Mr. Monk and the Nuk Nuks

Written by Travel

Chiang Mai, Thailand

For the second time I gave my butt over to the less than tender mercies of Nuk’s motorbike and took the 10 minute trip to the suburb of Maerim for Mr. Monk’s Micky-Moused Acme Herbal Sauna and Health Retreat, Northern Thailand’s middle finger response to the pomp and swank of L.A. spas.

Admittedly, I don’t know Mr. Monk’s real name, but he wears wooden Buddhist beads and whispers prayers over my bloody knuckles, so Mr. Monk he shall remain. And the man is nothing if not an entreprenureal genius. For the meagre sum of 130 baht (circa $3.50 USD), you get an hour-long massage, all the tea and pomelo you can stuff down, and access to the little fire-breather of an herbal steam room. The tiny construct, which fits no more than 6 people, is powered from behind by a barrel, a hose, and a fire of palm fronds which Mr. Monk stokes with sadistic relish.

“Do you think we could keep it a little sabai today?” I ask.

“Sabai, sabai,” he confirms. Comfortable, calm, he says, right before you’re subjected to various human rights abuses.

Anyway, I don’t know what he puts in the steam, but keeping awake after an hour or so of sweat-bathing and getting knots kneaded out of your shoulders is like trying to lift anvils with your eyelids.

But however bitchin’ this experience may be, it barely holds a candle to the privledge of spending the afternoon in the company of Nuk. Nuk, trainer, rock, living legend. Nuk, 500 fights later, he arrives at age 45 only slightly deranged. Nuk, the dangerous uncle you never had, whose amused, maniacal chuckling is on repeat throughout your entire sparring session, whose face hurts your fist more than vice versa, and who I actually saw giggle after getting kneed in the balls. Nuk is what the Godfather would have been, born Thai, poor, and forced to do all of his own mercenary work. Nuk… who asks Mr. Monk to crank up the heat.

“No powuh! Mai Dii! No good!”, he says.

“Unnngh… my flesh is bubbling…” I say.

“Dii! Good! You stong!”

I am punched in the arm, and a welt raises.

Someone has heeded him, and the heat, miraculously, increases. I surge out into the midday air, and figure that’s about all the sauna I’ll need for a month.

Hours later, Nuk drops me off in front of my apartment.

“Tomollow?” he asks.

I nod. Tomollow indeed.