One evening after being scrubbed with rice kernels and doused with aromatic creams, we started chatting with an American woman who'd planned to climb Mount Everest but had gotten sick at base camp. She was so disappointed about having to pull out of the expedition that her mother treated her to a week at the Regent. "It was almost worth it," she said. "Everest would have been great, but this!"