Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store: Chinese healing traditions in Phuket, Thailand
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Phuket spas: Chinese Healing

 Chinese Healing Traditions

Most Phuket residents can claim ancestry from China. The early population of the island arrived to work either in the tin mines or on fishing boats in the waters around the Andaman Sea. These early settlers brought their culture and religion with them. While most Thai people belong to the Theravada Buddhism tradition, the Chinese are followers of the Mahayana Buddhism school.

The differences can best be seen as the predominant Theravada Buddhists have tall temples with birds and water snakes decorating the outsides and monks with saffron colored robes meditating inside.
The Mahayana temples have the Chinese creation story of the dragons and the sun at the top and inside are numerous statues of famous gods and warriors placed on the shrine. The Chinese temple is the center of local community activity.

When a person become sicks, rather than go to a hospital or doctor, they usually go to the Kwan Yim or Goddess of Mercy Chinese temple. On the altar is a container which holds numerous wooden sticks. After a prayer to the Goddess, the container is shaken many times at an angle and magically, one of the long, thin and narrow sticks jump out to fall on the ground. The stick has a number and nearby is a set of small boxes each with a corresponding number that contain a recipe of herbs which will help improve the health. The local people believe that the Goddess of Mercy will help to find the right medicine for those who pray for Her assistance.

At 16 Thalang Road, in the center of Phuket is the Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store. Mrs. Sodsri Bumrungwong has worked and lived in this shop with her family for 70 years. Her father was a Chinese herbalist who migrated from Ta Pu province in China to Penang where he set up shop. After some years, he moved his family to Phuket and opened the family business on Thalang Road.

"As the population of Phuket increased, so did the number of diseases and people usually had more success by using Chinese herbal remedies than Western medicine for getting healthy again," explains Mrs. Sodsri. "Chinese herbal medicine is not as expensive and there are more alternatives for a healing combination. I think a balance of chemical and natural medicine is best."

Guan Choon Tong Herbal Store offers remedies for reducing cholesterol in the body and other remedies for cleaning the blood. Small  wooden boxes contain fruit, bark, roots, leaves, dried insects, frogs, and even scorpions.

Many of Phuket's herbal saunas buy their herbs from this store as a combination of prai, a form of Thai ginger, and lemongrass are known for strengthening the lungs and making breathing easier.

"We've had a long and interesting history in our shop. During World War II, our father moved the family into the jungle as their was fighting in Phuket town between the Japanese and some locals but he kept the shop open even during the black outs when there were bomb alerts," Khun Sodsri remembers. "I hope my children keep our shop open after I retire as we have so many customers who depend on our herbs."

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