Viva Varun: In Chiang Mai!

Answer to “Where am I?”The City of Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand (the happy reclining Buddha at Wat Piyaram)

Congratulations to everyone who answered correctly on the blog, Facebook and Twitter: Jared, Chuta, Michael, Kalpak, S. Rai, Silvia, Maryann and Jörg.

Chiang Mai is the largest city and cultural capital of Northern Thailand. It is located aproximately seven hundred kilometres north of Bangkok.

Chiang Mai translates as “new city” and was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (13th century).

There are more than three hundred Buddhist temples in the city.

Well, I am still on a three-week trip around Thailand.

The country is famous for many things including its cuisine, temples and, of course, the Thai massage.

Massage has been used in complementary medicine for thousands of years. From Hawaii to China, India to Mexico and Sweden to Japan, nearly every country has its own variation. In Japan, for instance, there is shiatsu where the fingers and thumbs apply pressure to the energy channels. In the Philippines it is called hilot, a healing technique that manipulates joints back into place. In India there is champissage, which massages the neck, face and head. I have tried all these treatments, and many more, but certainly not one from Romania where a bear is encouraged to walk on your back!

I have two quite memorable massages – one in Turkey and one in Chiang Mai.

A couple of years ago, we were filming in Istanbul where I was invited to experience a massage at the Cagaloglu Hamam. Located in Sultanahmet, it was built in 1741. It has welcomed some of the most famous people in the world from King Edward VIII to the likes of John Travolta, Harrison Ford and Kate Moss.

After stripping to just my shorts, I was what can only be described as “attacked” by a small, hirsute “gentle”man whose Turkish name translates as “bear”. After roughing me up (massage?) and slapping me about with a goat hair brush, he then stretched and twisted every bone in my body until they almost snapped. He growled and grunted, as I groaned and gurned.

The treatment lasted an hour, one of the longest in my life. I walked with a limp for days!

My Chiang Mai experience was unforgettable for a different reason. While I did have the spa at the Four Seasons resort at my fingertips, I instead headed into the city and to a spa which is run by the local women’s prison.

Inmates are taught massage during their incarceration. When they are paroled many cannot find regular work and instead are employed to give relaxing and inexpensive massages.

It was the not the greatest treatment of my life, but it was certainly unique.

-Varun Sharma

Varun Sharma is the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel. The show airs in over 169 countries, in 21 languages and is beamed into 1 billion homes worldwide. He has now stayed in nearly 700 luxury hotels & resorts … and has in the past couple of  years has flown in a fighter jet, gone diving – without a cage – in Tiger Shark infested-waters, had dinner with a dingo and has cooked with over 75 Michelin-starred chefs! His new venture Culinary Travels starts airing later this year. He likes nothing better than playing a round of golf with his pooch Gemima by his side, cigar in mouth and flask of single malt Scottish whisky to hand!