Ending up in hospital is something most holidaymakers hope will not happen to them. But, with the increasing medical expenses and growing waiting lists that face many Westerners, the option of receiving first-class care combined with a holiday is more-and-more tempting – and Thailand is just the ticket for many of these travelers who are becoming medical tourists.
No matter what type of medical tourist you are, Thailand offers a world of choice in term of locations. Culture vultures, beach bums and night owls will all feel right at home in the Kingdom of Smiles in this multifaceted country with excellent healthcare facilities. From knee replacements to IVF to boob jobs, all manner of medical services are available, at hospitals and clinics that offer a touch of luxury and a first-class approach to healthcare.
However, it is the massive savings to be made of between 50 and 80% that makes medical tourism such a big draw. Cosmetic surgery procedures are among the most popular, given that these are not covered at all by health insurance. A breast enlargement in Thailand costs in the region of US $4,500, compared to $11,500 in the United States, leaving more than enough savings for flights and luxurious accommodation to justify the trip.
The Thai reputation of service with a smile, low-priced hotels, and frequent flights from across the globe, as well as 30-day visas for many nationalities, makes it easy for travelers to plan their trip, so it’s little wonder that Thailand is one of the major players in the medical tourism sector. Renowned for its spa, health, wellness and relaxation services it arguably provides a winning combination for pre and post medical treatment pampering and recuperation too.
In terms of the standard of medical care on offer, Thailand was Asia’s first recipient of the prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation. Regarded as the gold-standard for health care services, Thailand now has more than 50 JCI-accredited hospitals, where medical tourists can be sure to receive services that are world-class.
Many doctors and surgeons that primarily treat medical tourists have undertaken training overseas in Europe and the United States, and have qualifications and expertise on a par with their counterparts in the West. Many medical professionals speak good English, but certainly in the larger hospitals there are teams of translators to assist foreign patients.
Beach or City? Busy or Off-The-Beaten-Track? Thailand has it all.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s hospitals can certainly compete with the quality you would expect to find at home, but there are also excellent facilities in most of Thailand’s popular tourist destinations, including Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Hua Hin.
Bangkok is Thailand’s pulsating capital, and leading medical tourist destination. As you would expect, it has a vast number of excellent hospitals and clinics catering specifically for medical tourists. The Samitivej Hospital was among the first in the country to receive Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation and has a number of sites across the city with specialist facilities that include heart, kidney dialysis, cancer and plastic surgery units. Also popular with foreign patients are the Bangkok Hospital, with an entire Japanese Wing, and Phyathai 2 which has English-speaking staff and translators for more than 20 other languages.
For medical tourists, the city has umpteen things to see and do, although it’s well worth noting that it is hot all year round, and it may take a little while to acclimatize. That being said, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and bars all have air-con, so it’s easy enough to cool down when the going gets too hot.
You’ll find temples on practically every street corner in Bangkok, but the must sees are the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, which is over 70 meters high and Wat Pho, where you’ll find the world’s largest reclining Buddha. A boat trip along the Chao Phraya River might be an option if you don’t want to do too much walking, or a visit to the theatre where you can catch anything from a traditional Thai dance performance to a raucous Lady Boy show.
Chiang Mai is in the cooler north of the country, and although it’s a big city, it has a small-town feel. Surrounded by mountains and rice fields you can visit a hill tribe mountain village or an elephant sanctuary nearby – or there are other more sedate activities, including handicraft workshops or Thai cookery classes. The city is home to a multitude of international restaurants, hotels and bars, as well as spa and wellness resorts.
The Chiang Mai Ram Hospital is the highly-acclaimed 350-bed facility that offers a full range of medical and surgical treatments – and for those who are looking for non-surgical enhancements, such as Botox or fillers, there are excellent clinics, like the Machita Clinic and DIAA Aesthetic Clinic that offer a host of options under the supervision of a medical director.
Phuket’s long, white, sandy, palm-fringed beach and surrounding azure-blue waters have attracted tourist for decades. It is the largest island in Thailand with something to suit everyone – from the infamous party spot – Patong Beach, to the quiet and unspoilt Mai Khao Beach.
Phuket Town is the island’s capital of culture. Its narrow streets and old Portuguese architecture are a joy for ambling along, with many of the buildings having been lovingly restored with brightly-painted facades. Arty bookshops, quirky galleries and hipster coffee houses are among its attractions, offering something different from the beaches.
Medical tourists will find no shortage of first-rate facilities, including the Bangkok Hospital Phuket, the Phuket Plastic Surgery Institute and the highly-acclaimed Tanaporn Clinic , which provides non-surgical esthetic services in 16 clinics across the country.
Located just outside Bangkok, Pattaya is not necessarily for everyone but it offers a lively destination for those who are looking for sun, sea, sand and a vibrant nightlife. It is a popular location with foreign visitors. The beaches are crowded and noisy with package-tourists, beach barbecues, jet skis, water-skiers, parasailers and all manner of activities taking place throughout the day, while at night discos, bars and cabaret shows continue to attract the partying hordes.
Medical tourists can expect to find world-class medical and surgical services at the Samitivej Sriracha Hospital and non-invasive beauty treatments at the Apex Profound Beauty Clinic Pattaya Branch and Nicha Clinic.
Hua Hin is another beach resort but with a much more laid-back vibe than the neon-lit Pattaya. Attracting mainly wealthy Thai families, Hua Hin is more about spa-retreats and boutique hotels than mass tourism and is the ultimate place to unwind.
The Bangkok Hospital Hua Hin and Rajdhevee Clinic Hua Hin provide plastic surgery and cosmetic dermatology treatments for those wanting to go home looking and feeling fabulous.
A word to the wise
Any form of medical tourism is worth thinking about very carefully. It may sound like a great idea, but if you don’t travel well or have never experienced a culture that is totally different then you may be in for a shock. It is always worth doing your own research and be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the heat, or spicy food or sand, or whatever, then Thailand may not be the place for you.
If you decide that it is, then you still need to have realistic expectations about your surgery. What will the recovery period be like? How long before you can get up and about? Will stitches need to be removed etc etc?
And then, after that, you will still need to find a reliable doctor and clinic. Cheap cosmetic and beauty treatments performed by unqualified people is a worldwide problem, not just in Thailand, but in the United States, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Research, research, research is the key – and it’s also worth checking medical tourism companies, many of whom have already re-checked doctors and clinics and who don’t charge patients for their services.