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.
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."