There are many experiences you can get for under twenty quid if you hang around a street corner in Birkenhead, but authentic Thai massage? Not since the while-you-wait chakra-realignment booth in Prenton Park have we seen something quite so mystical in our midst.
Market Street’s Kanokphon’s Thai Massage Studio is the real deal. I know this, because, after a cursory internet search for Kanokphon’s Thai Massage Studio, all I got was a Home Office border control document listing sponsors of immigrants from Thailand.
The thing you need to know about Thai massage is that it’s deep. Or, to put it another way, that was the thing I wish I’d known. Still, I was feeling that start-of-year sluggishness, and I figured it was going to take more than a Carol Vorderman detox and a week off the sherry.
No oils are used. No whale music. No soothing strokes, or simpering smalltalk. If there’s a relationship between Thai massage and the sort of treatment you’d get above a health studio in Bootle, it’s that they both leave you smelling a little musty, and walking with an awkward gait.
I disrobed, and slipped into a loose fitting cotton two-piece you’d find just the ticket for a day’s harvesting in the paddy fields.
“So, did you train in Thailand?” I asked, hoping a little small talk might ingratiate myself, and postpone the inevitable.
My masseuse was having none of it. She snapped at me to lie face down on the bed and, with her hot thighs straddling my buttocks, the onslaught began.
The first sensation was of suffocation. The weight of masseuse, plus two hollow fibre pillows, forced my head into a cocoon of cotton from which I could find no obvious means of escape.
For the remaining 30 minutes, thumbs delved into nooks and crannies previously off limits to even Google maps, hot towels were draped, rubbed and pummeled into my neck and shoulders, and my spine was assaulted with crouching finger, hidden knuckles.
‘You have tension’ she said.
‘Just a touch,’ I yelped.
The woman standing on me must have been no more than five feet tall. I felt like I was at the bottom of the England Rugby Team scrum. And not in a good way.
And then the big balls came out. Doughy, clammy, slightly musty balls. Pounding on my nether regions. Rubbing and tugging at my reddening flesh, seeking a safe harbour in some secret cove. I imagine this is what foreplay with the Pillsbury dough boy feels like.
“Herb ball,” she rasped into my ear. “Help with swelling.”
I’ve had better pillow talk.
Thai massage incorporates these heated muslin compresses, stuffed with supposedly medicinal tinctures: magic weeds said to be absorbed through the skin to release energy blockages and imbalances, and reduce inflammation. It’s the Thai equivalent to hot stone therapy, and, despite my initial misgivings, when the soft, moist buns were removed from my back I felt oddly robbed.
And then it was over. My masseuse slipped out of the room, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, and I was left, tingling and concussed, wondering whether I’d ever walk again.
I did. In fact I positively skipped out of the studio. I felt like I could have star-jumped across Hamilton Square.
You know that bloated woman off that advert? The one who carries her shit around in her handbag, and then empties it all in a plant pot and skips away, without a care in the world? I felt that good.
A sweet pot of green tea was awaiting me in the reception. Thai music chimed softly from a hidden speaker. I cupped the ceramic vessel and peered out at an eddying vortex of litter, suspended in the gloom of Argyle Street. I was in no rush to leave.
Kanokphons Traditional Thai Massage Studio
Market Street, Birkenhead
Tel: 0151 647 1920