The history of healing in Thailand has always had spiritual notes. In the olden days, temples functioned as a place of worship as well as a hospital. People often called on local monks to heal their physical ailments. Monks would use their understanding of balance, energy and all things spiritual to advise on health problems. Thus, spirituality and Chinese healers have been an integral part of Thai culture for centuries.
Despite great advances in medicine, many people are still interested in ancient healing methods such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. For travellers visiting Phuket, it is possible to explore such methods by seeking out a variety of healing experiences on the island.
Chinese Healers & Herbs
Nguan Choon Tong is the oldest herbs shop in Phuket province. Located in the heart of Phuket Old Town, the shop has been operated by the same family, of Chinese descent, since 1917. Nguan Choon Tong is a treasure trove of ancient remedies. The wafting aromas of the shop are heady, but walking into the shop is like stepping back in time. The shop retains a vintage feel, and various containers stacked floor-to-ceiling are packed with a wide range of herbs, spices and plants used in Chinese medicine. Whatever the ailment, chances are Nguan Choon Tong has the cure. Even if you are not ill, visiting the herbs shop is a unique experience as you witness the staff weighing portions of herbs on antique scales.
Although it is most popular for being a holiday island, a large number of people also come to Phuket for health, wellness and spiritual pursuits. Many people feel more comfortable turning to traditional healing methods such as those offered by Chinese healers. People not only seek to ease aches and pains but also to restore proper energy flow in the body and lighten the soul. For this reason, acupuncture has remained a popular practice, not just in Phuket, but around the world.
Acupuncture was first documented thousands of years ago. If carried out by a professional, the practice is said to be a safe and effective method of treating a variety of afflictions including chronic pain and allergies. People also use acupuncture to treat psychological disorders such as depression and overeating. In some cases, it has even been successful in treating substance addiction. If you are blessed with good health, you may still visit a centre to realign your energy flow while in Phuket. Get in touch with the Elite Concierge to locate a recommended clinic.
Visitors to Phuket are often curious about the various cultures and beliefs on the island. These curiosities may lead you to seek out personal experiences in shrines, temples or other sacred sites. During such a visit, you may even be able to have a simple chat with a monk. Many of Phuket’s monks speak good English and are happy to bestow blessings by tying a colourful string around your wrist, splashing sacred water onto your arms and face followed by a few short prayers. Now and again, it is possible to encounter a Mor Doo in one of Phuket’s many shrines or temples. A Mor Doo is a fortune-teller, and these individuals are generally happy to offer their services for a small fee to curious bystanders.
Shrines, temples and fortune-tellers coincide with the beliefs of the Thai-Chinese community. You’ll find these most visible during Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival. Many Thai-Chinese spirit mediums in Phuket participate in the yearly event. They also sometimes offer hushed healing services to members of the community behind the scenes. While the spirit mediums do not necessarily deem themselves as healers, they are said to have a sacred connection to their ancestors. Thus, it is believed that they can offer advice on how to heal both physical and spiritual ailments.
“When someone is hurting, we have to find the reason behind their pain. Has the person physically injured themselves, or did they do a bad deed which is now being punished by the gods? If the pain is only physical, of course, we recommend they visit a doctor. However, sometimes the pain is spiritual and karma is at play. We then have a series of rituals that the individual must partake in, to apologise to the gods and make merit. Some of these rituals include a vegetarian diet for several days to cleanse the body and soul. Or, they may be asked to pray at various Thai-Chinese shrines, offering the ancestors daily alms,” shared a local spirit medium.
Do note that it is not easy to gain access to the island’s spirit mediums if you are a tourist. They tend to shy away from being in the spotlight. Also, they prefer to keep their gifts and abilities within their own tight-knit communities. If you do chance upon one or get the opportunity to meet one, be respectful in your dealings, and not openly curious.
There is a lot to be learnt or experienced if you allow yourself the curiosity to explore different cultures. Thailand is a country rich in heritage and history. Chinese healers and other spiritual practices are entwined in its fabric and make for a fascinating experience for all kinds of travellers.