Free natural medicine! The former pharmacist who donates herbal meds to needy travelers

The modern world, particularly the West, has taken modern medicine and its drugs to its bosom. The health consequences of this are becoming apparent, with addiction at an all-time high in many Western cities. While most people still prefer mainstream medicine to treat complicated conditions, alternative medicine is gaining favor among Thais and international travelers looking for a miracle cure. 

Pier in Koh Phangan

“Complementary and alternative medicine treatments have been attracting a lot of attention globally over the past years. The main driver for this is its success, as well as the failure of medical orthodoxy,” says Dr. Sanford Schwartz, a naturopathic physician who runs Siam Natural in Thailand.

P’Kaew, a retired Thai pharmacist in Khao Sok, has relied on alternative medicine for ages. He now provides herbal meds to anyone who asks – for free (though not in bulk). P’Kaew credits his free drugs giveaways as being beneficial to himself as well as his customers.

His story points to an alternative trend – an increasing number of people looking to treat their ailment at the root rather than symptomatically. Besides, P’Kaew’s life offers insight into a different approach to mental and medical health, both for users and distributors. 

P’Kaew lives a hermit life and is happy

The House

P’Kaew has been living in Khao Sok alone in peace for 19 years. He moved from Suratthani to Khao Sok to leave the busy city life behind. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see and do in Khao Sok, on the contrary. Khao Sok is a 739-square-kilometer-national park that is 33% larger than Thailand’s largest island, Phuket. Its limestone monoliths visible throughout the region were sculpted by the same tectonic shift that created the Himalayan mountains.

Limestone Rocks

“I decided to live in Khao Sok because of the good views. Mountains. Forests. End of life,” P’Kaew says matter-of-factly, implying that he wants to spend his last years in Khao Sok. He’s sitting in his cozy little bamboo-coconut-leaf hut in the garden next to a gurgling creek and sips on a cup of tea. In the distance, there’s the faint crow of a rooster, epitomizing the rural idyll. P’Kaew adds, “Better than in town: Samui, Phuket, Bangkok, Suratthani.” 


He says with Phuket, Krabi, and Suratthani some 100 to 300 kilometers away, Khao Sok is in the middle of Southern Thailand’s famous destinations. Asked what this place has that the cities lack, he states, “Primeval forest. Ratchaprapha Dam!”

Ratchaprapha, or Light of the Kingdom, is the dam on Cheow Lan Lake, built between 1982 and 1987. Today, the Halong Bay-reminiscent lake with limestone pillars jutting hundreds of meters out of emerald waters is popular with tourists who stay in Khao Sok floating bungalows. And thrill-seeking adventurers love Khao Sok hiking in the jungle, a rainforest that’s older than the Amazon.

Floating Bungalows

P’Kaew spends his senior years looking after his plants, smoking, and drinking tea. He grins, reflects, and adds modestly, “And sleep. No have anything. Have good life, okay.” Then, pointing at his surroundings, drawing imaginary circles, he grins and says, “Nature, fresh air, good food, slow life. Pray,” and mimics the lotus flower. “Meditate?” I offer. He nods and adds, “Before sleep.”

To treat their condition, many people in the Khao Sok community see P’Kaew. Khai, the first man to guide jungle tours in this area 21 years ago, sent his HIV-positive brother to him.

P’Kaew, a man who does wonders

P Kaew and me

“P’Kaew cooked nine turds, hung them on a hook to drain the blood, and then made a powder from it. My brother still has HIV, but he has energy again. Before taking that powder, he was about to die,” says Khai.

People visit P’Kaew to treat renal diseases, liver dysfunction, and puzzling complaints because modern medicine disenchanted them with side effects and habit-forming medication. 

Dr. Toshinori Ito, president of the International Congress on Nutrition and Integrative Medicine and director of the Osaka Center for Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, says, “Western medicine, which is not a fundamental but a symptomatic therapy, is not adapted to lifestyle-related disorders.”


The challenge with complementary and alternative medicine is that it’s difficult to perform studies, partly because individualized treatments comprising herbal combinations make it impossible to match and randomize people into a study group. It’s much easier to conduct studies with western pharmaceuticals containing one active ingredient.

Preparing Plants

Also, alternative meds practitioners don’t have the billions of dollars for research that pharmaceutical giants have. And these companies lose money when people prefer complementary medication to conventional drugs.

P’Kaew’s knowledge comes from his experience during the 30 years he ran his herbal meds pharmacy in Suratthani. He uses herbal meds made from plants that grow in his garden.

P’Kaew has many plants


Pouring me a cup of Thai tea from Chiang Mai, P’Kaew says, “I give herbal medicine to Thais and farangs. To all good people, no bad. Everyone who is sick. Can help? Free. No think money.”


He ponders for a moment, points to his chest, and says, “Heart. Some people poor. No money. Take free.”

From turmeric, galangal, chili, and lemongrass to ginseng, dandelion, and yardlong beans – P’Kaew has many plants. Once they ripen after eight to 12 months, he boils them or makes powders.

“Go pick a star fruit,” P’Kaew says, looking at a ten-meter-tall star fruit tree with white-splotched bark and intricate branches.

Star fruit
Star fruit tree

I do as told and bite into a yellow, crunchy, juicy fruit that’s ready to eat. Star fruits are packed with fiber and antioxidants and are cholesterol-lowering, plus many other health benefits. 

“This plant maintains a healthy heart and boosts the immune system,” he says, pointing at a three-meter-tall moringa tree with dense, compound leaves. 

Moringa Tree

Now P’Kaew is in his element, offering me a crash course in herbal meds. I learned that turmeric, lemongrass, and ginger are used to treat gastritis. “Turmeric can also treat Covid,” he says convincingly.

Rang Tue
Lemon Grass
Yard-long Beans

“Where do you get the seeds from?”

“From Thailand,” he says and laughs.

Noticing psoriasis on my elbows, he gives me a small box for free and says, “This – miracle cream!” He is spot-on.


Getting here

As for how to get to Khao Sok – that depends on whether you travel from Bangkok to Khao Sok or elsewhere. Jumping on a VIP overnight bus from Bangkok to Khao Sok is convenient, just as hopping in a minivan to get from Phuket to Khao Sok is. The ride from Phuket to Khao Sok National Park takes three hours. Riding a minibus from Krabi to Khao Sok is possible, too.

To visit this herbal meds provider, turn left about one kilometer before Khao Sok’s bus stop. You’ll find his house about a kilometer later on your left. I recommend contacting Khai first. While P’Kaew offers free drugs to anybody, the last thing he wants is to hear tuk-tuks dropping off masses of boisterous tourists.

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