The Perfect Thai Vacation: Sun, Sea and Surgery

by SETH MYDANS ,  The Newyork Times | 2002-09-09

Thailand, the land of temples, floating markets and elephant rides, has begun promoting a new attraction for tourists -- root canals.

Having put just about everything else it has on the market for foreign visitors, Thailand has turned to what it calls medical tourism, offering services that range from dental care to cancer treatments.

The attractions for a visitor are top-quality medical care, extremely low cost and a side trip to the beach.

''We thought, listen, we have really excellent medical facilities here and we have excellent holidays,'' said Teerapol Chotichanapibal, director of Royal Orchid Holidays. ''If you can come and get a clean bill of health and then go and enjoy your holiday, what could be better?''

So, in Royal Orchid's glossy ''Discover Thailand'' brochure, a traveler can choose from options that include a performance of classical dance, a visit to the River Kwai, a Thai cooking class or a seven-hour ''Comprehensive Health Examination for Women or Men.''

The key to this new promotion is the high level of medical care that has emerged here in the past decade or two. The top private hospitals in Bangkok boast foreign-trained and certified doctors and modern medical equipment. They offer an inexpensive alternative to visitors who may need procedures not covered by health insurance or who live in countries with long waiting lists for national health care.

''They'll come for hip replacement or knee replacement or cataracts and, yup, while they're here they'll take a vacation,'' said Ruben Toral, director of international programs at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. ''They get their cosmetic surgery or their dental work and, boom, they're off to the beach.''

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