Bangkok: Thailand is known for its stunning natural beauty, including tropical islands, beautiful beaches and World Hertitage ranked historical sites. It’s also a place where visitors can indulge in City fun including huge shopping malls, top night spots and five star luxury hotels.
But there is another tourist hotspot – the country’s medical health facilities which are ranked 47th by the World Health Organisation. And just to put the ranking in perspective that’s compared to the UK (18th) and the US (37). Added to which most doctors have US, UK or European medical qualifications, with specialisms in all kinds of treatments from transplants to dental and cosmetic surgery.
Of course the main reason why1.5 million tourists, mainly from Japan, US, UK and Australia, visit the country seeking medical treatment is because on average it costs a tenth of the price. The standard of care is very high with hospitals equipped with the latest technology and delivering quality customer services, including professonionals who speak a number of languages including English and Japanese. So no surprise its so popular a destination for medical tourism, earning the country more than US$3.lbn in revenues last year.
So while the Thai shopping experience is unmatched, with excellent bargains in clothing and accessories, as well as the usual souvenirs, medical tourism is flourishing. So while it may be a long way to go, patients have the opportunity, depending of course on their treatment, to indulge in other positive lifestyle choices such as Thai massage and aesthetic rejuvenation during their stay.
Elixir recently sent reporter, Diana McSherry, to Thailand to investigate whether the country’s medical tourism offering lived up to its reputation. Her report which follows focuses on the Bangkok Hospital, which has one of the most comprehensive and state-of-the-art facilities. It also looks as facilities for rest and relaxation at Amari hotels. This is her report:
“The Bangkok Hospital is a shiny, welcoming and technologically sophisticated hospital, with its own air ambulance and helipad, adjacent to one of the newest additions to the luxury Amari group of hotels. Anyone who has stayed in one of these beautiful Amari Residences Bangkok, knows that they are very beautiully decorated, utilising local sustainable natural materials, with plenty of dark wood.
A typical room at the Amari Residences Bangkok – popular with patients following treatment
However, the Amari Residences Bangkok where I stayed on this occasion are in a more airy and brighter style of decor, providing a lighter atmosphere in the centre of the city, for the many international medical visitors choosing it for convalescence.
And, as an aside, despite what you might have heard about the thronging hoards in Bangkok, there are many places in the city where peace and quiet can be found: the hospital and adjacent hotel are in one of these spots.
I opted for a Supreme health check, following an essential fast which seemed to last days but was in reality only eight hours. The experience was very different from what I expected. The hospital has such an air of informality and comfort – more akin to a five star hotel – that even while you and everyone you can see is dressed in blue cotton pyjamas anxiously awaiting their next bout of prodding and poking, there is still an air of geniality and no foreboding smell of antiseptic.
The Bangkok Hospital with its air ambulance helipad
There is definitely a reassuring retro feel to the whole experience. The delicately boned and beautiful Thai nurses are dressed in a traditional uniform, with starched white shirts and skirts, neatly pinned hair with little hair-grips and nurse’s cap (pictured below).
Supreme Health Check
The Supreme health check package, includes all the standard organ function tests and a gynaecological check, the cost of which is far less that you would pay for the same checks at home (full list is included at the end of this article).
I felt slightly nervous waiting around in the reception area – but this is not the run-of-the mill waiting area you get in most hospitals. It is fabulously decorated – not like our crowded and stressed hospitals at home. Eventually after four hours my results were produced and I was called in to see the doctor to discuss them.
After close inspection of most of the organs which had accompanied me from birth, unseen until this special moment, I braced myself for the doctor’s health recommendations. ‘All fine!’ she proclaimed with a smile. The good doctor then lectured me gently on the subject of my high BMI, nothing I hadn’t heard before. I told her that I would lose weight and actually meant it this time.
While I ate my first morsel of food for the day, International Medical Coordinator Dr Michael Moreton who is from the UK, explained his role at this flagship hospital. Around 38-40% of patients admitted to the hospital for various treatments are foreign, so Dr Moreton’s role is to make sure they are all happy with the level of treatment they receive in Thailand.
Dr Moreton studied medicine in Liverpool and spent nine years practising in China, so has a wealth of international experience to draw from. The hospital is fully prepared for international visitors, having a full interpretation service and contracts to treat patients with organisations in neighbouring countries.
The hospital provides many services, including a skin and aesthetics centre, a comprehensive spine centre, an anti-aging medicine centre and clinics providing assistance in acupuncture, hair restoration and travel medicine.
The Royal Anti-Ageing Clinic at Bangkok Hospital – where the doctors look like they have been taking their own medicine!
The hospital’s Royal Anti-ageing Clinic offers various medical protocols designed to return the body to optimum levels by creating a supplement programme of vitamins, micronutrients, antioxidants and hormones that may be depleting too rapidly due to lifestyle, diet, or genetic factors. It also has a range of aesthetic treatments.
Dr Moreton pointed out that the biggest draw for people in the UK (as well as the costs) are the much reduced waiting times for surgeries such as hip and knee replacements. The same level of duty of care is available to patients who travel Thailand for treatment as they would get in their own countries, in terms of physician insurance or filing a legal complaint. Going above and beyond legal requirements, Bangkok Hospital does incur all fees related to flying a patient back to Bangkok if they need a corrective procedure.
Bangkok Hospital Health Check Packages include:
- Premium/Supreme check up (package price) 7,800 Baht or £159
- Ultimate check up (package price) men: 12,700 Baht or £258
- Ultimate check up (package price) women: 17,700 or £360
Note: Prices based on current exchange rate of 1 GBP to 49 THB. These may vary due to currency fluctuation and date of visit etc
The supreme health check up (for people aged 30-45) which I sampled includes:
- Examination by Doctor
- Hearing screening
- Complete blood count
- Blood sugar
- Liver function test
- Kidney function test
- Gout screening
- Lipid screening
- Urine Analysis
- Chest X-ray
- Rest EKG
- Ultrasound abdomen
- Cervical screening
The ultimate check up package (45 years upwards) includes:
- All of the above plus
- extended testing of Liver and Kidney function
- Thyroid Screening
- screening for tumour markers on the liver and colon
- carotid screening
- prostate screening for men
- osteoporosis and breast checks for women
Sun and Sand at the Amari Coral Beach Phuket
An added bonus for people flying from the UK is the proximity of the beautiful relaxation destinations in Thailand, where many choose to recuperate before flying home. There you have time to soak in some of the more rural beauty of the country after the bustle of Bangkok.
The Amari Coral Beach Pool
One of the best places for post-surgery relaxation, is the island of Phuket, where we stayed at the Amari Coral Beach in Phuket. There are plenty of tucked away hotels and areas in which relaxation and recuperation is easy to achieve. You need not do anything apart from sit on your hotel balcony or the beach and while the hours away looking at the beautiful scenery, or visiting a spa. There are also plenty of activities if you are not recovering from surgery, including coast tours and exploring the surprisingly undervalued capital, Phuket Town.
As well as the highest of standards, the Thai people treat service as a pleasure to give others so the staff at the hospital and hotels are incredibly helpful.
Cosmetic surgery facts in Thailand
You may be surprised to learn that the cosmetic surgery most popular with Thai ladies is the humble nose job. This might have something to do with the fact that it is almost indecently cheap (and safe) to have done, but mainly (as a beautiful Thai lady told me) it is the quest for western beauty features. She said that if I saw anyone with a high bridge to their nose it was more than likely that it had been surgically enhanced. She confided that she herself had the operation 10 years ago when the recovery was more complicated and painful than it is today.
Even a medium strength massage has quite large aspects of pain in Thailand, so I avoided the full massage at the Breeze Spa and opted for something a little less strenuous but still heard the sound of muscles screaming for mercy. That night I had the deepest and most restful sleep I had experienced for quite some time.
Buddhism and Thailand
Buddhism is, of course, an integral part of life in Thailand and seems to colour every aspect of it. The Thai people are very serene and kind and strongly guided by their beliefs – displays of anger are very much frowned upon. Many men train as a monk at some point in their lives and then are free to leave when they wish, often to get married. You cannot fail but be moved by their devotion to Buddha. Their temples and associated buildings are breathtaking, the most ornate and colourful buildings you would ever have the pleasure to see in your life. I couldn’t help but think that most of us may be tempted to go to church more if the buildings had been as stunning as these! The air of calm and reverence within the temples was unmistakeable, even when filled with scurrying and swarming tourists.
Don’t miss seeing the many representations of Buddha. The golden Buddha (housed at Wat Traimit) is 5.5 tonnes of solid gold. The emerald Buddha, housed in his own temple within the Grand Palace, is made of Jade and sports a different outfit for each season. For us, the most stunning Buddha image was the reclining Buddha, filling the length of the temple with exquisite (and massive) mother of pearl inlaid feet. If you journey down to Phuket, you will see the largest Buddha image in Thailand – the appropriately named ‘Giant Buddha of Phuket’. We happened to visit the giant Buddha during the evening call to prayer – I doubt I will ever forget the sound of dozens of monks chanting as the sun began to set.
In Thailand you will be required to cover your shoulders (even at the outdoor site of the Giant Buddha) and take your shoes off to enter any temple. There will be a designated area in front of the Buddha image for worshippers to kneel and pray on – there is no standing in this area!
Amari Residences Bangkok
Amari Coral Beach Phuket
T: +667634 0106-14
T: +662310 3000
Flights to Bangkok
Eva Air fly from Heathrow to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
Bangkok Airways fly from Suvarnabhumi Airport to a number of island destinations including Phuket and Koh Samui.
River of Kings experience on: Loy Nava Dinner Cruises