And now to address the burning issues of the day, where to get a decent hair cut on the road?
The great thing about South East Asia is how cheap everything is, but cheap doesn’t always mean good right? Chiang Mai is rammed full of dental whitening studios, plastic surgeons and all the obligatory spa and massage places. But sometimes paying 3 quid for a manicure means you get…well…a three quid manicure. Forking out just a small amount extra at a decent place means you can avoid paying sky high city prices from the west and still maintain fabulousness on the road.
Here are my top 3 beauty bargain hideaways in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Vera at Icon Hollywood in Nimmanhemin (the posh, boutiquey part of town,) is a long willowy Thai with fashionably cropped and bleach blonde hair. She honed her trade in San Francisco and New York before coming back and setting up shop in her home town. She picks up my hair like its a piece of drift wood or old straw (actually it is) and asks: Riiiiggght what are we doing with this then?? After a year on the road with only one other pitstop to see a hairdresser my roots and highlights have transformed into a two tone head with more contrast than a walnut and mahognay table top. My roots to my ears are my natural dark brown, the rest are the remains of blonde highlights that a year under Asian sun have turned bright yellow. “Which colour did you want to go for?” she asks hesitantly.. Oh god. The blonde the blonde!
She manages to tame the birds nest and rehydrate the straw and cuts it so that the layers nicely frame my face and the ends are left chunky and dare I say it…almost healthy looking. Then she tackles the roots and gives me perfect, sun kissed, fresh from the beach highlights. She is officially my new favourite person in the world. I think she might be the one. You know -the hairdresser you spend your life searching for. I’m worrying about how I’m going to fly all the way back to Chiang mai just for a hair cut after I leave Thailand - a 700 quid flight price seems excessive from the Uk but then I have been searching for someone who does my layers like this my whole life! The best news is, the cut and blow dry itself only sets me back 500 baht - or a tenner. I have two colours on my hair for highlights on long hair which costs around 40 - 50 quid. Still a good twenty to thirty pounds cheaper than back home and as good a quality too.
So having sorted out the mane its on to nails. You can get a manicure anywhere in Thailand, most of the massage and spa places offer it, and charge around 100 - 150 baht (or three pounds.) My advice? It’s worth finding a nail salon that specialises in manis and pedis and paying a bit extra. For a fiver (so lets face it still not breaking the bank) the girls at Thai Nails over the other side of the Ping River - agonise over my colour. They buff and they scrape and they massage. It’s a little embarrassing… traipsing around the world in flip flops has left my feet with more than its fair share of hard skin, callouses and brittle nails. How attractive.
Botox and other Skin Care Essentials.
Forget Argentina. Chiang Mai is fast becoming the go to place for cheap cosmetics.I have been monitoring the line developing between my brows for about 15 years now - I’m nothing if not obsessive. It still has yet - in my humble opinion - to reach the critical stage. However I’m dismayed to see what a year under Asian sun has done to my upper arm and decolletage skin. I’ve been applying the factor 50 religiously and since I stopped travelling I’ve bought an umbrella and when that didn’t help given in and covered up with long sleeved tops and hippy pants. This didn’t however, un do the great swathes of the previous year where I dressed like a 20 year old back packer in cut offs and vest top - because - well quite frankly -because I could.
Or correction, thought I could. Turns out you really can’t get away with using coconut oil and a string bikini and excessive arm exposure and not pay the price at our age. I feel like such an idiot. There is something about us British. The old Noel Coward song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” is so true. It doesn’t matter that everyone knows all the sensible advice about covering up, and not sunbathing between 11 and 3 etc as soon as I get anywhere near a beach and the sunshine comes out I feel compelled to strip off and lay myself prostrate on the sand. So as an aside - prevention of sun damage is much cheaper and more effective than anything the beauty industry has come up with to combat ageing. Keep the tops of your arms and chest covered in strong sun as well as wearing a high factor and high quality UV sun cream (some of the sun tan lotion sold in Asia is actually fake and not that effective.) In more traditional areas such as Chiang Mai and the North you should be keeping your legs and arms covered anyway so invest in long sleeved cotton tops and trousers and an umbrella - which comes in handy in the temperamental rainy season.
Dr Danai is married to Miss Thailand and is a preternaturally young 49 year old who looks 25 if he is a day. He cheerfully has a look at my skin, peers dubiously at my cleavage and then the tops of my arms.
"Weeeell" he says
"You should wear sunscreen."
Yeah great thanks for that. He puts one of those scary mirrors in front of me (the kind that magnifies your face so you can see every single open pore on your nose) and then draws imaginary lines across my face horizontally dividing it into three sections, eyes and forehead, cheeks, nose and jowel and chin and mouth. Botox he explains - is his forte. He goes into a long winded reason about the fact that it's a preventative measure as it is repeated frowning and pulling our faces into these shapes that eventually leaves the lines - however the more I look at my face the less I want to have I done.
I quite like my laughter lines. There, controversial - i've said it.
I know that men find youth and beauty attractive but I think they make my face warmer and more interesting than the blandness I had in my twenties. I ‘d like better quality skin and some facial exercises to stop the jowels would be good but overall I dont think I look to bad for pushig forty. Dr Danai is very disappointed. But cheerfully sells me a micro peel and microdermabrasion for around 30 pounds (half of what I would have paid in London) He leans over and confides:
"Before your menopause the best way to stay young? Eat anti oxidants and exercise. "
So there you have it and from the horse's mouth. Do exercise and eat lots vegetables. It really isn't rocket science after all.
His clinic is clean, hygienic and the staff sweet and attentive. The treatment I have is good value, they pummel and use diamond tone microdermabrasion. And then a face cream.
But if the needle’s your thing then this is the place to go. And as an aside, the only skin cream sworn to work by beauty therapists is Retinol A - and the only percentages you can buy high enough to do any good won’t be found over the counteri n the west.
You need to buy Stevia A or Retin A 0.05% and in Thailand its available over the counter at Boots for a fiver. That’s what I call a result.