Weekly Local Biography

  Chitra Klanprayoon

The outgoing president of the Lanna Spa Association is an energetic Thai lady, Chitra Klanprayoon. She is a very forthright and direct person, who needs her personal space, but knows exactly where she is going. Her direction is one that her grandfather mapped out for her, even though she did not know it at the time.

Chitra was born in Bangkok where her father was a government employee and her mother ran a small shop. With Chitra being one of eight children, her education was at government schools, but by the time she was 18 she knew what she wanted to be. A singer! This was not a profession that gained parental approval. A university course did.

She picked Mass Communications, and picked Chiang Mai. This was not done through looking for the best teachers, but as the best way of getting out of home. “My parents were strict, but I needed the freedom.”

It was during the four year course at CMU that Chitra began to have a problem with westerners. With the Vietnam conflict, she felt that all westerners were too aggressive. She was so turned off by their warlike nature, which was all that she could see, that she did not even want to learn, or speak, English!

After completing her course at CMU she entered the workforce as a reporter. “It is a terrible job,” said Chitra, “you lose your private life, there’s too much work, and I had an ethics problem with the ‘gift’ envelopes.” (These, for those who are not aware, are financial inducements given by some organizations seeking favorable publicity, and a prerequisite asked for by some unethical media people. I can assure you that Chitra did not offer me any envelope in the hope of a good review!) She lasted 12 months.

To get away from the ethical problems, Chitra joined government service in the Public Relations Department of the Department of Agriculture. This time there were no envelopes - but there was also not enough to do! She lasted another 12 months.

Her next position was in the PR department of the Bumrungrad Hospital, and this was busy, as the hospital was starting up. She stayed there for three years, but described it as “tough work”. However, during this time she began to meet more and more foreigners, and began to understand that there was another (gentler) side to the westerners’ nature. This resulted in her leaving the hospital to help run a small hotel.

Then that independent streak came through again. She wanted to run her own business, so she opened a restaurant on Samui. “Hotels are 24 hours a day. At least you can close a restaurant!” This she ran for the next six years. During this time, with even more exposure to the farang ways, her English improved and she did some work for movie producers as the local assistant to the directors, in films such as Good Morning Vietnam and Air America. She also had a small part as a movie extra.

However, after the six years with the restaurant she was still looking for her true direction. She had noticed that when she felt unwell she would not resort to the usual pharmacy pills and potions, but instead would have a massage, which always made her feel better. She also took heed of the fact that her grandfather had been a doctor of herbal medicine and decided that she should follow in his footsteps. This decision has taken her all over the world in a never-ending search for knowledge. Over a 12 year period she has visited China and Europe, learning, learning, learning. She has studied Thai herbal medicine, Yoga, Chi Kung and other avenues of ‘local wisdom’. “I studied the philosophy of ‘Life’ and ‘Nature’,” she said.

During this time in her own life, she met and married Matthias Froelich. The girl who initially despised westerners ended up marrying one! “I turned down (previous) offers from Thai men, because I wanted to experience the world.”

Her husband had a housing project on Koh Samui and so they decided to build their own, which eventually became known as Ban Sabai. There she opened a spa in their own house, where she could practice traditional Thai herbal medicine and massage.

This initial foray, from their home, was very successful but it soon became obvious they would have to build more salas to cater for the client needs. Like many small businesses it was not easy to expand. The banks did not want to lend money on such projects and she had to borrow from her parents until finally the Thai Military Bank stepped in to help with a business loan.

Now with some financial backing, she could really throw herself into the work. Ban Sabai Samui was going well, and so three years ago she came up to Chiang Mai to start a Ban Sabai Chiang Mai. However, this time she knew the formula. Starting simply from under their home, they branched out and then built more salas as the business took off even more.

Now she is promoting Chiang Mai as a ‘Destination Spa’ concept - which she describes as a package of health and well-being. This includes herbal food and drinks, natural healing modalities, exercise, meditation and de-tox. “I’m really getting back to my grandfather,” says Chitra.

I asked about hobbies and relaxation, but this busy woman does not appear to have much time for that, though she does admit to some exercise and meditation, if she is not trying out and evaluating new therapies.

She becomes quite passionate over traditional Thai wisdom. “I want to show Thai wisdom to the international market, but I also want to help Thai people remember their own Thai wisdom. This is the intellectual property of Thai people,” she said forcefully.

Chitra Klanprayoon is certainly a driving force in the Chiang Mai spa industry, and a lady who knows who she is and what she can accomplish!