head Special Interest

Special Interest
BUDDHIST MEDITATIONbuddhistmed Special Interest
Matching bodily fitness with mental health is a common task for Thais. They practice it through the influence of Buddhism. Meditation plays an important role in sustaining a healthy lifestyle for Thais. Visitors can Learn the fundamentals of meditation at several centers in Bangkok and elsewhere.

Some of the main meditation centres include:/
Suan Mok, a 12-acre forest temple in Chaiya district, Surat Thani province, some 580 kilometres south of Bangkok. Attracts and accepts meditators from all over the world.

Meditation opportunities in Bangkok, include Wat Mahathat (facing Sanam Luang), Wat paknam, Wat Chonprathan Rangsarit, and Wat Bowon Nivet (in Banglamphu), where English-language instruction is available.

The Northern Insight Meditation Centre at Wat Ram Poeng (Tapotharam) is located at Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Muang in Chiang Mai. Tel/Fax: 053-278-620. This is one of the most well-known meditation centres among tourists that has English-speaking and volunteers on assistance.

The centre offers a 26-day course in Vipassana (insight) meditation. If visitors cannot stay for the duration, a few days's studies can be arranged, but beginners are advised to allow themselves five days to adjust to the practice.

Instruction begins with an opening ceremony, in which meditators pledge to follow the Eight Buddhist Precepts, which include taking only two meals a day, They are then given instruction and required to go to daily "report" sessions, personal meetings with a teacher to discuss their progress and receive further instruction.

buddhistmed2 Special Interest Foreign nationals are required to complete an application form and present a valid passport and visa for admission. All meditators wear white: proper clothing can be purchased at the Temple's store. Meals and accommodation are provided at no charge; donations are accepted but not required.

Wat phra That Sri Chomthong, is another meditation centre headed by the founder of the Northern Insight Meditaiton Centre at Wat Ram Poeng. Located as some 45 kms from Chiang Mai, on the Chiang Mai-Hot route. Rules are similar to that at the Insight Meditation centre. A valid passport and visa and a completed application form are required for admission. White clothing is mandatory. The method of meditaiton taught here stresses self-awareness. Courses vary in length from one week to one month; a short stay can be arranged but must be organized in advance. Accommodation is simple but adequate. Attendance tends to increase during major holidays, so contact the temple beforehand to ensure the space.

HEALTHY ACTIVITIES
While exploring Thailand's natural beauty, visitors can enjoy healing activities that refresh and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit.

Climbing, cycling, rafting and trekking are healthy sports that you can enjoy amid the abundant forests of Thailand, especially in the North and the Central Plains.

Khao Yai National Park is ideal for hiking and Kaeng Hin Phloeng is a challenging stretch of whitewater offering enjoyment for experienced rafters.

Thailand has a never-ending supply of outdoor activities for all types of adventurers, from the advanced adventure traveler to the light adventurer who prefers a gentle walk. Whatever your pleasure, amazing Thailand has something for you.

TRADITIONAL THAI MEDICINE
Herb Special InterestWestern medical practices are for the most part restricted to modern hospitals and clinics in Thailand's towns and cities. In villages and rural areas a large number of Thais still practice various forms of traditional healing which were codified in Thailand over 500 years ago. Clinics and healers specializing in traditional Thai medicine can also be found in urban areas; many Thai doctors in fact offer a blend of international medicine-a term ethno-medical scholars prefer to "western medicine"-and indigenous medical systems.

Traditional Thai medical theory features many parallels with India's Ayurvedic healingtradition as well as Chinese medicine. In practice, however, Thai diagnostic and therapeutic techniques may differ-significantly. Obviously influenced to some degree by these traditions, Thai medicine in turn has been the predominant influence on traditional medicine in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Most Thai medicine as practiced today is based on two surviving medical texts from the Ayutthaya era, the Scripture of Diseases and the Pharmacopoeia of King Narai. Presumably many more texts were available before the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya in 1767 and destroyed the kingdom's national archives. A coexisting oral tradition passed down from healer to healer conforms to the surviving texts; other materia medica developed in the Ratanakosin (or old Bangkok) era are founded on both these texts and the oral tradition.

Like medical practitioners elsewhere in the world, traditional Thai physicians perform diagnoses by evaluating the pulse, heartbeat, skin colour/texture, body temperature, abnormal physical symptoms and bodily excretions (eg. blood, urine, faeces) of their patients. Unlike orthodox western doctors, Thai healers favour a holistic approach that encompasses internal, external and psycho-spiritual conditions Thus, once diagnosed, patients may be prescribed and issued treatments from among three broad therapeutic categories.

Herbal Medicinesspa1 Special Interest
Traditional pharmacological therapy employs prescribed herbs, either singly or in combination, from among 700 plant varieties (plus a limited number of animal sources) which are infused, boiled, powdered or otherwise rendered into a consumable form. Common household medicines (yaa klaan baan in Thai) include the root and stem of baw-raphet (Tinospora rumphii, a type of woodclimber) for fever reduction, raak cha-phluu (Piper roots) for stomach ailments, and various yaa hawm (fragrant medicines) used as medicinal balms for muscle pain or headaches. Medicines of this type are readily available over the counter at traditional medicine shops and to a lesser extent in modern Thai pharmacies.

More complex remedies called yaa tamrap luang (royally approved/recorded medicine) are prepared and administered only by herbalists skilled in diagnosis, as the mixture and dosage must be adjusted for respiratory infections and influenza-induced fevers.

As in the Chinese tradition, many Thai herbs find their way into regional cuisine with the intent of enhancing health as well as taste. More information, please see also Thai herb in same page.

Massagethaimessage Special Interest
The second and most internationally famous type of Thai medical terapy is raksaa thaang nuat (massage treatment). The extensive and highly refined Thai massage system combines characteristics of massage (stroking and kneading the muscles), chiropractice (manipulating skeletal Parts) and acupressure (applying deep, consistent pressure to specific nerves, tendons or ligaments) in order to balance the functions of the four body elements (thaat thangg sii). These four elements are earth (din-solid part of the body, including nerves, skeleton, muscles, blood vessels, tendons and ligament); water (naam-blood and bodily secretions); fire (fai-digestion and metabolism); and air (lom-respiration and circulation). Borrowing from India's Ayurvedic tradition. Some practitioners employ Pali-Sanskrit terms for the four bodily elements: pathavidhatu, apodhatu, tecodhatu and vayodhatu.

From the Ayutthaya period until early this century, the Thai ministry of Public Health included an official massage division (phanaek maw nuat). Under the influence of international medicine and modern hospital development, responsibility for the national propagation/maintenance of Thai massage was eventually transferred to Wat Pho in Bangkok, where it remains today. Traditional massage therapy has persisted most in the provinces, however, and has recently enjoyed a resurgence of popularity throughout the country.

Within the traditional Thai medical context, a massage therapist (maw nuat, literally, "massage doctor" usually applies Thai massage together with pharmacological and /or psycho-spiritual treatments as prescribed for a specific medical problem. Nowadays many Thais also use massage as a tool for relaxation and disease prevention, rather than for specific medical problems. Massage associated with Bangkok's Turkish baths (aap op nuat or "bathe-steam-massage" in Thai) is for the most part performed for recreational or entertainment purposes only (or as an adjunct to prostitution); the techniques used are loosely based on traditional Thai massage.

For problems affecting the nerves rather than the muscular or skeletal structures, many Thais resort to nuat jap sen (nerve-touch massage), a Chinese-style massage technique that works with the body's nerve meridians, much like acupuncture.

Psycho-Spiritual Healing
A third aspect of traditional Thai medicine called raksaa thaang nai (inner healing) or kae kam kao (literally, "old karma repair") includes various types of meditation or visualisation practised by the patient, as well as shamanistic rituals performed by qualified healers. These practised in conjunction with other types of treatment. With the increasing acceptance of meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback in Occidental medicine, anthropologists nowadays are less inclined to classify such metaphysical therapy as "magico-religious", accepting them instead as potentially useful adjunct therapies.

As in the west, psycho-spiritual techniques are most commonly reserved for medical conditions with no apparent physical cause or those for which other therapies have proved unsuccessful. In Thailand they are also occasionally employed as preventive measures, as in the bai sii ceremony popular in North-Eastern Thailand and Laos. This elaborate ceremony, marked by the tying of string loops around a subject's wrists, is intended to bind the 32 khwan or personal guardian spirits - each associated with a specific organ - to the individual. The ritual is often performed before a person departs on a long or distant journey, based on the reasoning that one is more susceptible to illness when away from home.

THAI HERBS AND THAI CUISINE
Many herbs and spices used in Thai cuisine have beneficial medicinal properties. Here with are some examples.

Chilli: "Phrik" in Thaires chilli Special Interest
Chilli is an erect, branched, shrub-like herb with fruits used as garnishing and flavouring in Thai dishes. There are many different species. All contain capsaicin, a biologically active ingredient beneficial to the respiratory system, blood pressure and heart. Other therapeutic uses include being a stomachic, carminative and antiflatulence agent, and digestant.

Cumin: "Yi-ra" in Thaires yi ra Special Interest
Cumin is a small shrubbery herb, the fruit of which contains a 2-4% volatile oil with a pungent odour, and which is used as a flavouring and condiment. Cumin's therapeutic properties manifest as a stomachic, bitter tonic, carminative, stimulant and astringent.

Garlic: "Kra-thiam" in Thaires garlic h Special Interest
Garlic is an annual herbaceous plant with underground bulbs comprising several cloves. Dried mature bulbs are used as a flavouring and condiment in Thai cuisine. The bulbs contain a 0.1-0.36% garlic oil and organic sulfur compounds. Therapeutic uses are as an antimicrobial, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, antiflatulence and cholesterol lowering agents.

Ginger: "Khing" in Thaires ginger1 Special Interest
Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice. Ginger's rhizomes contain a 1-2% volatile oil. Ginger's therapeutic uses are as a carminative, antinauseant and antiflatulence agent.

Galanga: "Kha" in Thai}res kha Special Interest
Greater Galanga is an erect annual plant with aromatic, ginger-like rhizomes, and commonly used in Thai cooking as a flavouring. The approximately 0.04 volatile oil content has therapeutic uses as carminative, stomachic, antirheumatic and antimicrobial agents.

Hoary Basil: "Maeng-lak" in Thaires maeng lak Special Interest
Hoary Basil is an annual herbaceous plant with slightly hairy and pale green leaves, eaten either raw or used as a flavouring, and containing approximately 0.7% volatile oil. Therapeutic benefits include the alleviation of cough symptoms, and as diaphoretic and carminative agents.

res ma krut Special InterestKafffir: "Ma-krut" in Thai
The leaves, peel and juice of the Kaffir Lime are used as a flavouring in Thai cuisine. The leaves and peel contain a volatile oil. The major therapeutic benefit of the juice is as an appetiser.

Krachai in Thai: (No Common English Name)res kra chai Special Interest
This erect annual plant with aromatic rhizomes and yellow-brown roots, is used as a flavouring. The rhizomes contain approximately 0.8% volatile oil. The plant has stomachache relieving and antimicrobial properties, and therapeutic benefits as an antitussive and antiflatulence agent.

Lemon Grass: "Ta-khrai" in Thaires grass Special Interest
This erect annual plant resembles a coarse grey-green grass. Fresh leaves and grass are used as flavouring. Lemongrass contains a 0.2-0.4 volatile oil. Therapeutic properties are as a diurectic, emmanagogue, antiflatulence, antiflu and antimicrobial agent.

Lime: "Ma-nao" in Thaires ma nao Special Interest
Lime is used principally as a garnish for fish and meat dishes. The fruit contains Hesperidin and Naringin , scientifically proven antiinflammatory flavonoids. Lime juice is used as an appetiser, and has antitussive, antiflu, stomachic and antiscorbutic properties.

Marsh Mint: "Sa-ra-nae" in Thaires sa ra Special Interest
The fresh leaves of this herbaceous plant are used as a flavouring and eaten raw in Thai cuisine. Volatile oil contents give the plant several therapeutic uses, including carminative, mild antiseptic, local anaesthetic, diaphoretic and digestant properties.

Pepper: "Phrik-Thai" in Thaires pepper1 Special Interest
Pepper is a branching, perennial climbing plant from whose fruiting spikes both white and black pepper are obtained. Used as a spice and condiment, pepper contains a 2-4% volatile oil. Therapeutic uses are as carminative, antipyretic, diaphoretic and diuretic agents.

Sacred Basil: "Ka-phrao" in Thaires kra prao Special Interest
Sacred Basil is an annual herbaceous plant that resembles Sweet Basil but has narrower and often times reddish-purple leaves. The fresh leaves, which are used as a flavouring, contain approximately 0.5% volatile oil, which exhibits antimicrobial activity, specifically as a carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant and stomachic.

res hom Special InterestShallot: "Hom,Hom-lek,Hom-daeng"in Thai
Shallots, or small red onions, are annual herbaceous plants. Underground bulbs comprise garlic-like cloves. Shallot bulbs contain a volatile oil, and are used as flavouring or seasoning agents. Therapeutic properties include the alleviation of stomach discomfort, and as an antihelmintic, antidiarrhoeal, expectorant, antitussive, diuretic and antiflu agents.

Sweet Basil: "Ho-ra-pha" in Thai
Sweet Basil is an annual herbaceous plant, the fresh leaves of which are either eaten raw or used as a flavouring in Thai cooking. Volatile oil content varies according to different varieties. Therapeutic properties are as carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant, digestant and stomachic agents.

Turmeric: "Kha-min" in Thaires kha min Special Interest
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and provides yellow colouring for Thai food. The rhizomes contain a 3-4% volatile oil with unique aromatic characteristics. Turmeric's therapeutic properties manifest as a carminative, antiflatulence and stomachic.

OPIUM & THE GOLDEN TRIANGLEopium2 Special Interest
The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, has been cultivated and its resins extracted for use as a narcotic at least since the time of the early Greek Empire. The Chinese were introduced to opium by Arab traders during the time of Kublai Khan (1279-94). The drug was so highly valued for its medicinal properties that hill-tribe minorities in south China began cultivating the opium poppy in order to raise money to pay taxes to their Han Chinese rulers. Easy to grow, opium became a way for the nomadic hill tribes to raise what cash they needed in transactions (willing and unwilling) with the lowland world. Many of the hill tribes that migrated to Thailand and Laos in the post- WWII era in order to avoid persecution in Myanmar and China took with them their one cash crop, the poppy. The poppy is well suited to hillside cultivation as it flourishes on steep slopes and in nutrient-poor soils.

The opium trade became especially lucrative in South- East Asia during the 1960s and early 1970s when US armed forces were embroiled in Vietnam. Alfred McCoy's The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia recounts how contact with the GL market not only expanded the immediate Asian market, but provided outlets to world markets. Before this time the source of most of the world's heroin was the Middle East. Soon everybody wanted in and various parties alternately quarreled over and cooperated in illegal opium commerce. Most notable were the Nationalist Chinese Army refugees living in northern Myanmar and Northern Thailand, and the anti-Yangon rebels, in particular the Burmese Communist Party (BCP), the Shan States Army and the Shan United Army (SUA).

{add opium2.jpg} The American CIA eventually became involved in a big way, using profits from heroin runs aboard US aircraft to Vietnam and farther afield to finance covert operations throughout Indochina. This of course led to an increase in the availability of heroin throughout the world, which in turn led to increased production in the remote northern areas of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, where there was little government interference. This area came to be known as the "Golden Triangle" because of local fortunes amassed by the "opium warlords" - Burmese and Chinese military-businesspeople who controlled the movement of opium across three international borders.

One of the Golden Triangle's most colourful figures is Khun Sa (also known as Chang Chi-Fu, or Sao Mong Khawn), a half-Chinese, half -Shan opium warlord who got his start in the1950s and 1960s working for the Kuomintang (KMT)-Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese troops, some of whom had fled to Myanmar. The KMT were carrying out military operations against the Chinese communists along the Myanmar-China border, financed by the smuggling of opium (with CIA protection). They employed Khun Sa as one of their prime local supporters/advisors. Khun Sa broke with the KMT in the early 1960s after establishing his own opium-smuggling business with heroin refineries in Northern Thailand.

From that time on, the history of heroin smuggling in the Golden Triangle was intertwined with the exploits of Khun Sa. In 1966, the Burmese government deputised Khun Sa as head of "village defence forces" against the BCP, which was at maximum strength at this time and fully involved in opium trade. Khun Sa cleverly used his government backing to consolidate power and build up his own militia by developing the SUA, and anti-government insurgent group heavily involved in opium throughout the Golden Triangle in competition with the BCP and KMT.

When the KMT attempted an "embargo" on SUA opium trade by blocking caravan routes into Thailand and Laos, Khun Sa initiated what has come to be known as the Opium War of 1967 and Thwarted the embargo. However, the KMT managed to chase Khun Sa, along with a contingent of SUA troops running an opium caravan routed for Thailand, into Laos, where Burmese officials arrested him and the Laotian government seized the opium. Khun Sa escaped Burmese custody by means of a carefully planned combination of extortion and bribery in 1975 and returned to take command of the SUA. About the same time, the Myanmar government broke KMT control of opium trafficking and Khun Sa stepped in to become the prime opium warlord in the Triangle, working from his headquarters in Ban Hin Taek, Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Coincidentally, US forces pulled out of Indochina so there was no longer any competition from CIA conduits in Laos.

Since the late 1970s,Khun Sa and his ilk continued to buy opium from the Shan and hill-tribe cultivators in Myanmar,Laos and Thailand, transporting and selling the product to Yunnanese opeated heroin refineries in China, Laos and Thailand, who in turn sell to ethnic Chinese (usually Tae Jiu/Chao Zhou) syndicates which control access to world markets is Thailand and Yunnan.

A turning point in Khun Sa's fortunes occurred in 1982 and 1983 when the Thais launched a full-scale attack on his Ban Hin Taek stronghold, forcing him to flee over the mountains and across the torder to Ho Mong, Myanmar, where he directed his independent empire from a fortified network of underground tunnels. This move led to the breaking up of opium and heroin producion in the Mae Salong-Ban Hin Taek area.

The SUA merged with several other Shan armies to form the Muang (Mong) Tai Army (MTA), led by the Shan State Restoration Council. The MTA reached an estimated strength of 25,000- the largest and best equipped ethnic army in Myanmar-before Khun Sa's surprise surrender to Yangon in 1996. His retreat to an island off the coast of Myanmar smacks of collusion with the Yangon-based military.

Meanwhile Khun Sa's former Northern Thailand stronghold has undergone heavy "pacification" or Thai nationalisation. At great expense to the Thai government, tea coffee, corn and Chinese herbs are now grown where opium once thrived. Whether this particular project is successful or not is another question, bit the government's strategy seems to be one of isolating and then pushing pockets of the opium trade out of Thailand and into Myanmar and Laos, where it continues uninterrupted. During a bumper year, the entire Triangle output approach 4000 tonnes, most of it from north-eastern Myanmar. In Thailand, the average yield is a high 2.2 kg of raw opium per rai (one rai is equal to 1600 sq m); an estimated two tonnes of heroin is smuggled out of the country each year.

North-western Laos is dotted with heroin refineries which process Burmese and Laotian opium. Smuggling routes for Laotian opium and heroin continue to intersect the Thai border at several points throughout the North and North-East, including the provinces of Chiang Mai (via Myanmar), Chiang Rai, Nan, Loei, Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom.

By all estimates there has been a steady increase in Triangle production during the last 10 years; only around 2% of the opium crop is intercepted by national or international authorities each year. Whenever they receive a large financial contribution from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA, Thai army rangers sweep Northern Thailand From Tak to Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, Destroying poppy fields and heroin refineries but rarely making arrests. A typical sweep costs US$1 million and accomplishes the destruction of 25,000 or more rai of poppy fields in Thailand's nine poppy-growing provinces- Tak, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phayao, Phitsanulok, Phetchabun and Loei. Hill-tribe and Shan cultivators, at the bottom of the profit scale, stand by helplessly while their primary means of livelihood is hacked or burned to the ground. A crop substitution programme, developed by the Thai royal family in 1959 (a year earlier, cultivation of the opium poppy for profit had been made illegal), had had mixed results. Success has only occurred in selected areas where crop substitution is accompanied by a concentrated effort to indoctrinate hill tribes into mainstream Thai culture.

Meanwhile, power shifts from warlord to warlord while the hill-tribe and Shan cultivators continue as unwilling pawns in the opium-heroin cycle. The planting of the poppy and the sale of its collected resins has never been a simple moral issue. Cultivators who have been farming poppies for centuries and heroin addicts who consume the end product have both been exploited bye governments and crime syndicates who trade in opium for the advancement of their own interests. Because of the complexities involved, opium production in the Golden Triangle must be dealt with as a political, social, cultural and economic problem and not simply as a conventional law-enforcement matter.

So far, a one-sided approach has resulted only in the unthinking destruction of minority culture and economy in the Golden Triangle area, rather than an end to the opium and heroin problem. Although the Thai government outlawed the opium trade in 1839, any hill-bribe settlement may legally plant a limited crop of opium poppies for medical consumption. Small plots of land are thus sometimes "leased" by opium merchants who have allowed production to decentralize in order for poppy resin collection to appear legal. Due to crackdowns on Burmese and Lao opiate import-which resulted in doubling the average price per kilo- poppy cultivation in Thailand for personal/local consumption increased 60% in 1995-96.

SPECIAL NOTE

  1. Royal Family, Religion and Nation are deeply revered by Thais.
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Special Interests information from Tourism Authority of Thailand and Lonely Planet