After our introduction to traditional Thai Medicine at the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, it was time to discover the Ban Dong Bang village.
I was intrigued to visit The Ban Dong Bang Samunphrai Community. Not only does it have a cool name (it does, right?) it is also the place where more than half of the hospital’s herbs are cultivated. So it plays a key role in Thailand’s herbal medical industry.
Ban Dong Bang village is around 16km from the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital in the Mueang district of the Prachin Buri province. It’s run by husband and wife team Samai and Buddhabhorn Kunsuk who live in a beauitful traditional Thai wooden house on stilts. And they are part of the farmers’ community which was formed after pharmacy graduate Supaporn Pitiporn pioneered herbal medicine in the 80s. Its main purpose is to produce herbs for the hospital but it has also been operating as a tourist attraction since 2005.
When we arrived, the air was intensely thick and humid. In between fanning ourselves and covering ourselves in jungle-strength mosquito spray, we listened to a talk on the origins of the farmer’s community and plantation. They also explained some of the healing properties of the plants and herbs that they grow.
The owners here don’t speak a lot of English, so it’s best to visit as part of an organised tour like we did – so you have English-speaking guides to translate. Suri, from Absolutely Fantastic Holidays was our guide. And as the name suggests, they are absolutely fantastic.
Underneath towering jackfruit and durian trees, we followed paths through the gardens, densely packed with hundreds of different herbs and tropical flowers. Everywhere you looked, this place was teeming with life. Ants scurried around fruits on the trees above us, and birdsong floated down from the tree canopy.
A prehistoric-looking centipede about two-inches thick (seriously) also triggered a few horrified looks from the group when it crossed our path.
But this place is 100% organic. No pesticides, no herbicides, no chemicals of any kind that could contaminate the herbal medicines used in the hospital. Ban Dong Bang village is as wild and natural as farming gets.
Slightly relieved to leave this insect-filled jungle, we returned to the yard outside the house.
They grow hundreds of different plant species at Ban Dong Bang village, of which I couldn’t possibly remember all the names. But some of the key herbs such as Salet Phangphon, Pheka, Chum Het Thet, Pekking grass and Fa Thalai Chon are used for making Thai herbal compress balls used in traditional Thai massage.
And we were about to have a lesson in how to make them.
These herbal compresses are made from muslin cloth and are tightly packed with a mixture of various spices and herbs.
Once it is heated up over steam, the herbal ball is pressed against the skin during massage. It’s claimed that this technique offers various healing benefits, including stress relief, improved blood circulation and stimulation of the internal organs.
As you can imagine, there’s a heady aroma that comes from this potent little parcel and it’s something you will be able to experience if you visit the spa at the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital.
Lesson over, we strolled around the various shaded buildings of the farm where local people from the community were cutting and preparing various different herbs.
In one area, they were being dried out underneath a corrugated iron roof and in another, women were chopping them and preparing them for packaging, their faces covered to protect them from the dust.
It was intensely hot and this was arduous work. It was a humbling experience to see the hours of work and commitment that goes into cultivating and producing such huge quantities of raw produce. But it was also clear how important this industry is in providing employment to the community.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the Prachin Buri province and origins of Thai herbal medicine, Ban Dong Bang have their own homestay and you will find various other homestays in the area. It’ll take some research – many of these places don’t have their own websites and you will need to call to book (so a few Thai phrases might come in handy). But if you like a true adventure, you could end up having a really rewarding travel experience.
You can call the Ban Dong Bang community for details on their homestay and community visits on +66 914258924 and may find this e-brochure by the Thai Tourist Board helpful for accommodation ideas.
Alternatively, the Tawa Ravadee Resort where we stayed, is a 45 minute drive from here.
Until next time x