Chiang Rai is gearing up to become a hub of traditional Thai massage and spa businesses, and to provide qualified massage therapists to serve tourists during the forthcoming Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006 in Chiang Mai.
More than 50 representatives of local spa entrepreneurs and staff from local hospitals attended a training course aimed at raising the standards of Thai massage therapists. It was held from September 4-9 at the provincial labour skills development centre.
Organised by the provincial public health office, the course offered a new array of massage techniques and participants learned about a variety of herbs used to complement massage therapy.
Patchari Niamkam, a massage therapy trainer from the Lanna Thai Spa Academy in Bangkok, said a surge of foreign interest in traditional massage had prompted the government to make sure local massage therapists meet international standards.
Ms Patchari said massage therapy is very popular in countries in Europe and Asia including Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Local therapists need to prove their foreign language skills before going to work there, she said.
One of the techniques offered included a type of traditional Thai massage which focuses on restoring the balance of the body's elements _ earth, water, wind and fire.
This will result in physical health and emotional well-being, Ms Patchari said, adding that participants are also trained in the use of a herbal compress which is applied to stimulate blood circulation and relieve pains in parts of the body.
She urged the government to train enough massage therapists to cope with the large numbers of tourists expected to visit the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006 in Chiang Mai.
Ratchanee Buranakitpaiboon, a staff member at the provincial public health office, said the province has allocated a budget of 2.5 million baht to promote traditional Thai massage in the province. There will also be aggressive promotion campaigns to draw tourists.
She said locals are very interested in the province's free training courses, and similar courses by private companies charge fees of up to 20,000 baht per person.
Qualified massage and spa operators will receive a certificate issued by the provincial public health office.
Natthamon Suponthana, 31, of the Phu Jai Sai resort, said she has worked as a massage therapist for two years and is always learning new techniques.
She called on the governmnet to sponsor more training courses in the provinces as most massage therapy institutions are located in Bangkok.
Ladda Sompanwang, a community health staff member of Meng Rai district hospital in Chiang Rai, said the knowledge she gained from the course is very useful and she will apply it to treat patients under the hospital's alternative medicine programme.
It was reported that a foreign private company contracted to look after athletes at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing would import more than 80,000 herbal compresses from Thailand and hire Thai therapists to provide massage services to them. The purchase and hiring agreement is expected to be reached at the end of the year.
Jatiyaporn Wongsa, a pharmacist from a herbal group at Ban Nong Kul Yai village in Kalasin's Sam Chai sub-district, said a local private company approached the group, asking if it could deliver several tens of thousands of herbal compresses.
She believed the group, which has the capacity to produce more than 1,000 herbal compresses a day, could supply the goods if the orders were placed.
First WiMAX network to link hospitals, clinics in Chiang Rai
The Crown Prince Hospital Foundation, which has over 20 hospitals throughout the country, will operate the first WiMAX network authorised in Thailand and, as of mid-November, providing streaming video and broadband data transfers.
The WiMAX network is being supplied by NEC Corporation and will help bridge the digital divide and link medical facilities located in Chiang Khong district of Chiang Rai on the Mekong River.
The services will operate at 2.5 GHz and provide broadband wireless communications over a range of five kilometres, including to three clinics and to a hospital across the border in Laos. It will expand communications beyond fixed analogue telephone lines to include new video and TV phone services that can assist with remote medical care.
This project follows licensed WiMAX trials issued to 12 telecommunications carriers in January this year and marks an expansion of broadband communications services to a remote area, where previously patients would have had to travel to a major hospital. Now they may be able to receive quality care from a local clinic.
The efficiency of local care will also be improved by granting doctors access to high-speed transmissions for high-capacity data, such as medical imaging files.
NEC senior executive vice president Botaro Hirosaki said in an interview at ITU Telecom Asia last week that healthcare was an application that was very well-suited to WiMAX, adding that "eventually we hope to expand the service to more than 100 sites."
He also stressed the advantages of WiMAX, being the ability to guarantee a quick rollout of the broadband wireless infrastructure and as a cost-effective technology. This minimised the investment needed to create specific applications to run on the broadband wireless environment, which was important, he added.
Hirosaki said: "In Thailand, you have much wider countryside (than Japan) and you have very specific requirements for modernised medical care; so in this environment you have this good reason to accellerate the deployment of WiMAX."
He noted that about one year ago, NEC had started with a WiMAX healthcare application in Taiwan which had provided some practical experience in the field, "so we will be able to bring the outcome of this experience to Thailand.
"I think we can have more sophisticated, up-to-date applications in Thailand, and if both Thailand and Taiwan are successful, then this result could be applied other countries all over the world," he added. Although work on the Taiwan project had begun earlier, the Crown Prince Hospital Foundation project here will be the first to be operational.
Hirosaki said that, in addition to being well-suited to medical applications, WiMAX was also good for education applications and for content distribution.
Two weeks ago, NEC announced that it had received WiMAX Forum's certified seal of approval for its base station and PC card for its 2.5GHz WiMAX portfolio, becoming one of the first to receive 2.5GHz certification.
NEC will monitor the success of Chiang Khong's remote medical care system very carefully in order to determine the best way to introduce new WiMAX services to other Foundation affiliates, an NEC press statement said.
Hirosaki, who oversees NEC's broadband infrastructure projects, also had some advice for operators who may be considering their options in moving to 3G networks.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the "networked generation," at ITU Telecom Asia 2008 he said that for mobile operators who had already invested in a 3G network or who had already obtained licences, an investment in "Super 3G" or Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology would be "just right."
But for the remaining operators, including ISPs, WiMAX would be very quick and a high-speed solution to create a next-generation Internet application.
The NEC executive vice president offered guidance on how to discriminate or decide between WiMAX and LTE, that will be rolled out in Japan next year.
He said there were two aspects, the first being technical. WiMAX was now available to support bit rates of between 30 and 50 Mbits/sec, he said, which was much faster than today's 3G networks - while noting that anyone wanting 100 megabits or more must wait for true fourth generation technology, or until around 2015.
Hirosaki said that the bit rate for WiMAX, using 2.5 or 3.5 GHz frequency bands, was much higher than today's high-speed data applications on current 3G networks, enough to enjoy video streams from YouTube, for example.
This would stimulate a new business model, including multimedia, in a very quick way when compared with LTE, which would require a couple of years more to be developed, he said.
Taking a closer look at the investment structure, he said that for operators who had already invested in 3G licence fees or in 3G technology, it would be better to choose LTE "because you cannot duplicate your investment." But for those operators who had not yet invested in 3G, they could then choose WiMAX to quickly roll out "a very nice broadband application."
NEC began deploying WiMAX networks three years ago, and Hirosaki also praised Intel for its very strong interest in WiMAX and its investments in chipsets for computers.
At the ITU Telecom Asia exhibition, NEC was demonstrating its Next Generation Network solutions under the concept "to realise secure and reliable society by ubiquitous network," mobile WiMAX, LTE, IP-TV, its Virtual PC Centre, digital signage and UNIVERGE unified communication. Other technologies on display included biometrics and ePassport solutions.
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