Yam Khang Fire Massage at Ban Rai Kong Khing

Yam Khang fire massage

Words: Mark Glanville
Photos: Phuwadol Jankhum
Published: May 23, 2018

My masseuse dipped his feet in healing herbs and oils before heating those feet – with an unmistakable sizzle – on hot iron plate above flaming coals…

‘Yam Khang’ it’s called and it’s a unique local form of massage passed down through the generations. My masseuse dipped his feet in healing herbs and oils before heating those feet – with an unmistakable sizzle – on hot iron plate above flaming coals and then walking some long-niggling aches out of my body. Wonderful.

Over the past few years I’d heard much about the Sufficiency Economy philosophy of the much revered late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and how these theories on self-sufficiency could make a positive impact for communities around Thailand. Just recently I made good on a promise to myself to visit somewhere that was embracing the late monarch’s philosophy and see it ‘in action’, so to say, firsthand.

A little bit of research online and suggestions from work colleagues soon had me convinced on where I was going to go. Ban Rai Kong Khing village in Chiang Mai, a community-based tourism initiative where King Bhumibol’s ideas on sustainable development have been adopted and put into practice.

And obviously quite successfully I reckoned, for in 2015 Ban Rai Kong Khing village received the PATA Tourism InSPIRE Award as best community-based tourism initiative and also won an Award of Excellence for Tourist Attractions in the 10th Thailand Tourism Awards.

With Chiang Mai just an hour’s flight from Bangkok and it being a favourite place of mine, I opted to spend the weekend there and take my time exploring Ban Rai Kong Khing village. And enjoy the (I don’t want to say cold) less hot northern weather.

One thing I was to happily notice during my time at the village is that it feels like a community. There are some 700 families involved in this enterprise and everybody pitches in, working as guides, cooking, tending to the livestock and in various other roles.

flaming coals, a key element of Yam Khang fire massage

In what I’m pretty sure was my most activity-filled Saturday in a heck of a long time, my visit to the village saw me learn to cook the favorite local dish khai pam (involving an egg, banana leaves and a stove) and the dessert khanom jok (slightly more complex with rice flour, sweetened coconut meat, banana leaves and a steamer), cruise around on a bicycle for a while, fashion an exotic-looking handicraft, grab me some Lanna herbal products (yes, I’m metrosexual) and get a massage that’s not for the faint-hearted.

Getting there

Ban Rai Kong Khing village is in Hang Dong district about 30 minutes drive from Chiang Mai’s city centre. Chiang Mai is just under 700 km from Bangkok, with multiple daily flights and bus services available.

Checking in

The vast accommodation choice in Chiang Mai covers all budgets from guesthouses to luxury hotels. Many international chains are present, including Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Le Meridien, Anantara, Dusit, Holiday Inn, Furama, Centara and Mercure.