Why do torturers always smile? Is it just a part of the job description? “Small massage school is hiring people who enjoy inflicting pain.” There’s certainly no doubt that my Thai masseur is a happy, happy man as he digs his bony elbows into the small of my back. It’s even worse when he starts in on my extremely tender and sensitive feet. “Reflexology my foot!” More like torture-ology.

It’s not every day that you can get a 1-hour massage for $6, but that’s what you get every time at the massage schools off Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand. Located down a side road from the main drag, the massage schools allow students to sharpen their skills (and their elbows) on a mostly-foreign clientele eager for cheap muscle tenderization and a true Thai experience. To be clear, these aren’t “sexy” massage joints. (Not for $6/hour!) They’re all on the up and up, and the massage is, in fact, quite good. I go to the same place pretty much every time I’m in Bangkok. Sometimes it’s a man working on me, sometime it’s a woman. Although the massage is always kind of painful, I definitely feel VERY relaxed and loose afterwards, which is why I make this a must-visit when stopping in the Thai capital.

After a massage, I’m always kind of hungry – an easy condition to remedy along the lively Khaosan Road. Constructed in 1892 during the reign of Rama V, the road is located in the Bang Lamphu area of Bangkok, about a kilometer north of the Grand Palace. Although originally a place to buy rice (hence “khaosan” or “milled rice”), Khaosan Road is known as one of the preeminent backpacker areas in the world. For the last 40 years, it’s been offering cheap accommodation, ranging from “mattress in a box”-style hotels to reasonably priced three-star hotels. The road sees 40,000-50,000 tourists per day in the high season, and 20,000 per day in the low season. When I first came here in 1986, you could sit in a restaurant every night, eat a cheap, tasty meal and watch a movie on the establishment’s VCR. While the video movie nights may be a thing of the past, Khaosan Road is still a great place to hang out and meet people, grab a bite, and make onward travel plans. If you’re lucky, this great street food vendor will be at his station near the entrance to the road, whipping up the most fantastic and savory pad thai in his giant wok. Eating a giant plate of $3 noodles after a $6 massage – that, my friends, is no torture at all.

(As the expression goes, “no pain no gain,” right? But is it true? I think there’s a balance to be struck, between pushing yourself to the brink of pain an exhaustion in search of improvement (and endorphins), vs. sitting on the couch eating bonbons and expecting something in your life to change. I will say that you have to push yourself a bit to experience success and progress. But let’s not get crazy here, folks. Life is hard enough without adding 3 hours of gym workouts or marathon training runs into your life. Pick your “pain” and match it with your desired lifestyle and you can’t go wrong.)