More about Cambodian Traditional Medicine

cambodian natural medicine practitioner

cambodian natural medicine(1)I am so grateful to the man who commented on my previous post about Cambodian traditional medicine, My Magic Cambodian Natural Medicine. John Lowrie was formerly connected with an NGO that sought to preserve the culture of the people of Mondulkiri. His blog, A Northumbrian Abroad, deserves a larger following and the book he sent me, Traditional Therapeutic Knowledge of the Bunong People in North-eastern Cambodia, is brilliant.

What little I knew about Cambodian traditional medicine until I picked up the book the other day I learned from Sopheak. The first time she made a brew for me was about eight years ago, when I had a horrible bout of diarrhea. She ran out of the house and came back half an hour later with a tea she had made from some tree bark. I was in agony as I waited for it to cool and wasn’t sure it would help. The first sip made the cramping in my stomach stop instantly and by the time I finished a cup, I was fine.

The book John sent me was written by an NGO, Nomad RSI. The NGO has been working in Mondulkiri since 1997. The preface of the book starts by listing the academic credentials of the book’s creators, but goes on to emphasize the respect they have for indigenous healers. While they don’t show disrespect for our Western biomedicine, they point out some of the differences between the two modalities and make an attempt to bridge the gap between them. In their introductory remarks, Calum Blaikie and Laurent Pordie write:

There are a great many ‘traditional’ health practices which essentially deal with the physiological and biological, just as there is much in the vast body of knowledge-practice that constitutes contemporary biomedicine which reflects particular cultural orientations, epistemological frameworks, socio-economic and political systems.

The book goes on to give snapshots of a variety of healers. Some of them learned from others, while a few learned from spirits. At least one, Chuch Den, “had a dream where a spirit had called her to become a midwife. This was a sign for her and if the spirit had not appeared in her dreams she would not be practising today.” Chuch Den learned midwifery from her mother, but another healer, Deuy Kam, learned directly from spirits and says he “will transmit his knowledge through his spirit after he dies, as his mother had done with him.” Still others were forced to learn traditional medicine by the Khmer Rouge, one of whose aims was to purge Kampuchea of Western influences. Too bad they did it the wrong way. No good comes from force, as any true healer can tell you.

Cambodian natural medicine healer

My Experiences with Cambodian Traditional Medicine and ‘Magic’

We Westerners like to believe in reason. I began to see the limits of reason decades ago when I met the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met. Her intuition was undeniable and I have had experiences with her that defy logic. On the flip side, I’ve run into my share of charlatans and people who think they’re intuitive, but aren’t. Of course, the same can be said for anything. If there’s a buck to be made, some people think nothing of lying to make it and you meet self proclaimed experts (who aren’t) in every field. I think you need to keep an open mind, but a critical mind helps, too.

I’ve seen enough amazing things in my life that I was not incredulous when my wife told me a story about how a spirit appeared before her and taught her how to heal a wound she received when she was living in the jungle alone as a little girl. She jumped out of a tree and sliced her Achilles tendon on a shard of metal. Blood was gushing out. A man appeared before her and told her to mix spider web with mud and wrap it around her heal with a certain leaf. She did as instructed and the bleeding stopped. He told her to change the dressing every day and then vanished. The wound healed. I write about this and other experiences more extensively in my book. I won’t blame readers for not believing some of my stories, but most of them, as incredible as they sound, happened to me and I have to believe them. A few stories are second-hand, but I believe them because the people who told me the stories had nothing to gain and are generally as diffident as I am about sharing “miraculous” stories that might sound crazy to the average Western reader.

As Hamlet said to Horatio: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Our Western “philosophy” is one of reason. Intuition is such a rare occurrence in our reason-based society, most of us don’t believe it exists. Some who do believe in intuition consider it an extraordinary spiritual power. Personally, I think it’s a skill we’ve forgotten how to use. That’s what a psychic told us at a small gathering in Australia. He proved it to us when he taught us how to tap into it and let us experiment on each other. I’m sure it worked, but I’ve rarely been able to tap into it since. I once told a friend here in Cambodia about the experience. I thought he wouldn’t believe me, but he told me about his ex-wife, who often had psychic experiences. One day his car was stolen and she saw the exact spot where the thieves left the car when they stripped it. He is as practical a person as any, yet his ex-wife made him see that there really are abilities beyond the five senses and reason.

I first heard about the healer who gave me the natural medicine I’m using on my knee about five or six years ago. A relative of Sopheak’s was dying from cancer. The local hospital sent her to our house and I saw firsthand how close to death she was. The hospital recommended sending her to the Russian hospital in Phnom Penh first, to have tests to confirm she was dying from breast cancer. We did as instructed. The hospital confirmed it and said it was too late for any conventional treatment, so we sent back to her home village to die. Three months later, she returned to Sihanoukville, looking fit and happy. Unfortunately, she didn’t follow the healer’s advice and take the medicine for six months. The cancer returned and she died, but I’d seen his medicine work with my own eyes.

Years later, a wealthy man from Vietnam tried to cross the border, but was not allowed to enter Cambodia because the border officials were afraid he would die here. He sent his driver to fetch the healer. The man recovered and now the healer has patients coming from as far away as Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. He apparently charges on a sliding scale: wealthier patients pay much more than poorer patients pay. I hope to finally meet the healer soon. I’ll report on what happens when I do.




My Magic Cambodian Natural Medicine

cambodian natural medicine

I do express my opinion in my Sihanoukville Journal, but rarely write about myself. Most of my readers don’t know that I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace since the 2012-13 dry season. I’d had some problems with my right knee before then, but a Chinese herbal remedy kept it under control. Then one day the last of the cartilage in my right knee wore out and I found myself standing in the middle of the road in pain. Until Sophie got me a Cambodian natural medicine, my health was going downhill fast from pain, lack of good sleep and almost no exercise. Now it looks like I’m on the road to recovery.

About six months after that painful moment, I had my knees scanned and it was clear that there was no cartilage in my right knee. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to live with it. It was bad enough then, but got worse about six months ago. It got so bad I spent an inordinate amount of time planning my movements to avoid having to walk any more than I had to. Ten metres was about all I could manage comfortably. More than that and I’d have to reconcile myself to every step being agonising.

At about the same time, Sophie had to go to Phnom Penh for an operation. Then she went to a small village in Svay Riengh to have a traditional healer help her with a much more serious illness. His treatment worked and I asked her if he had anything that could treat my knee. He didn’t have any in stock, but knew where to get them. This healer is in great demand, though, and he wasn’t able to get away to gather the plants he uses in his practice until he nearly exhausted all his supplies.

About two months ago, he set off to a number of parts of Cambodia to gather plants, going as far as Preah Vihear to forage for mine and some others. When he came back two weeks ago, Sophie brought my first batch home.

My Magic Cambodian Natural Medicine*

Here’s a photograph of the medicine Sophie brought back with her:

cambodian natural medicine

It looks like a bunch of twigs, leaves and bark and that’s exactly what it is. Every morning, Mama cooks up a tea and pours it into a thermos. I’m supposed to “drink it like water” throughout the day. I started drinking it on Monday the 23rd of November. I was going to take a video of myself hobbling along before I began the treatment, but unfortunately waited five days. By then I had already improved remarkably. Had I made the video before I started the treatment, you would have seen me wincing with every step and moving very slowly. I’m not going to share my video with you yet. I’ll wait until I have a second one, for comparison’s sake. I still limp in the video, but I’m moving at a regular walking pace and smiling throughout. I made the video on Friday the 27th, so was only up to my fifth day of the treatment.

don bosco hotel sihanoukville cambodia

I was even able to walk around and take photos of the kids less than a week after starting the treatment

Rather than bore you with every detail, I’ll just share a quick timeline:

  • 23 November: Start treatment (about six cups of tea per day)
  • 25 November: My feet feel very warm
  • 26 November: I can still see the veins in my right foot at noon. Before then, it swelled up by 10:00 a.m.
  • 27 November: It doesn’t hurt when I throw my leg over my motorbike seat.
  • 28 November: Friends comment that I’m not limping as badly and that I have more colour in my face.
  • 29 November: I go to the beach for a swim. That had formerly been a long process of walking from where I parked my motorbike to the steps at the edge of Independence Beach. I sat there for about 10 minutes to prepare for the agonising walk through the sand and into the water. This time, I walked straight in and when I got out after my swim, I felt refreshed and my leg wasn’t in agony. A Cambodian acquaintance remarks: “You look like tiger today!”
  • 29 November (afternoon): I take the kids to the Don Bosco Hotel for a swim in the pool and trampoline jumping. I wouldn’t have considered going out a second time after a morning swim before I started the treatment. This time, I not only walk relatively pain-free, but continue walking around taking pictures and ordering ice cream.
  • 01 December: While waiting for Kelly to get out of school, I notice my legs are trembling. My muscles had become so atrophied, they were having trouble coping with all the walking I’d been doing.
  • 03 December: Slight cramp in my right thigh. I think it’s because I’m using muscles I haven’t used in years.

I still have the cramp in my thigh, but will go for a massage tomorrow and see if it helps.

Sophie says her healer gave me a weak medicine because I’m old. I didn’t expect to see any improvement for at least a month, if then. I was astounded by how quickly the medicine worked. It’s supposed to be able to restore the cartilage, too, but that will probably take time. I’ve decided I got a little overexcited about the results, so am going to pace myself more. My leg muscles need to strengthen and I don’t want to overwork my knee.

This isn’t the first time so-called “alternative” medicine has worked for me or others I know. I’ve seen it do wonders in Bali, Australia and here in Cambodia. I cover most of the treatments I’ve used or observed in my book and when I’m satisfied with it, I’ll let you know how to get a copy.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a medical expert and am not pretending to offer a treatment. Obviously, you’re welcome to your own medical preferences. I’m just sharing this information about a Cambodian natural medicine based on my experience so far. I tried an anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drug early on, but didn’t like the side effects. Then I switched to glucosamine, but gave up on it after about six weeks because it hadn’t helped at all, though I’m told it has worked for others. I was on the verge of going to Thailand for an operation when Sophie told me her traditional doctor had a treatment. It was a long wait, but worth it.