Tiger balm. The strong, herbal and minty smelling balm you can find through out all South East Asia. My first use of it was back in the days of kickboxing: it works as a pain relief for musculair aches. But not in Cambodia: here, tiger balm, of which the traditional Chinese formula is kept secret, is used as a general medicin for any type of illness.
And as if the strong skin sensation of the menthol balm is not already enough, in Cambodia it comes with a variety of pretty harsh treatment methods. Whether you caught an innocent cold or you suffer from cancer: you’ll get rubbed on chest and back with tiger balm. With a sharp object they scratch and cut your skin untlll you look like you’ve just got out of Guantanamo Bay. It is believed to bring ‘heat’ as opposed to the ‘cold’ your body suffers.
Another method is heating a small jar of tiger balm and placing it firmly on your forehead in order for it to pull a vacuum. When you remove it, a deep red circular bruce is marking your forehead for the next couple of days. But you’ll be sure to get rid of your headache if you ask a Khmer
On a more serious note, the lack of proper health care and medical knowledge in Cambodia has everything to do with the Pol Pot regime. The Khmer Rouge vanished all the intelligentsia and with them the medical knowledge from 1975 to 1978. Only 45 medical doctors survived, of which 20 left the country. Besides that all the infrastructure was destroyed and diseases related to problems with water and sanitation prevailed. Health care is still very poor in Cambodia and so is the level of education. And so people continue ‘treating’ eachother, for example with tiger balm.
If you’d like to read more on tthe health care situation in Cambodia: I found this a useful article.