Chiang Mai is often considered the wellness capital of Thailand. It is a hub for alternative health and wellbeing. From yoga classes to traditional Chinese medicine clinics, Chiang Mai is the perfect place to take some time out and treat yourself before making your way to the northern mountains and waterfalls.
There are a plethora of affordable good quality services and opportunities year round. Many of us lead fast paced lives in front of the computer screen or glued to our phones, leaving little time for ourselves. The slow pace of life in Chiang Mai lends itself to taking a breath, leaving our devices in the hotel room and taking the time to rediscover our mind-body connection, finding an alternative way to view health and wellbeing.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chiang Mai boasts two traditional Chinese medicine centres, which have been quietly operating and serving the population for generations. The treatment approach is becoming increasingly popular in the west and amongst visitors to Chiang Mai. The core principle of the age-old tradition is to ‘respect the rules of nature’. Traditional Chinese medicine centers encourage a holistic approach to life that balances the body, mind, soul and environment (or the yin and yang). It is based on the theory that overcoming imbalances in the system is the foundation of individual diagnosis and treatment.
An oasis of calm in the centre of the bustling old city, Mungkala traditional medicine clinic is a well-established Chiang Mai institution. The practitioners are third generation herbalists and speak a range of languages including Thai, Chinese and English. The lovely, soft, spoken Dr. Rungrat is a favourite amongst long-term expats, providing care for a range of needs from emotional difficulties to more serious physical ailments. Mungkala offers herbal teas, herbal pills, and acupuncture depending on the need of each individual. Located on Ratchamanka road, it is best to call ahead to schedule an appointment.
A hark back to the olden days, the Chinese Pharmacy at Warorot Market is another worthwhile option. Jam packed with shelves of traditional medicines, the shop is unmistakeable as you walk past. Dr. Wang is available from Mon – Sat between 10am and 2pm for a consultation in the pharmacy, he also owns a famous acupuncture clinic outside town (read article page 40). Just drop in the pharmacy any time. Consultations are between 5 and 10 mins, after which he will prescribe you some herbs which staff can often be seen preparing on some vintage balancing scales. Dr. Wang’s English is limited, however there are some American exchange students regularly volunteering in the shop. They can provide you with the information you need. It’s quite a unique and worthwhile experience!
Thai massage is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures. The founding father of Thai massage was an Ayurvedic doctor, who is still revered in Thailand as the “father of medicine”. Born in India during the time of the Buddha, he is noted in ancient documents for his extraordinary medical skills, his knowledge of herbal medicine, and for having treated important people of his day, including the Buddha himself. Interestingly, the practice of Thai massage is essentially a form of assisted yoga, or ‘lazy’ yoga as some long term residents call it! There are a number of places throughout the city to get a good quality Thai massage. Just check the different adresses in our magazine. Chiang Mai is the perfect place to study Thai massage. Thai massage practitioners travel here from around the world to further their studies. Whether you have a massage practice back home, or simply enjoy offering massages to your friends, family and partner, head to ITM Massage School for a professional training. The school is located in Chiang Mai city, near by Chotana neighborhood, it is internationally recognised and accredited by Thailand Ministry of Education. The school cater to people with all levels of experience and skill, they organise a variety of courses and workshops, while also offering advanced courses for qualified Thai massage therapists and other body workers (such as osteopaths and shiatsu practitioners).
ITM Massage School
also hold a free open house and demonstration every Friday from 10.30 to 12.00 and 13.00 to 15.00 (no reservation required). Take the time to learn the art of full body massage, oil massage, head massage, foot massage or herbal ball massage and impress everyone when you get back home!
Over the past few years, yoga has become more mainstream. From schools to yoga studios and parks across the world to elderly homes, people are taking up yoga in various forms. There is now even an International Yoga Day, and photos of the new Canadian Prime Minister in a tree pose recently went viral. Chiang Mai is a centre for yoga in the region, with a number of well qualified teachers and studios. Internationally renowned teachers often visit in the high season (November – February). If you are a yoga enthusiast it is worth looking out for their workshops.
The Yoga Tree, Namo and Wild Rose all offer daily classes as well as regular workshops. Yoga House, a little out of town, is also worth a visit for its serene surroundings. There are all kinds of yoga on offer in this vibrant city. From Ashtanga, Anusara, Vinyasa Flow, Restorative to Hatha yoga – you name it! If you are a beginner there are a number of classes to suit your needs. If you are a yoga teacher looking for more training look out for teacher trainings, which are often advertised by the yoga studios. For individual classes to suit your needs, contact Gernot Huber at Yoga Mind-Yoga Body, his classes focus on breath and alignment and he bases his teaching on a number of traditions.
Meditation retreats in Thailand are typically Vipassana meditation retreats, following the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. Some retreats are spent in seated meditation, while others are a mixture of walking and seated practices. Dhamma talks are commonly given every day, and each retreat is typically silent, apart from the daily check in with a monk. Retreats vary in length, with the minimum usually a ten-day commitment. Wat Rampoeng, an unforgettable temple approximately 15 minutes west of the city, offers 10 day retreats catering to foreigners. It is one of the more popular options.
However, if you are pressed for time, Chiang Mai offers other options as well. Wat Doi Suthep, above the Chiang Mai valley offers shorter term Vipassana retreats, and access to some of the mountain walking tracks for your break time!
For an alternative meditation experience, head to the Green Papaya Sangha at the Yoga Tree every Thursday night. Based on the teachings of the Zen practitioner Thich Nhat Hanh, a core group meet here weekly and welcome travellers with all levels of experience to join the practice.
With all that Chiang Mai has to offer for alternative health and wellbeing, whether it is Thai massage, yoga, traditional Chinese medicine or meditation – treat yourself! You will go home feeling nourished after the perfect holiday experience, and your friends will wonder what you’ve been up to!
Alternative Health and Wellbeing Where to go:
Clinics and Pharmacy :
- Mungkala Clinic. 21 Rachamankha Rd. Chiang Mai.
Tel. 081-885 6979. www.mungkala.com
- Dr Wang Pharmacy. 48-52 Chang Moi Rd. Chiang Mai.
Tel. Dr. Wang: 081-952 3170