“Sawadee ka,” said a woman in a full-length gown—quite the uniform for the hotel door greeter. With hands under her chin in prayer-pose, she bowed just enough to make me feel like royalty.
My left foot ached from a freshly healed stress fracture. What was I thinking embarking on a thirty-hour trek to Bangkok? While my husband worked, I’d spend my days in the room with my foot elevated. No sightseeing for me.
Turned out there was plenty to observe at my hotel. Much of it had to do with feet.
On my first trip to Thailand thirteen years earlier, I marveled as the room attendants cleaned in bare feet.
To my surprise, in 2018, they still work without shoes. One day, three people vacuumed, scrubbed the bathroom, and made the bed, all in naked feet. Three pairs of plastic sandals waited outside my door.
Life in Florida has made me a barefoot devotee. Closed-toed shoes become saunas on hot steamy days.
I rubbed my recovering foot, wondering if orthotics and sensible shoes were in my future. I had worn a boot for seven weeks. Now walking to the pool in flimsy flip-flops was painful. Once submerged, my foot relaxed and stretched through my morning swim. The outdoor crew cleaned the deck and covered wooden chaise lounges with cushions. Their tennis shoes flopped around their heels. I silently scolded the hotel for not providing employees with correct fitting footwear. But they slipped them off when behind the counter, the pool bar, or a palm tree. The two-sizes-too-big allowed their feet to breathe when needed.
My husband’s flat feet are always sore. After years of my pleading, he finally sprung for a professional Thai foot massage. After it was over, I expected him to say, “I should have done this sooner!”
He said the woman spent more time grinding her bony elbow into his calves than touching his feet. His Scandinavian shyness kept him from screaming, “My feet! Rub my poor aching feet!” That was his first and last massage. Then I read this hilarious post, ‘Thai Massage. Is it Voluntary Torture?’
After watching an episode of Beauty & the Beach, a reality show about Thailand’s booming plastic surgery market, I told my husband about fish spas. “You dunk your feet in an aquarium-like tub. Toothless garra rufa fish eat away dead skin. Technically it’s a pedicure, not a massage. It might feel good.”
“Forget it. Let’s eat.”
I hobbled to a taxi. The last time I had foot trouble, bunion surgery cured the problem. I took my hard-working feet for granted. The Beach Boys even wrote a song about taking good care of your feet.
For lunch, I pondered the photo of a cooked goose palm. We had eaten several chicken feet in China but the work involved to pull thin slivers of meat from the toes proved exhausting. The palm of the goose was larger. One goose palm came with a sea cucumber. An acquired taste I had no intention of acquiring. The other palm was accompanied by abalone. Too expensive. I opted for Peking duck without feet.
In Thailand, people feet are considered unclean. Travel blogs warn that you should never rest your feet on a chair or use them to touch or move anything. A story circulates through the traveling crowd about a man who dropped a one-hundred Thai baht bill and stepped on it before it blew away. Because the money bears the photo of the king, he was arrested.
Oh my. I have a habit of retrieving dropped items with what my husband calls, monkey toes.
For eight days, I kept my prehensile toes out of prison and chose loose sandals for the flight home. My injured foot would swell and needed room to expand.
The taxi raced through crowded streets returning us to the airport. We passed beautiful and unusual temples and hundreds of shoes sitting outside.
I whispered sawadee ka to my barefoot paradise.
Where do you like to go barefoot?