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Doing What Comes Naturally - Balavi Natural Health Center in Chiangai.

The most august medical body on the planet, The World Health Organisation(WHO), has long recognised the need for traditional medicine, (their words, not mine). Western medicine is in a constant state of metamorphosis: new strains of diseases, H5N1 to name but one, emerge every year, and drug manufacturers are in a race to discover a panacea for all types of ailments.

We have become a society of pill-poppers. Have a look in your medicine cabinet, and tell me I am wrong. The abuse of antibiotics is a matter of real concern in the medical world. Across the counter drugs comprise a frightening array of ingredients, many capable of doing you untold harm.

Conversely, without the discovery of penicillin, by my fellow-Scot, Sir Alexander Fleming, we once ran the risk of losing a high percentage of the world's population to what are now easily curable diseases.
The question is, as ever - how can we enjoy the best of both worlds: modern, western medicine, and traditional, or natural medicine? The answer, for me at least, is to be found by walking through the portals of the Balavi Natural Health Center in Chiang Mai.

The center is staffed by fully qualified doctors of western medicine, nurses, and homeopaths. The founders, Dr. Banchob Junhasavasdikul M.D., and his wife, Dr. Lalita Dhirasiri M.D., launched their first natural medicine clinic in Bangkok, some 25 years ago, and opened their Chiang Mai branch last October. Along with their son, daughter in law, and two other physicians, they rotate between both centers providing an alternative way to good health for their many thousands of patients.

When Dr. Banchob and his wife graduated in Bangkok, they shared a burning desire to offer alternative ways to their patients of achieving good health. Five years after graduation day, the first Balavi Natural Health center was born. Dr. Banchob is also a bestselling author, and has appeared on television to offer advice on natural healing.
I arrive at the Balavi Natural Health Center in Chiang Mai, believing it to be another luxury spa. I am soon to recall the words of Oscar Wilde, "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

I am met by Nipaporn Chaobol, an ex-Thai Red Cross nurse, who is bilingual, and highly professional. I'm taken on a guided tour of this two-storey, modern, Thai-style establishment. The centre piece is an azure blue pool surrounded by terra-cotta colored umbrellas. The building comprises: a medical clinic, gym, saunas, steam rooms, massage rooms, chanting room, meditation room, lecture hall, organic kitchen and restaurant, and a health shop. While I am still thinking "spa", I come face to face with a man whose every pore exudes excellent health. Nipaporn introduces me to Dr.Banchob, who proves to be the Thai equivalent of the "Energizer Bunny". With a smile and a firm handshake, he leads me into a classroom filled with Thai adults. The class comprises medical care workers, housewives, businessmen, and me.

Dr. Banchob launches into a bilingual lesson on natural health; highlighting the dangers of drinking milk, eating junk-food, swallowing needless, and sometimes harmful medicines, and the benefits of traditional medicine, and how it compliments, as opposed to replacing the best in western medical treatment.

The center provides: acupuncture, Homeopathy, massage, colon cleansing, colonic irrigation, fitness therapy, meditation, detoxification, hydro-aerobics, and a list of scientifically proven dietary information for those suffering from obesity, cancer, diabetes, and host of other ailments. There are classes in Yoga, Qigong, lectures, such as the one I am attending, on natural health.
This, is definitely not a spa!

Dr. Banchob quotes from such eminent publications as The British Medical Journal, and The Lancet. He explains, in layman's terms, why babies must be breast-fed, why drinking milk and consuming dairy products is unhealthy. As a child of the "swinging sixties", when we were encouraged to: "Drinka Pinta Milka Day", I ask for an explanation. Milk, I am told, is full of saturated fat, and has three times less calcium than black sesame. Soy milk is a far healthier alternative, to even nonfat milk products.

The class hears that by adopting a western diet, since the Second World War, twelve million Thais are now suffering from a variety of allergies. That obesity, clogged arteries, cancer, renal, respiratory and cardiac problems abound in the "Land of Smiles." Fryland should refrain from the continual reuse of cooking oil!

Apart from the common sense messages: no smoking, no drugs, alcohol in moderation, proper diet, and exercise, Dr. Banchob is a veritable mine of information on how we can better achieve, and enjoy good health; of the mind, as well as the body! As a confirmed cynic (sorry Oscar), I quiz the good doctor as if he were on trial. "Are you saying you can cure cancer, diabetes, cardiac disease etc?" "Certainly not, but we can improve the lives of those suffering from such diseases." "Do you have a new miracle diet for the obese?"
"I can show you how to lose weight while remaining healthy, satisfied and full of energy, through a combination of diet, exercise and improving your (obviously flawed in my case) mindset."

I note the spotless kitchen where ladies are preparing lunch for a score or more patients in the restaurant. No MSG used here! The healthy dishes were brought steaming to the tables. "We are not in the business of pampering the rich and famous. We are, first and foremost a health center, offering proven natural health treatment to the sick," says the doctor.

I remember that the class I am attending, along with students, patients, and other interested parties from Chiang Mai to Phuket, is a free, public service, being run with the blessing of the government's health authority. The class operates every Sunday from 10:00 until 12:00.

I rest my case.

Since, however, there exists no such thing as a free lunch, healthy or otherwise, the Balavi Natural Health Center, Chiang Mai, charges the following rates for two courses:

  • A five day intensive course will cost 20,400 baht, inclusive of a three month membership, entitling you to free use of the excellent facilities.
  • A ten day course comes in at 22, 500 with a six month membership until July 31, 2006.

Contact the Balavi Natural Health Center on 053-266-622, Fax: 053-266-624. The website is www.balavi.com The center opens daily between 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

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