For the first couple of minutes, I remain a skeptic, simply watching colors change on a small computer screen. The doctor’s questions seem more like a fortuneteller’s.
“You have a skin problem?” he begins. I do a quick mental assessment and quietly disagree. Truly. I’m not trying to be difficult.
Unflinching, he moves on. “Your colon is dry, very dry … you need more water and more sleep.” It feels like he’s stalling, or fishing. Who wouldn’t need more of either after crossing a dozen time zones? The jetlag lingers.
My fingers rest on a metal, hand-shaped biosensor, connected to the computer and screen that we both study. Dr. Sushil Rahul’s back faces me when he decides: “You carry much stress in your shoulder — your right shoulder.”
And that’s when he starts to command my respect. I admit to years of carrying shoulder bags and cameras, and how nothing completely eases the nagging, chronic pain.
He wonders about my lungs and, yes, I am an ex-smoker with relatively weak pipes. He concludes that I think too much, an odd but compelling observation because the Dalai Lama’s personal physician drew the same conclusion 10 years ago.
“Do you start and stop a lot of projects, without finishing?” he presses, and a friend who witnesses the gentle inquiry would later sum up my facial reaction in one word: busted.
Rahul’s office equipment at the RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort, Chiang Mai (450 miles north of Bangkok) reveals health issues and defines a customer’s aura, which is the type of electromagnetic field surrounding the body. Medical advancements have involved the work of biosensor equipment, including a handheld diagnostic device developed in 1997 by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Now biosensors are a part of the spa environment.
On this computer screen, the aura shows up likea head-to-toe halo. Mine was orange-yellow, the sign of an easy-going, detail-oriented and intelligent, creative soul.
Had I more than a morning to visit, Rahul would have recommended a colon cleansing to rid the body of toxins and a vichy shower to improve skin health. Although he — an alternative medicine specialist — and nurses are on resort staff, their recommendations are not medical prescriptions.
“We will offer advice but people are free to do what they want,” says Rahul, who also suggests a second health analysis at the end of a client’s stay.
Thailand’s most reputable and inexpensive (compared to the United States) medical facilities are luring more tourists who seek physical improvement, from hip replacement surgeries to sex change operations. It’s not unusual for these medical tourists to book a stay at RarinJinda for post-surgical recuperation, but the wellness resort should not be mistaken for a hospital. Consider this line in the disclaimer that customers sign: “The spa does not promise or guarantee any cure for any ailment or disease.”
At the core of RarinJinda, open since 2006, is a 140-year-old teakwood house whose original owner was the wife of a Burmese merchant. It connects to 35 guestrooms and suites, each with a private veranda that overlooks a large outdoor swimming pool, surrounded by thick foliage and statues of happy elephants spewing water from their trunks.
Indoors, a hydro-tub and hydro-pool provide therapeutic possibilities in a more deliberate manner. Ditto for the chromotherapy that kicks in during a whirlpool soak and the herbal rainforest steam sauna. Guests may attend yoga and fitness classes on a whim or as part of a customized wellness plan.
Expect earth-toned décor, clean architectural lines and sparse but plush furnishings — a smooth blend of modern amenities and Asian antique accouterments in an open-air design.
Top-end accommodations overlook the quiet Ping River or sacred Doi Suthep Mountain, with wide views of the multicultural Wat Kate neighborhood, where architecture runs the gamut from Christian churches and colonial-style schools to stilt-elevated lanna houses and Chinese-style shophouses (where shopkeepers live above their businesses).
A resort shuttle brings day customers from other Chiang Mai hotels, which is how I arrive. I only have time for a Thai massage, but it would last two hours and eliminate my chronic shoulder pain — until I schlepped through another airport, on another continent, one week later.
The miracle worker, Wilai, stands no more than four feet tall and executes the massage with a strength and vigor that belies her 44 years. She offers a soothing herbal foot soaking, then leads me to a sparsely furnished room, hands me a two-piece silk garment that resembles loose-fitting pajamas and returns after I have changed.
This clothing stays on as Wilai works, and no oils are applied. I lie on a sturdy floor mattress as, one by one, my limbs are stretched, bent and pushed more than I thought possible.
Wilai begins at my side as I recline on my back, and deep kneading of muscles is not her priority. She aims to improve the flow of prana — energy — by unclogging blockages along 10 sip sen (anatomical pathways). When I eventually roll over, the extremity work morphs into full body extensions.
My masseuse seems to use her full body weight — and pressure of elbows to feet — to coax me into various positions, sometimes bringing me to a near-pant, as though in labor, and sometimes making it impossible to suppress a string of giggles.
“You happy,” Wilai would correctly observe later. Amazed, too.
What I wanted — but didn’t have — was floor and ceiling mirrors, to watch Wilai as she expertly mounted, tugged and twisted me into a Gumby. This was not the time to be nudged into a state of nirvana or slumber.
Thai massage techniques, developed by Buddhist monks 2,500 years ago, are meant to improve healing, circulation, flexibility, range of motion and mindfulness. A gentler approach than I experienced is advised when a person’s health conditions or mobility are compromised.
My treatment ends with the application of luk pra kob, a hot herbal compress that is dabbed in a rolling motion along the sip sen. The compress mixes indigenous ingredients, typically gingerroot, turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass, tamarind, eucalyptus, camphor, menthol and acacia.
The stretching and fragrant scents manage to simultaneously energize and relax me. Natural light fills the spa lounge, where I head after the massage and linger over herbal tea and nibbles of fresh fruit.
Thai massage is far from the only treatment offered at RarinJinda. Unwind with shirodara, a hot-stone oil massage, or indulge in the spa’s signature treatment — Elements of Life — 90 minutes of pampering that includes sound therapy, warm sand bed therapy, a foot soaking/polish and massage.
RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort
14 Charoenraj Road, T. Wat Kate
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000
tel 66 53 303030
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