BEAUTY, HYGIENE, MASSAGE AND HEALTH TREATMENTS IN THAILAND

BEAUTY AND HYGIENE IN THAILAND

Miss World in 2004 was Thai beauty Suzanna Vicheinrut. Miss Universes in 1965 and 1988 were Thais. Classic Thai female features include a round face, arched eyebrows, small mouth. Many say the best-looking Thai women come from the north. The typical northeastern female face is squarish, flat, with high cheekbones, a flat nose and dark brown skin.

During the opening ceremonies of the Asia Games in Bangkok in 1998 several Thai beauty queens passed out in the heat. In 1994, Miss Russia was detained in a small windowless room in the Bangkok airport while on the way from Russia to the Miss Universe contest in Manila on suspicion of being one of the thousands of Russian prostitutes who work in Thailand.

On the contrast between women featured in magazines and those who win beauty contest, Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand reported: “The image of celebrity erotica models can be juxtaposed, like the other side of the coin, with that of the beauty-pageant winners, such as Miss Thailand, who also frequently become media celebrities. Both images are of Thai women who achieve success and fame because of their appearance. Pageant contestants and winners always take great pains to extol the virtues of Thai women in their public statements, and many openly object to the pageant's swimsuit display requirement. Pageant winners invariably stress their “nurturer” ideology by speaking of helping children, the elderly, and the disabled. In contrast, erotica models send off an air of iconoclastic indifference in their seductive, hedonistic, and “I don't care” statements. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

Tattooing has traditionally been regarded as an art form in Thailand. Some men get tattoos as part of a ritual in an annual Buddhist ceremony. Tiger tattoos are popular. The tiger represents longevity and wards of evil. Monks make very detailed tattoos that are said to protect and bringing good luck to the people who have them.

Showers and Toilets in Thailand

Most Thais bath twice a day and never use hot water. Men and women often bath and shower outside while wearing clothing. In rural areas they often bath in rivers in steams. In towns and cities most homes have a cement trough filled with water and a plastic scoop used for bathing. In homes toilets and showers are often in separate rooms. Sometime there is no hot water, because it is considered too hot take a hot shower. Even houses that have showers often don’t have hot water.

Traditional Thai houses don’t contain a shower or bath as we know them, instead there is a big 'tub' for the water and a jug. Thai people bathe by throwing water over themselves. Most toilets are squat toilets although the western style toilets are becoming more available. Near the squat toilets there is a container filled with water and a cup or a hose pipe. These are used to flush water down the toilet.

Many toilets in Thailand are Asian-style squat toilets or a hole in the ground. Upscale hotels and restaurants usually have Western-style toilets; sometimes the don't have seats. Bring along toilet paper or tissues. Many restrooms don't have toilet paper. Asian style toilets often have a small cement tank next to it with some water and a plastic scoop inside. The water is there to clean your butt and flush the toilet. Many Asian sewer systems can not handle toilet paper. You are expected to put used toilet paper and tissue in a wastebasket rather than in the toilet. Otherwise the paper might clog the pipes.

A typical rural bathroom in Thailand is an outhouse in back of the house with cinder blocks walls and a metal door and roof. The toilet is a hole in the ground surrounded by concrete. People squat instead of sit.

The men and women’ rooms of public toilets are sometimes identified with pictures a man or woman. Many rest rooms have the words "men" and "women" written on them. Other are color-coded with pink for women and blue for men. Some restrooms are unisex. Some public restroom are cleaned by an attendant who expects payment of some small money and sells tissue for more money.

Public toilets in parks and markets are treated with suspicion and fear. At best they are regarded as filthy, dirty places. At worst they are places one might run into a gay stalker or drug addict or get attacked. One idea that was suggested to make them less threatening was outfitting the stalls with blue lights that would make difficult for intravenous drug users to find a vein.

In 2006, the World Toilet Expo, hosted by the Singapore-based World Toilet Organization, was held in Bangkok. Under the theme, “happy toilets for happy life,” delegates from 20 countries were given models of miniature toilets by pretty girls giving. Mannequins demonstrated the correct to use the latest toilets.

Squatting, Sitting, Washing, Wiping and Toilet Culture in Asia

In December 2005, the Asahi Shimbun reported: Junichi Hirata, vice president of the Japan Toilet Association, is fascinated by the notion of adapting cultural anthropology to toilet studies. He came up with his own term, "toilet demarcation," and a world map marked with cultural boundaries based on toilet styles. He says the area covering Asia, the Middle East and Africa can be labeled as belonging to the "squatters." The "sitters," for their part, are distributed in Western Europe, the entire American land mass and Australia--all areas hosting immigrants from Western Europe. However, Hirata warns, "There are many enclaves. So we can never be clear about these boundaries."

Hirata estimates that the area in which squatting-style toilets are used roughly matches up with the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) at the height of its power, covering the Middle East, parts of North Africa and much of southeastern Europe. The demarcation line runs south down the Aegean Sea and travels west through the Mediterranean, drawing a line incidentally congruous with that dividing the Islamic and Christian cultures that continue to vie for dominance.

The origins of the two styles are unclear. One hypothesis is that humans were all originally "squatters." Then some branched out to become "sitters," perhaps to become less vulnerable to a sneak attack. The hypothesis, however, remains just that.

And when it comes to cleaning, there are, again, two main schools: washing and wiping. Washing, naturally, relies on water. But when it comes to wiping, people have come up with a variety of ingenious materials. Only about 30 percent of the world's population uses toilet paper, according to Hideo Nishioka, professor emeritus at Keio University. Nishioka specializes in geography, but is well-versed in all sorts of matters related to the toilet. Other materials of choice include leaves, bark, wood chips, seaweed, sand, gravel and more. In other words, people have been making use of whatever natural resources have been handy in their local environment.

The world map as re-envisioned through toilet culture can thus be demarcated according to four basic elements: squat, sit, wipe and wash. As for how the four elements are combined, things take on a decidedly anthropological bent, swayed by local climes and customs. Even now, as the world moves toward globalization, tradition usually has the last say in what takes place in the bathroom--or its equivalent.

Cosmetic Surgery in Thailand

Popular procedures at cosmetic surgery clinics in mid 2000s included reducing eyes bags, sculpting noses and shaving the jawbones to produce a softer face. Double slit operations are more subtle, designed to create larger eyes not ones that look Caucasian. During the 30-minute double slit surgery, doctors cut, fold and sew the upper eyelids with what looks like a fishhook, to create a crease above the eyelids. One woman who had the operation said, “Bigger eyes make you look more awake, more beautiful.”

Double slit operations aim to make the eyes pop out and look rounder and more Caucasian. Many have said this look as well as high noses and model pouts don’t look right on Asian women. These days there is more of an emphasis on enhancing and refining Asian features rather than creating Caucasian ones.

For those who want less invasive procedures there are clinics that offer breast enlargement massages that its practitioners claim will increase the size of breasts from 2.5 to 10 centimeters. The massages are said to be quite painful and are usually done in 10-minute sessions. One masseuse who advertises she can “beat small breasts top be big” pinches, slaps and squeezes the breasts and the muscles and fat around them and rubs in creams and gels. After a series of half a dozen or a dozen massages customers and given instructions on exercises and personal massages they can do to keep their breasts large.

Cosmetic Surgery for Foreigners in Thailand

Cosmetic surgery is big business in Thailand. There are even package tours that include an examination, surgery and recovery time on the beach. Among the pioneers in the industry were doctors who performed sex change operations for transsexuals and breast enlargements for bar girls. In the 1980s and early 90s the business boomed among Thais and Asians. After the baht collapsed during the Asian economic crisis in 1997, foreigners began coming to Thailand in large numbers for the reasonable quality surgery at low prices. [Source: Margeret Talbot, New York Times Magazine, May 6, 2001]

Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok specializes in cosmetic surgery packages for foreigners. One official there told the New York Times, “You can come here, get a face lift and spend five days vacationing on the beach, and it’s still going to cost you 40 percent less than it would if you had the same procedure in LA.”

A face lift at Bangkok’s Yan Hee Hospital, the largest volume cosmetic surgery facility in Thailand, in the early 2000s went for around $2,300, a nose job for $1,150— prices that were a quarter or less of than the prices for the same procedures in the United States. Other services offered by the hospital included body contouring, buttocks lifts, brow shaves, tumescent liposuction and laser face resurfacing. Liposuction packages including “under the chin only” and “thighs and love handles.”

Needless doctors in the United States and Europe frown on the practice. They say they have seen many victims of botched overseas cosmetic surgery—in many cases caused by the clinics that offer the lowest prices—and they have been brought in to fix the mess, At one sun and surgery clinic in Pattaya a number of patients developed severe infections after undergoing breast enlargement surgery that cost only $256. It turned out the “doctor” didn’t even have a medical degree and was later jailed for three years on fraud.

See Medical Tourism Under Health.

Thai Massage

It has been said that Thailand is one of the best places in the world to have a Asian massage. Thai massage isn’t necessarily a codeword for sex. There are two kinds of massage parlors: ones that offer traditional Thai massage and sex houses with numbered women in “viewing rooms.” So there is no confusion places that offer only massages have signs that read: “Absolutely no sex.” For as little as $15 for you can get a superb two hour traditional massage in Thailand. According to AP: “Although some of Thailand's massage parlors notoriously double as fronts for prostitution, the vast majority are legitimate spas offering everything from aromatherapy to foot rubs to Thai "traditional massage."

Thai massage, sometimes called Thai Nuad Bo ‘Rarn, has traditionally been an important element of Thai medicine. Dating back to at least 2,500 years ago, it is based on the concept that individual energy lines through the body and massage helps to release “blockages” that occur along these lines to allow energy to run through them. The idea behind the energy lines is similar to the concept behind acupuncture.

The energy lines in one areas, say the thighs, are connected to other parts of the body, say the lower back. Of the 72,000 energy lines in the body Thai massage focuses on 10. Thai massage also sets to illuminate the “Four Divine States” of Buddhism: compassion, kindness, joy and equanimity. By combine Buddhist ideals with healing is supposed to elevate one to higher planes.

According to the Thai government : “Thai massage is a great relaxant and method to release stress and aching muscles. But it is also penetrates to the deep tissue, detoxifying as it stimulates lymphatic functions and the immune system. Different from Western approaches, the Thai massage recipient remains clothed and no oils are applied. The massage is also performed on the ground or floor with the practitioners using their hands, elbows, knees, and feet. " [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Wat Pho—a famous temple in Bangkok— established a massage school together with its homeopathic program. Here people taught what some now call the southern tradition, while in Chiang Mai, a northern tradition was being introduced. Both are based around Ayurvedic philosophy and yoga, as well as acupressure, the main difference being that the Wat Pho system begins around the stomach, which is believed to be the source of body energy, or prana in Sanskrit and chi in Chinese. The northern system begins at the feet and then ends at the head. [Ibid]

Some of the best massages are given by blind people. Not only are regarded as having a sensitive sense of touch they are considered skilled at reading energy lines. To become certified by the Thai Public Health Ministry they take a 1,500-hour, two-year course. Sighted people take an 800 hour course.

The Thai Health Ministry estimates there are 50,000 masseuses—both sighted and blind—nationwide and the massage industry generates at least 13 billion baht ($415 million) annually. Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri told The National News Bureau of Thailand that the Thau government "is aiming to make Thailand the world's ultimate destination for massage, with plans to improve the quality of the workers, offer more massage classes to the public and set up a massage center in every hospital."

Descriptions of Thai Massages

Describing a massage in Chiang Mai, Steven Van Yoder wrote in the Washington Post: “My masseuse started on my legs: pulling, applying pressure with her elbows, bending my legs back and rocking them gently. She moved to my back, kneading my muscles with the palm of her hand, then squeezing with her toes, fingers and heels. She stretched my arms in increments from my shoulders to my fingers. At the end of the session, I stood up feeling sore but refreshed—and aware of part sof my body that I had forgotten existed.”

Carol Lutfy wrote in the New York Times, " A good Thai massage begins slowly like a roller coaster ride, building up anticipation, then pulling you into a rhythm before there's any time to notice.” On a Thai massage in Bangkok she wrote, “I exchanged my shoes for slippers and submerged my feet in a bucket of warm water. They were perfunctorily scrubbed and I was sent off to a curtained cubicle with a mattress on the floor. There I was left to the hand, feet, elbows and knees of Ms. Prakond, a non-nonsense 40ish woman who immediately eased me into the coveted state between sleep and consciousness. She was an expert...She gave me a serious, thoughtful massage, starting as always with the toes on my left foot and gradually moving up the leg. With graceful form she yanked and kneaded, stretched and pushed. I felt deliriously content."

On a massage by a blind person Lutfy wrote, “Using the heel of his hand, he devoted more time to may neck and back than anyone lese. Toward the end of the massage, he wet my forehead with a warm washcloth, and pressed my nasal passages and temples. By the time he was through with me, my body was as loose as Jell-O.”

On a small street-side massage place in the beach resort of Huan Hin, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the New York Times: “I peek into Hua Hin Thai Massage, a small shop near a beach market selling towels and trinkets. The massage parlor truly feels like a family affair. Local women sit in circles massaging one another's feet and gossiping about their clients. When I interrupt them to ask for a foot rubdown, one reluctantly pulls herself away to bathe my feet in warm water and then prod and poke them for an hour, all for only $10.”

Spas and Massage in Bangkok

Spas and Thai Massage are enjoyed by both Thais and foreigners in Bangkok. There are numerous small massage parlors in Bangkok that offer traditional muscle-rubbing and joint-cracking massages for $5 to $10 an hour. Nonsexual massages are usually described as "traditional" or "ancient" massage.

The best spas are said to combine modern services with ancient Thai wisdom, Thai herbs, traditional Thai massage, foot massage, reflexology, herbal compress massage, herbal bath, holistic food and Asian healing and exercising methods such as yoga and acupuncture are combined to restore the body’s inner balance, without any chemical components. A massage with coconut oil or using an herbal compress is an adaptation of Thai local methods. Tourists can learn about the principles and methods of massage at Wat Pho, where it is said the traditional Thai massage originated.

The spa business in Bangkok has grown rapidly and comes in diverse forms. Customers can choose to get brief services lasting an hour or two if they are pressed for time, or take a course of several days. Many spas also provide their clients instruction in traditional Thai massage, meditation, and the preparation of holistic food. For hygiene and safety, these health spas require certification by the Ministry of Public Health. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists are encouraged to practice meditation in order to enhance their concentration and emotional balance. In Bangkok, there are several meditation institutions in peaceful surroundings. Some also teach in English.

The massage school Wat Pho near the Royal Place is famous. Massages here are only $5. The Oriental Hotel offer "jet lag massages" for $45. Recommended places include: 1) Makkasan Thai Traditional Massage (recommended by the Hyatt, includes a sex joint); 2) Winwan Clinic (advertised in a tourist magazine); and 3) Buathip Thai Message, near Winwan;

Sylvia Hui of Associated Press wrote: “Massage parlors and day spas are a dime a dozen here, but locals and travel guides alike gush about Ruen Nuad, a homely, unpretentious two-story shack tucked away in a quiet courtyard in the busy Silom area. If you're sweaty from shopping, hop back to the hotel for a quick shower before heading here - there are minimal amenities and rooms are as spartan as a monk's quarters, though everything is sparkly clean. Enjoy an aromatherapy oil massage that costs as little as $17 an hour amid the soothing white interior, or go for the Thai massage if you're up for stronger healing hands. [Source: Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, September 3, 2006]

On a massage at the Four Season Bangkok hotel, Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “[I] had a 60-minute Thai massage in the health club for about $40. The 90-minute version offered at the spa cost about $100. The regimen started with a stint in the club's lemon grass-scented steam room, followed by the kind of massage you can't get anywhere but in Thailand. A petite body worker, poised on the table, did things to my lower back that I could feel in my fingers. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

Thailand Breaks Mass-Massage World Record

In 2012, AP reported: “Thailand has long been known as the massage capital of the world. Now, it has a Guinness World Record to prove it. A record-breaking 641 massage therapists mass-massaged 641 people simultaneously for 12 minutes to win the honor at an indoor exhibition hall in Bangkok. The event was organized by the Ministry of Public Health to promote the Southeast Asian nation's massage and spa industry. [Source: Todd Pitman, AP, August 30, 2012]

The therapists more than doubled the previous record – attained in Australia in 2010 – of 263 people being massaged at the same time for five minutes. "It was easy because this is what we do every day for a living," said 53-year-old Chayanan Chanwuttisawan, one of the mostly female masseuses who took part in the event. "I'm proud of myself and my profession. I never thought we'd have a chance to be recognized like this." Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the spectacle, and a senior representative from Guinness Records, Rob Molloy, was on hand to certify the feat.

A traditional massage lasts two hours. An abbreviated version was on display Thursday as therapists, dressed in traditional garb, demonstrated their skills on a sea of thin sky blue mats spread across the floor. To a soundtrack of dreamy music that included the sound of chirping crickets, they went through their repertoire with a series of massage positions choreographed by the tinkling of a bell. The event ended quietly, but hands went up and therapists cheered after Mollow confirmed they had won a Guinness Record shortly afterward. "I felt I was enchanted," Yingluck told reporters afterward. "I felt calm and relaxed watching them. I felt really relaxed." Chayanan said the therapists who participated were given a video from the Ministry of Public Health to practice with.

Treatments Offered at Thai Spas: Detoxification, Exfoliation and Aromatherapy

According to Thai heritage, a Thai government website: “Detox, exfoliate, restore, and rejuvenate. These are the goals of spa treatments. It is also somewhat difficult to distinguish many of the treatments as being either for health or for beauty, as one is virtually dependent on the other. A healthy person will appear to glow. Their eyes will look bright and their hair and skin should shimmer. And they will reflect a youthful vitality. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

“A healthy body requires an electrolytic balance, including organic calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium, as well as an alkaline reserve. While a Thai sauna can help to reduce high content levels, our bodies are often depleted of these minerals because of eating high acid-forming foods, particularly meats, sugars, and grains, which produce bile to help digest the food and absorb fat, but also steal vital electrolytes. [Ibid]

“As the body becomes more acidic, it suffers from fecal and mucoid plaque build up. The body also retains more toxins as well as yeast, fungi, and even parasites, which can undermine the vital work of vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. These will then overload the bloodstream, causing first the liver and then other body organs to overwork, and if the body does become ill or imbalanced, it will be difficult for it to heal itself. For these reasons, a good cleansing, or purification, is in order periodically as a preventative measure. At the same time, you will experience a resurgence in energy as the body needs less energy for the digestive and circulatory systems to operate. Many believe, as well, that as the toxins spread and accumulate in the tissue, they can even have a negative effect on consciousness and our state of mind. So, as these poisons are eliminated, moodiness, irritability, and depression can be alleviated. [Ibid]

“A body scrub, while it removes dead skin cells and cleans pores, can also stimulate cell rejuvenation and make it easier for herbal creams and oils to be absorbed. Some of the more common treatments are performed with ground sea salt, rice, and even Thai-grown coffee, which can help reduce cellulite. Tamarind is a common ingredient in body scrubs, as the acidic fruit is an excellent whitening agent. Ginger is another potent component because, as the body is exfoliated, the rhizome is absorbed, relieving muscular aches. This is especially soothing after a demanding workout. If you perform a body scrub yourself, remember to moisturize well after. This is something you need not worry about if you receive the treatment at one of the many wonderful spas in Thailand. [Ibid]

“One of the most popular traditional treatments is aromatherapy, or fragrant herbal healing, which exploits the power of medicinal plants’ essential oils. Although we might think of the sweet scents just soothing our emotions, actually, the oils’ minute molecular complexes are penetrating the skin and bloodstream, quickly affecting our moods and physical states. Ginger or peppermint, for example can alleviate nausea and vomiting, so now in prenatal units, to reduce the anxiety of the expectant mothers, as well as their nausea and back pain, they are applying a dab of these essential oils along with camphor. Chamomile and lavender are two other essential oils that calm one quickly in an emergency. Fragrant essential oils have a variety of uses in addition to helping people relax and just feel good. They can also be applied through baths, wraps, and spray, as well as by burning. Consult the list of medicinal plants and the curative values in the chapter on medicinal herbs to learn which are best for treating specific conditions. [Ibid]

In recent years Ko Samui has tried to re-invent itself as a New Age spa treatment center by offering luxurious spa baths, morning yoga classes and mouth-watering yet healthy vegetarian and seafood delicacies, massages, aromotherapy, herbal saunas, fating, coffee enemas, manual lymphatic drainage, reflexology, tumeric exfoliation, yogurt rub downs, herbal baths with stewed rose and frangipanu petals, facial massages, seaweed body masques, wild mint foot massage, detoxifying algae wraps. vortex astrology and colic irrigation. The trend was started at the Spa Resort in the late 1990s. Other hotels soon joined in. [Source: Lynn Sherr, New York Times, November 7, 2004]

Controlled Vomiting, Intestinal Washing, Colonic Irrigation and Diet Cleansing

According to Thai heritage:“A ‘quick fix’ cleansing such as an enema, can be a shock to the body. That’s why a cleansing diet, that is, two meals a day of fresh fruit, salad greens, and potatoes, is a kinder purification treatment. It is also recommended that vitamin and mineral supplements be taken to ensure your body receives necessary nutrition. While vegetarians should follow this diet for a week, heavy red meat eaters need up to three weeks to cleans their body, as they will have a much higher pH, or acid level. After a few days of a cleansing diet some people will experience certain symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscular discomfort, fatigue or dizziness. By drinking more water, these can be reduced. A traditional Thai massage can also help to relieve any aches or pains. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Controlled vomiting or colonic irrigationcan also reduce the symptoms, but not till after at least four days of the cleansing diet. Many centers now offering the treatment require that a client follow a strict fruit fast first. Others recommend only water for a day or two before having a cleansing enema. However, many of the spas and traditional health centers in Thailand now offer colonic irrigation and recommend it before other treatments in order to achieve optimal results. Different herbs and essential oils are often included in the enema for a more effective treatment for different imbalances.

Ayurvedic practitioners have a number of selfpurification exercises which they prescribe. By drinking one quart of tepid salt water (one teaspoon of salt per one-half liter of water - the taste of tears) and then vomiting this, you can clean your upper digestive tract of excess acids and mucus. But this should never be practiced more than once a week and should be followed by a light meal, avoiding acidic foods. This is very good digestive cleansing for those persons who practice yoga. For this method, you need to prepare four liters of tepid salt water. After drinking one liter while squatting, you should perform four yoga postures, or asana, four Times: “first the Twisting Cobra, second a Twisting Tree Pose, third a Waist Rotation, and last the Stomach Squeezing Pose, turning to each side. After completing the routine, drink another liter of water and do everything again. Then try to go to the toilet, but do not force anything. Whether you are able to have a bowel movement or not, repeat the sequence - water, postures, toilet - but now drinking just a half liter of the lukewarm salt water. Continue until you are releasing clear water from the anus. Then stop, rest, and eat simple food such as rice gruel or rice porridge.

Although many centers are offering colonic irrigation treatments, there is also a very simple procedure you can conduct yourself. Cut a soft, 1/2-inch diameter tube, like a catheter (even a piece of smooth bamboo will do), to a length of 10 centimeters. Mark the middle of the tube and then rub some cream or Vaseline on one half before inserting. After this, squat in a tub of warm water up to your navel. Now, contract your abdomen several times, which will lift up your intestines and siphon the water in. Finally, remove the tube and release the water in an appropriate place.

Luk Prakhop (Hot Herbal Compresses) and Herbal Wraps

According to Thai heritage: Both relaxing and invigorating, this tightly packed herbal compress has a very long history in Thai traditional healing. Initially, it was used to sooth the aching muscles of Thai warriors returning from battle. Today, it is often used in conjunction with or following a traditional massage, in addition to treating persons unable to undergo the pressing and stretching. Many compresses are packed with between 10 and 20 medicinal ingredients, but virtually all, including ones made in the northern, Chiang Mai, and southern, Wat Pho, tradition, will have camphor crystals to cool and invigorate, lemon grass for its antiseptic properties, cassumunar ginger to moisturize, and kaffir lime leaves and rind to enhance skin tone. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

“The poultices are prepared by wrapping the herbs tightly in a piece of muslin or cotton cloth. The bundles are then heated in a hot pot or steamer at a temperature of 120 ̊C for 15 to 20 minutes. The practitioner should then test some of the compresses first on the forearm to be sure they aren’t too hot. The heat will relax stiffness and ensure better absorption. The compresses can then be pressed directly on acupressure points or where the client is experiencing pain. [Ibid]

“This technique is very effective for treating arthritis and stiff joints, and increasing mobility. As aromatherapy, applied to the chest, it can relieve respiratory congestion, and on the abdomen, indigestion. The treatment can also release energy blocks along the meridians to restore an even flow and elemental balance. After heating the compresses again for up to 20 minutes to release the alkaloids, the compresses can be frozen to treat sprains and strains, to disperse stagnant energy caused by broken meridians, and to reduce swelling, hematomas, and pain. [Ibid]

Following a Thai herbal steam bath or sauna and body scrub, many of the spas in Thailand today will prescribe a Thai herbal body wrap. During this procedure, herbal ointments, oils, creams, or mud mixtures will be massaged into the skin, after which the client is wrapped in plastic or rubber, or under large leaves, like banana leaves, for a more natural treatment. The warm wrap will intensify detoxification, absorption, and moisturizing, depending on the ingredients. Thai white mud (dinsao phong) is a very popular component because it extracts impurities and treats dermatitis. The white triangular pellets are easy to find, and they quickly dissolve in water, after which the mud can be spread over the face and body. The mixes often include many of the same herbs used in the herbal heat treatments, including the hot compresses. Milk and honey are two more favorite ingredients, as they moisturize and soften the skin. [Ibid]

Thai Facials and Herbal Saunas

According to Thai heritage: “Many of the spas today focus primarily on beauty, adapting Thai traditional remedies and concoctions to enhance a person’s natural appearance by restoring and rejuvenating the body, and removing wrinkles, dark stains, and spots. Most of the centers have their own recipes and names for the treatments, but again there are a number of basic ingredients. For example, coconut and cucumber are found in many facials, as they nourish and moisturize. Lime juice will help clean and tighten skin pores. Turmeric is another anti-inflammatory that will clear complexions. Finally, ripe bananas have been found to be an excellent moisturizer. Rich in natural oils, they also provide potassium and vitamin A, B, C, and E, which can improve skin tone. Guava and pineapple, high in AHA, also make wonderful toners. After application, these treatments may be left on for up to an hour before being rinsed off. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

“Most of the treatments discussed above can be performed by yourself or with the help of a friend. Still, it is best to consult a certified practitioner. When visiting a beauty spa, discuss the various treatments and combinations to determine which will best satisfy your specific needs and desires. Exotic aromas, steamy vapors, penetrating heat: soothing, healing. Since the earliest times, Thai herbal practitioners have prescribed therapeutic herbal heat. At first, they built saunas, or a room where they would place a charcoal burner, maybe covered with stones, and then either lay herbs or pour an essential oil or infusion over this to create an aromatic mist. The formula would depend on what grew wild in the area. Later, they planted gardens and also preserved the herbs by drying. [Ibid]

“Today, we still find herbal saunas at many of the local healing centers, often at Buddhist temples. But the heat therapy has evolved from dry heat to moist, or steam and immersion baths, as beauty spas have become popular. This is because, while a sauna dries the skin, stream and hot baths moisturize, since oil and vapors are more easily absorbed. Similar to Thai massage and herbal treatments, herbal saunas, steam baths, and immersions treat both the body and the mind. Their scented aromas soothe and relax while the herbs remedy surface conditions as well as penetrate through inhalation and absorption to cure internal ailments. Following Ayurvedic doctrine, their objective is to help achieve a balance of the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. [Ibid]

“Thai heat therapies also serve as an excellent detoxification. As body temperature rises, blood vessels expand, coming even closer to the surface. Perspiration also begins to flow from the pores, carrying excessive chemical substances from the blood, such as sodium and potassium, as well as toxins and other impurities lodged in body tissue and skin. Most therapists recommend about a ten-to fifteen-minute steam bath or immersion, followed by a refreshing plunge into a cold pool or chilling shower. Then back in for one more. While the heat opens pores, the cold closes them, so nutrition, curatives, and moisturizers will not be lost. At the end, you feel both refreshed as well as slightly drained, or tired. Remember, too, it is never a good idea to subject yourself to long periods of intense heat as you can lose an excessive amount of body fluid, which can be dangerous. [Ibid]

“Today, both fresh and dried herbs are used in Thai heat treatments. Fresh is always better as they have the strongest, most effective components, but this isn’t always possible. So, while dried herbs are a solution, over time, they will lose their efficacy and so should not be kept for too long. Furthermore, with fresh herbs, potions should be disposed of after use, as they can quickly begin to sour and reek, especially in warm climates. Meanwhile, dried herb concoctions have the advantage that they can be kept and used over again for three to five days. For hot baths, in addition to small amounts of essential oils, herbs can be wrapped tightly in a muslin cloth and then immersed in the water. [Ibid]

“Thai herbal steam baths and immersions can comprise just one ingredient or a combination, depending on their purpose. The medicinal plants employed can be classified into four groups: volatile oils, such as leaves of the lime; mildly acidic, including tamarind leaves; sublimable like camphor; and curative, for specific ailments, such as anti-inflammatory morning glory. While a sweet scent is helping one to relax and release tension, the vapors or oils can be treating respiratory symptoms such as asthma. In addition to allergies like hay fever, the steam and baths can alleviate eczema and other dermatological conditions, including itchy rashes and acne. Furthermore, Thai-style saunas, steam baths, and immersions are an excellent preparation before a Thai massage or spa treatment, as they relax the muscles and mind, detoxify, and soften the skin for scrubs, as well as enhance absorption of important nutrients during facial and body wraps. [Ibid]

Medicinal Plants Used in Thai Spa Treatments

The following is a list of the more popular medicinal plants used in Thai heat treatments, together with their benefits. 1) Acacia concinna (Sompoi): Relieves tooth and mouth aches. 2) Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus): Relieves respiratory conditions and refreshes. 3) Basil (Horapha): Relieves itchy rashes, and the aroma is very refreshing. 4) Galingale (Krachai): Treats shortness of breath. 5) Camphor (Karabun): The camphor tree bark is a mild antiseptic and works like a natural antihistamine. 6) Ginger (Khing): Energizes and stimulates body systems. 7) Camphor leaf (Nat): Treats eczema and inflammation. 8) Jasmine (Mali): The aroma is very soothing and relaxing. Relieves depression, tension, and irritability, as well as premenstrual syndrome. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

9) Cassumunar (Phlai): Relieves muscle stiffness. 10) Kaffir (Makrut): A mild antiseptic, it cures infection. It also improves respiration and digestion. 11) Lemon Grass (Takhrai): Relieves headaches, stimulates blood circulation, invigorates, and deodorizes. 12) Morning Glory (Phak Bung): Alleviates skin inflammation and allergies. 13) Menthol (Phimsen): Alleviates respiratory congestion and cold symptoms. Treats heart and skin conditions and deodorizes. 14) Turmeric (Khamin): Treats eczema, inflammations, and infected wounds. 15) Tamarind leaf (Bai Makham): Relieves itching. In hot baths, tamarind can serve as a catalyst for the other herbs’ remedial properties.

Recommended Amounts: 1) Acacia: 1 cluster. 2) Camphor: 3-5 leaves / 15 grams of powder. 3) Cassumuna: 2-3 cloves. 4) Kaffi: 3 leaves. 5) Lemon Grass: 3 stalks. 6) Morning Glory: 5 flowers. 7) Tamarind: 2-3 leaves.

Steps for a Traditional Thai Heat Treatment: 1) Check blood pressure. 2) Take a warm shower or bath first to remove dirt and to open pores. 3) Enter the sauna, steam bath, or immersion for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse off in cold water before entering a second time. 4) After the second period, do not bathe immediately, but sit and relax for a spell. Let your skin dry and cool off naturally and then take a final bath or shower.

Don’t Take a Heat Treatment: 1) If you are suffering from a fever of 38 ̊C (99.5 ̊F), as you could be susceptible to other bacteria or infections; 2) If you suffer from chronic illnesses, such as liver, heart, high blood pressure, convulsions, orintense asthma; 3) During menstruation. 4) If you have open wounds; 5) If you have just eaten; 6) If you are feeling weak or dizzy, possibly from fasting or lack of sleep.

Chiva-Som Resort Spa in Hua Hin

Chiva-Som in a spa resort in Hua hin that has been used by health-minded celebrities such as the Beckhams, Elle Macpherson and Kate Moss. According to the Greatest Getaways.com: “Thailand is known for its spectacular spa resorts and to my mind, Chiva-Som is among its best. Located near the king’s summer palace of Hua Hin, Chiva-Som is private, luxurious and exclusive. It offers a total rejuvenating holiday experience, incorporating a holistic approach to wellness in its design, philosophy and daily operation. The wellness facilities are superb. There are more than 30 spa treatment rooms with open air spaces, as well as facilities such as a music therapy room, a floatation chamber for de-stressing, a high-tech gym, saunas, multi-level steam rooms, Jacuzzis and assorted pools to enjoy. Because of its wellness focus, all guests receive a private consultation to develop a plan that will match their needs and goals, whether that’s for weight loss, stress reduction, or the joys of ultra pampering. Qualified in many disciplines, Chiva-Som’s team of Holistic Health Professionals can offer guidance in nutrition, and lifestyle in addition to therapies such as Aromatherapy, Shiatsu, Naturopathy, Acupuncture and more. greatestgetaways.com

Personally, the four-hand massage was my favorite. Two therapists work in unison on the left and rights side of your body and once your mind stops judging whether each is in perfect synchronization with the other, the rest of the treatment is a blur of relaxation. There’s a musicality of their rhythm that lulls every muscle into submission while the fight between left brain-right brain concedes all argument. A blend of ancient eastern and modern western techniques, and medical services, Chiva-Som therapies also include Thai massage, body wraps, cleansing, firming and relaxing facials, and oriental foot rituals, alongside Shiatsu, Watsu, Reiki, and Che Nei Tsang, classes in Tai chi, Qi Gong, Pilates, and many others. There’s even kayaking.

To describe Chiva-Som as only a health resort, however, fails to recognize the extraordinary kaleidoscope of culture, lifestyle and cuisine you’ll find. Each of its 50 Thai-styled rooms is luxuriously appointed with marble bathrooms, Thai sculptures, and private balconies or terraces from which to drink in the tranquil views and Chiva-Som atmosphere. The seven suites are even more impressive, and include the services of a private butler, 24-hours a day. Dining, also, is first class, garnering many an award from Condé Nast Magazine and others. A treat for your culinary senses, their Asian and Western specialties use only produce, herbs and spices from the Resort’s own organic gardens, and prove that low calorie, nutritious food can be a gourmet experience. If weight loss is your goal, a qualified dietician will guide your menu selections. Cleansing diets are also available.

Farah Andrews wrote in Scene magazine: You'll find the exclusive Chiva-Som - meaning, appropriately, ‘Haven of Life' - nestled in seven acres of tropical gardens on the paradisical Hua Hin coast. You can opt for a pampering break, and spend your days lounging about, enjoying Thai massages and the signature Chiva-Som body cocoon, or you can jet in for a detox retreat, of which Liz Hurley is a self-professed super-fan. This strict regime involves healthy foods (most of it juiced), colonic irrigations and lots of yoga - all designed to banish toxins and give your body a fresh start. [Source: Farah Andrews, Scene magazine, January 12, 2012]

While you'll have to give up some creature comforts, the resort boasts an impressive spa cuisine menu that uses the freshest and healthiest ingredients, and the yoga experts are known to be top-notch - trust us, they'll have you feeling comfortable in the downward dog in no time. Chiva-Som has been voted as one of the top three spas in the world in every major list over the past 10 years, so a word of warning: once you've stayed there, you'll find it hard to recreate the same sense of Zen anywhere else. You're also very likely to spot a celeb or three while relaxing, as the spa prides itself on total privacy and exclusivity, meaning it has a loyal, repeat-visit A-list following. If the idea of seven days of intense yoga and diet lockdown terrifies you, book yourself on the Taste of Chiva-Som retreat. It's bespoke and you'll get to try aspects of the clean life - as well as plenty of massages - but you won't be doing sun salutations from dusk 'til dawn.

According to Travel & Leisure magazine: Thai kings chose Hua Hin for their summer palace, and not far away, within seven acres of banyan-filled gardens, this beachfront resort makes everyday couples feel like royalty. After a welcoming lemongrass tea, a personal adviser will help you plan a program that might include cooking classes, watsu treatments, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and herbal massages. The spa menu draws on organic products grown at Chiva-Som, and private butlers keep the attentive service going throughout your stay. Price Tag: From approximately $500 per person per night; includes all meals and drinks, selection of one daily massage per day, fitness and leisure activities, wellness consultation, and unlimited use of water therapy suites; adults only (16 or older).

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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