Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the hilltribe villages

I made it from Koh Lanta to Chiang Rai via Krabi, Surat Thani, Petchaburi, Ratchaburi, Kananchaburi, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai, I went to visit some schools I had heard about. The Old Medicine hospital is “also” the oldest school of Thai Massage in Thailand (as was the Wat Po in Bangkok, a bit like the States where every other fast-food joint claims to have the “best burger in America”)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Northern style massage is different to Southern, because it focuses on different parts of the bodies with slightly different techniques. The northern one was developed specifically for the population of the North, where people work crouching down in the fields all day. So the treatments focus mainly on the legs and stretching them, as they get very stiff.
In the South, where apparently the Thais traditionally are more sedentary, the whole body is treated equally, with special attention on the back.

What I want in the North is to continue learning, and build on my Thai knowledge. What I don’t want is to do another rigid beginner’s course where it’s all about repeating and learning off by heart and not understanding. We will call that “Thai style”, where learning is quasi-religious, teachers are praised but questions are not permitted. Questioning the master means doubting him and that is not imaginable.

That is why I felt more at ease at  the Sunshine School. Both Thai and Westerners teach here, and it’s a more relaxed, Western style of teaching, i.e. you get explanations, background, and the right to ask questions! They believe you need to understand before you can learn. And that’s exactly what I need.

There are beginner’s course starting every week, lasting 2 weeks. But after discussing with a couple of teachers, they thought that even though I hadn’t studied the North Style, seeing my background I could jump straight to the advanced courses and they would slow down and explain when I didn’t understand. That sounds wonderful.

Except the next interesting courses start November 10th, and will last 2 weeks. In the mean time, and because I need to renew my visa, I am crossing over to Laos and whilst I’m there I will also be looking for massage traditions. And very much looking forward to it! I hear it resembles Thai, but with a twist, a Chinese influence.

Today though, I visited the Hilltribe Museum in Chiang Rai, and I learnt a few things on the villages and their ways of treating despite the unhelpful staff.
There are a many tribes that live in the mountainous regions of Thailand, and many are the Burmese and Lao border. These people lived secluded from modern Thailand, and have a separate culture in their own right, including medical practices.
Every village or settlement has what is best described as a shaman, mostly men, who spend their time making sure the spirits are kept happy. When a person is ill, the shaman will go to that person and diagnose what is wrong. Possible diagnosis includes: loss of soul, spirit affliction, and consequences of black magic.
Depending on the cause of the disease, the shaman will chose to make chants and incantation, give offerings (generally an animal is sacrificed, offered and then eaten by the family), prescribtion of herbal remedies and appropriate dietary measures.
I did not see anywhere any mention of hands-on treatment, but that does not mean it does not exist…

Shamans used opium as a means of helping with diagnosis (to get in a transe and contact the spirits), and as a means of treatment. Opium and Heroin were used in the West as asthma, cough and teething remedies. The first version of Morphine was derived from Opium.

After the government’s crackdown on drugs (excuse the pun) Shamans have had to stop using opium and its derivatives. Most tribes have also stopped cultivating poppy and have started growing other crops and raising animals as an alternative.

I may visit a tribe or two on an organised trek in Laos, but my main aim is to visit the Northern part of Laos and find traces of Lao therapeutic massage.


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