“We use food as medicine. When your heart is well, you are not stressed”. This is the ethos of Baan Rai Kong Khing, a village in the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai. And it’s an ethos that has empowered the community at this northern Thai village who work together and take a holistic approach to health and daily life. But it hasn’t always been like this. The people living in Baan Rai Kong Khing made some tough choices before agreeing that the best way to protect their future was to learn from the past.
In the past, the villagers used commercially available chemicals to try and improve their crops. As a community, they realised that while this may have had some short-term benefits, it wasn’t a good long-term option. After discussing different ways to improve the health and wellbeing of the villagers, the community made the joint decision to employ organic farming techniques and do away with artificial chemicals. As part of this drive to improve the overall health of the community, the villagers also looked to use traditional herbal remedies. Such has been the success of this approach that Baan Rai Kong Khing is now an award-winning education centre which helps preserve traditional medicine and promotes organic herbal products.
Many of the villagers grow plants and herbs in their gardens which are used to make a range of products including medicine, bath creams and shampoo. The community at Baan Rai Kong Khing has also set up herbal steam rooms and an area where traditional Thai massage techniques can be taught. One of the most striking of these is the local hot oil fire massage known as ‘yam khang’.
Hot oil fire massage
Although the exact origins of the yam khang fire massage aren’t known, it is a medicinal treatment that was practised throughout the Lanna region of Northern Thailand for many generations. This form of alternative medicine isn’t commonly seen, but has been revived at Baan Rai Kong Khing.
Before the yam khang massage begins, the therapist prepares a tray containing herbal oil with different herbs used depending on what symptoms are being treated. Hot coals are then placed in a clay pot with the iron blade of a plough, known as a khang, placed on top of that. The therapist then dips one foot into the herbal oil before using the khang to warm his foot and then massage the oils into the patient. It’s an incredible sensory experience with the flames and heat from the coals combining with the exotic smells of the oil.
Community based tourism
Baan Rai Kong Khing is one of many examples of successful community based tourism (CBT) initiatives that can be found across Thailand. Visiting any of these CBT locations provides you with a deeper and more meaningful insight into local culture and traditions. And with visitor revenue going directly to the community to enable them to preserve traditional heritage and culture, it’s a rewarding form of responsible tourism.
The villagers at Baan Rai Kong Khing have established a community fund with every household paying a small amount each month. By working together as a co-operative, the money is then used to help people in time of need and also to operate the community store. The store purchases consumer products at wholesale prices which are then sold back to the community members with a small mark-up added on. Any profits are then distributed back to the co-operative members.
Visiting Baan Rai Kong Khing
Baan Rai Kong Khing can be visited on a day trip from Chiang Mai or you can choose to stay overnight as part of the village homestay programme. A definite highlight of a visit to Baan Rai Kong Khing is the opportunity to experience the yam khang fire massage or a traditional Thai massage. You can also try local dishes and enjoy the surrounding countryside by hiring a bicycle from the community. The village is located in the Hang Dong district of Chiang Mai province, around 10 miles south-west of Chiang Mai city centre. It’s possible to book a visit with tour offices in Chiang Mai or from these online resources:
Baan Rai Kong Khing Facebook page
Take Me Tour
Northern Lifestyle at Baan Rai Kong Khing
Video and screenshot images courtesy of GLP Films