If you’ve ever wondered exactly how Thai Traditional Medicine came about, you’re in the right place. On my recent travels in Central and Eastern Thailand, we visited The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital – the place where alternative Thai Medicine began.
(FYI You will also see it written as Chao Phraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital but no, I can’t pronounce it either).
Guide to The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital
The hospital is located in Prachin Buri, around a 2 and a half hours’ drive from Bangkok. This central Thailand province is still relatively off the tourist trail. But any travellers who do find themselves in this area , may be heading for the famous Bodhi Tree or Si Archaeological Site. If they’re thrill-seekers – and it’s the rainy season – they may well be braving the white water rafting along the Sai Yai River.
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital however, is well worth a visit if you’re interested in wellbeing and understanding the history of Thailand. After half a day at this place, I was well versed on the origins of Thai Traditional Medicine and how it came about. I was also floating on air after one of the most life-changing Thai massages of my life.
Here’s everything you need to know about this fascinating place.
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital: Architecture & Interiors
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital first arrived in 1909. It was named after Siam’s last governor of Battambang but was built for King Rama V, who died a year later. The yellow baroque façade is beautiful and history buffs may well visit the hospital for its architectural splendour alone.
What makes it so striking is it sits right next to the modern Prachinburi hospital, which was built in 1941. The contrast between the two buildings is fascinating.
Inside, you will find soaring ceilings, ornate tiled flooring and shrines in honour of the governor of Battambang. The roosters were apparently the founder’s favourite animal and there are some beautiful herbal gardens onsite too.
The History of Thai Traditional Medicine
Despite what you might think, the hospital only started developing herbal products in 1983 and it was all thanks to a woman called Supaporn Pitiporn, a pharmacy graduate from Mahidol University.
Pitiporn took on the wisdom of local folk healers who used plants and herbs as an alternative form of medicine. Thirty-odd years on and she has helped pioneer a whole new healthcare industry.
It was really interesting to hear that this new arm of healthcare helped boost employment in the Prachinburi area and the hospital now prides itself on its social responsibility. They founded an organisation of committed farmers in the nearby Ban Dong Bang village to cultivate their herbs. They also began to employ local people to practice Thai massage following Thailand’s economic crisis in 1997. The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital now has a team of fully trained Thai masseuses in the Day Spa too.
Today, Thai Traditional medicine has of course, gone global and the country exports its products around the world. I found it really interesting how thanks to Supaporn Pitiporn, they’ve now integrated Thai Traditional Medicine (TTM) into their mainstream hospital service.
Patients have full access to TTM and disciplines such as acupuncture, meditation and rehabilitative exercise. I know some people are sceptical about alternative medicine but I think we could all learn from this holistic approach to treating – and preventing – illness.
And this tea really helps you if you happen to be thristy…
If you’re interested in exploring the history in more detail, the hospital is essentially a living museum. Although Prachinburi is a little off the tourist trail, there were lots of local people and school childre exploring the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Museum while we were there. I’ve also seen it mentioned in a few travel websites since being back from Thailand. So tourism here is definitely on the up.
The museum is mostly made up of herb samples, medical texts and er, some eery looking creatures in bottles.
I think it’s time to explore the spa.
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Day Spa
The heat was sweltering and the day spa is across the carpark from the TTM hospital so it was nice to be escorted on a buggy and get back into the air-conditioning for our next part of the tour.
There are various parts of the spa, but the first one we visited was for a traditional Thai Massage. We sipped on various herbal teas, had our blood pressure taken (these Thai massages are intense you know) and then changed into our super comfy fishermen’s pants (which I really regret not buying).
We were taken to a room where there were various mattresses laid out, each with a curtain around it. This was the second massage I’d had in Thailand but this was definitely the most intense. This lady may only look slight, but she had some serious strength.
She applied various pressures on my legs, arms and back and at one point, I felt like she’d stopped the blood flow in my leg. When she released the pressure, I felt a rush of energy in my body. It was a mixture of pain, then relaxation, pain then relaxation. It was one of the most bizarre but strangely satisfying massages I’ve ever had.
The funniest moment was when she twisted my back so far, it let out an almighty crack. It was amusing for my neighbours anyway, as I let out a shriek. Despite the horror of my clicking back, the massage sent me into a deep sleep. I am now on a mission to find a similar massage in London – seriously, they’re life changing.
Over in another department, we had a go of the hand spa and made our own herbal ointment of cloves, ginger, pepper and other herbs and spices. Once you’ve ground it all together, you add some eucalyptus and pop it into a little pot. It acts as an inhaler to help clear the airways. It’s pretty potent.
Back in the beautiful spa reception, you can buy herbal teas, healthy juices and smoothies filled with all sorts of wonderful stuff. Visitors can also book in for a range of treatments and wellbeing experiences, including a herbal compress treatment, herbal sauna, foot reflexology and facials. You can find more info on the hospital website here.
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Restaurant
I think I’ve left one of the best things until last. After soaking up the history, exploring the spa and having your muscles bent in all sorts of directions, you can treat yourself to a meal at the hospital restaurant.
Forget stodgy mashed potatoes and rice pudding, this place brings a whole new meaning to the words hospital food. Expect delicious chicken massaman curries, fragrant salads and exotic plants such as cassava and lotus root.
The only thing our Western palates couldn’t quite handle was the butterfly pea dessert. The hospital uses this flower a lot in their teas and remedies and it’s a beautiful shade of deep blue. It’s said to have a whole range of benefits from boosting fertility and improving your eye sight. But even that couldn’t persuade me to eat it!
The Herbal Shop
It’s fantastically cheap and they sell more than 130 products ranging from medicines and cosmetics to herb-based drinks. When you think about all the chemicals that go into our everyday cosmetics, you can see why there is a huge demand for this. I left with a bag filled with all sorts of lotions and potions.
The Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital is located on the Prachin-Anusorn Road and you can take various buses from Bangkok to Prachinburi. See the Thai Tourism website for more details.
Yep, I could be a convert. Even if you’re not, this place makes for an intriguing discovery on your Thailand travels.
Until next time x