Chiang Mai, Thailand, is located 700km north of Bangkok, and was founded in 1296 as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It is the largest city in Northern Thailand, and is situated near the highest mountains in the country. As a result, temperatures at night can go as low as 10°C (50°F). Today, it is known for being a hotspot for tourists who want to witness the intersectionality of rich Thai history with the vibrancy of modern city life. One of the highlights of this rustic city is the Doi Suthep National Park, which houses the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand. Chiang Mai Old City is also a hotspot for tourists as it is an area brimming with handicraft shops, antiques, and clothes.
Another integral aspect of immersing oneself in Thai culture is through tasting the many local delicacies that Chiang Mai has to offer. A staple food for many Northern Thais is sticky rice, known as ‘khao neow’ to the locals. Additionally, another unforgettable favourite for many is Khao Soi, a noodle soup made with a spicy coconut curry, accompanied with either chicken or beef, and yellow noodles.
And of course, who can forget about the quintessential Thai massages? After a long day of walking and venturing, there’s nothing better than having someone help to soothe those aching muscles. What’s more, getting a massage in Chiang Mai is extremely affordable — a one-hour session costs an average of 200 baht, equivalent to less than SGD 10!
Although there are a myriad of massage parlours scattered around the city, one particular chain stands out from the rest. Located near the Three Kings Monument, the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute Massage is just as its name suggests. A social enterprise of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, the massage parlour is run by women who are currently serving their sentences, with a presence of a few female wardens to ensure safety.
Before you dismiss the idea of being served by prisoners — these women are non-violent offenders who are at the end of their sentences; they have to undergo a six-month long training programme with multiple assessments before they are allowed to work at the center.
The setting up of a massage center at the vocational institute is part of the prison’s efforts to rehabilitate its inmates, and provide them with a smoother reintegration to society when they are released. Up to 80% of these women have been incarcerated for drug offenses, a result of the country’s campaign against drugs. Hence, being able to secure stable employment is a crucial factor that will help these women remain sober when they are released.
Over the years, many of them also choose to continue working as a masseuse at parlours that have partnered with the center.
Furthermore, 50% of the money that these ladies earn will be given to them upon their release so that they may start life anew; any tips given by customers will also contribute to the sum of money they receive upon release.
When the programme was still in its infancy, massages would be done directly on prison grounds, but it has since moved out to occupy its own compound opposite the prison due to a lack of space — evincing the success and viability of the programme. The massage center is also conveniently located next to a restaurant and a gift shop which sells trinkets and crafts made by the inmates.
There are also a plethora of massage parlours who hire these ladies who have just been released from prison, such as the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners, located nearby.
What’s more, prices for a massage are comparable to what is offered by a typical shop in Chiang Mai — a one hour foot massage costs around 180 to 200 baht. The service provided is pretty extensive as well, beginning with a relaxing foot wash, followed by the soothing Thai-style massage that we all know and love.
The Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute Massage is located at 100 Rachawithi Road, Siriphum T, Muang Chiang Mai. It opens from 8.30am to 4.30pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 9.30am to 4.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays.