The warmth from the hot coals flushes my cheeks. The heady aroma of herbs fills my nostrils and the gentle lilt of Lanna music fills the air. My eyes swivel to watch the therapist as he moves towards the hot coals. The oil sizzles and flames leap like a jack-in-the-box as the Thai man places his foot on the hot iron griddle. This is no ordinary Thai massage. But Ban Rai Kong Khing is no ordinary Thai village.
Preserving ancient wisdom and traditional health treatments
Located in the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai, the small village of Ban Rai Kong Khing has experienced a remarkable change in fortunes in recent decades. And it has been by looking to the past that the community has been able to move forward.
Today, the community at Ban Rai Kong Khun employs organic farming techniques and promotes the use of herbal plants and traditional remedies. But it hasn’t always been like that. It wasn’t that long ago when the villagers were using harmful chemicals on their crops and a large proportion of the community were suffering from poor health. Realising things had to change, the villagers came together to discuss ways to improve the situation. The decision was taken to stop using artificial chemicals and begin practising organic farming. At the same time, the residents of Ban Rai Kong Khing also began to look at traditional herbal treatments to treat specific ailments. The holistic approach adopted by the community soon began to reap rewards.
The initiatives at Ban Rai Kong Khing have been such a success that the village now acts as an education centre sharing local knowledge about traditional medicine and herbal products. Most of the households in the village grow herbs and plants which are used to produce medicine, shampoo and bath creams. A proportion of the products are used locally and the remainder are offered for sale to visitors. The village has established herbal steam rooms and set up an area where traditional Thai massage techniques can be taught. Thai and overseas tourists are welcome to visit and can also experience the local hot oil fire massage known as ‘yum kang‘.
Yum Kang hot oil fire massage
The precise origin of the traditional yum kang fire massage remains uncertain, but was practised in the Lanna region of northern Thailand for many generations. Associated with Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional alternative therapy has now been revived at Ban Rai Kong Khing.
Using his wooden staff for balance, the therapist dips one foot into the specially prepared herb-infused oil. Different herbs are used depending on what symptoms are being treated. A simple clay pot holds the hot coals and on top of that the iron blade of a plough, known as a ‘kang‘, is placed. After coating his foot with oil, the therapist stamps on the iron blade before skilfully using his foot to massage the patient. It’s a unique experience and one which stimulates all the senses.
Community Based Tourism at Ban Rai Kong Khing
Ban Rai Kong Khing has been lauded as a model for Community Based Tourism (CBT) in Thailand. The various CBT initiatives in the kingdom are owned and managed by the community, for the community. All Thai CBT projects aim for cultural, environmental and social sustainability. As a tourist, the CBT initiatives are an excellent way to experience local life. This is a mutually beneficial form of tourism with the income generated helping to preserve traditional culture and heritage.
Financial security for the villagers
Ban Rai Kong Khing is a shining example of a successful co-operative. Every month, each household in the village pays in 50 Baht to the community fund. This has been ongoing for more than two decades and has accumulated a healthy community fund which is available to help members in times of need. The money is also used to operate the community store which purchases consumer products at wholesale prices. These are then sold back to the members with a small mark-up added on with the resulting profits distributed back to the co-operative members.
How to get to Ban Rai Kong Khing
Ban Rai Kong Khing is located in the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai province, approximately 30 minutes drive south-west from the centre of Chiang Mai city. In addition to the traditional health remedies, you can also sample local organic delicacies, rent bicycles to explore the surrounding countryside and stay overnight as part of a homestay package. More details here:
At the time of writing the website for Ban Rai Kong Khing is unavailable, but any tour office in Chiang Mai should be able to arrange a visit on your behalf.