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The Ultimate Massage

Alexia Silvagni

Photo: Alexia Silvagni

We stopped in Bangkok for a few days before leaving Thailand. It was a kind of readjustment point where we could still relax while the rush and jostling of the city prepared us for going home. Our room in the Oriental had a theatrical view of the river, and all day long heavy barges and needle-nosed motorboats floated by. Eight years ago the Oriental opened a large spa across the river, and every day we rode the hotel ferry over to have a massage.

There is nothing fantastical about the Oriental's spa—it has neither the narcotic atmosphere of the Regent Chiang Mai nor the crisp beauty of Chiva-Som. Instead, it is a big, square-shouldered building with teak floors and dark marble fittings, a masculine, handsome place that comes as a surprise if you are accustomed to the delicate, detailed Thai aesthetic. Nevertheless, our first massage was exceptional: as we lay side by side on a single enormous futon, two masseurs, young Bangkok guys who looked like gymnasts, maneuvered around us for an hour and a half. It was the only couples' massage we had that placed us on one big mattress.

I thought it would be nice to do the rest of our treatments this way, but the next day, as we played squash at the Oriental's gym, I twisted awkwardly and needed serious therapeutic attention. No more soft lighting and mood music: my back really hurt, and I no more wanted company while being massaged than I would have during a tooth extraction. So while John was polished and rubbed and sent to luxuriate in a sauna, I had hydrotherapy and deep muscle work to try to untangle my lower back. Even though the spa hadn't charmed me at first, I was now grateful for its efficiency and professionalism—and grateful for the fact that in Thailand, pharmacists can prescribe most drugs.

My last massage of the trip left me melancholy. I had gone in for a final effort to calm my back, and my masseur was another one of the beautiful young men who seem to dominate the Oriental's staff. Like so many Thai, he was shy and tender, and he seemed unwilling to let me go until I assured him that his massage had helped me. This is, of course, what lies beneath the sheer indulgence and pleasure of massage—the feeling that someone truly wants you to feel good. No, my back didn't feel that much better, but I felt better, and yet sad. It was the melancholy of the end of a great trip, and the melancholy of reentering the real world and exiting what had been a probably impossible-to-repeat third date.

But in the end, the right things endured. My backache did not; my jet lag did not; my melancholy did not. My memories of Thailand did, as did my passion for a great massage, and it looks as if that hypothetical honeymoon at the Lanna Spa in Chiang Mai is really going to happen. I'm sure Buddha would approve.


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