21 May 2024

The Japanese art of forest bathing is the perfect way to soothe the soul

We all occasionally need to escape and there are few places better than Hup Pa Tat Valley in Uthai Thani province to experience the ancient Japanese therapy known as forest bathing.

Once a Japanese wellness ritual, forest bathing has become a global movement with such celebrities as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge adopting it and Justin Bieber and Gwyneth Paltrow spreading the word around Hollywood.

Immersed in deep forest and disconnected from the outside world, forest bathing is said to improve sleep quality, boost the immune system and offer a wealth of other health benefits. And the hidden valley of Hup Pa Tat is the perfect spot to indulge yourself in thegreat sense of comfort that comes from nature therapy.

Located in Lansak district, roughly 250 kilometres North of Bangkok and just a short ride away from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Hup Pa Tat Valley is locked behind sheer limestone walls. A long time ago, one theory has it, there was a gigantic limestonecave at Hup Pa Tat. The cave ceiling collapsed, locking in 48,000 square metres of valley within sheer stone walls for centuries.

Apparently, there is only one gateway, a small tunnel or cave, that connects the hidden valley to the outside world. Find the tunnel and you have the key to the secret garden.

Arriving at the end of the tunnel, you find yourself inside a gigantic chamber of evergreen forest. If you’re here on a weekday, chances are you will have the whole valley to yourself.

Spectacular yet also mysterious, Hup Pa Tat Valley has developed a remarkable ecosphere with unique flora and fauna because the valleyhas been sealed for so long from the outside world. From the entrance, several trails wind their ways in different directions through the valley. From here, you can stroll through jungle and experience forest bathing.

Turn off your mobile phone, switch on your senses.

Forest bathing, according to Dr. Qing Li, a medical doctor in Tokyo and author of “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness”, is simply being in the forest and connecting with it. You connect to the forest through all the senses sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The more youconnect with the forest, the happier you will be.

As hippie and ritualistic as forest bathing may sound, there is no need for a joint or to undress. Instead, simply immerse yourself in the beauty of nature literally walking a path to rejuvenation physically, mentally and spiritually.

As you walk into Hup Pa Tat Valley, you get the sense you are approaching an ancient forest. Thick walls of primitive-looking palm trees are all over the place. There are strangely shaped banyan trees that seem unfamiliar compared with their kin standing around Buddhist temples across Thailand. Emerald green vines, a lush canopy and majestic rock chambers and formations let the imagination roam wild, and you might well wonder if this hidden valley coexisted with dinosaurs.

Have you ever hugged a tree? If you haven’t hugged a tree, give the next tree you see a big hug. If you have hugged a tree before, then do it again.

A tall elephant-rope tree shoots up into the sky as it strives to reach the sunlight. Stroke the slender trunk and marvel at how tall and straight it is and try to figure out how old it is. There is something soothing and satisfyingwhen you run your hands along the bark. Like an old person’s face, the trunk has an uneven texture with lines and wrinkles.

In the middle of valley, there is a huge stone arch crossing over huge piles of crumbled rock that was once a cave canopy. You can sit on a rock and let the nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the gibbon’s ‘song’. Watch the leaves waltz with the wind. Taste the damp air as you as you take deep breaths. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream.

As all the senses are sated by and soaked in the forest, you’ll discover wonderful shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that you may never have noticed before.

Here you’re deep in the evergreen forest of Hup Pa Tat Valley, and on a sensory adventure based on an ancient Japanese therapy “Shirin-yoko”.

GETTING THERE

The valley of Hup Pa Tat is located in Lansak district, Uthai Thani, roughly 250 kilometres north of Bangkok. It’s open from 9am-4pm.The best time to be there is between 11.00 amand 1pm when the sun sheds light into the valley.

PHOTO by Phoowadon Duangmee