Bangkok: Ancient culture and cutting-edge health care 

BANGKOK: Thailand has long been a favorite destination for travelers from across the world, thanks to its beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, vibrant cultural heritage, and always-on-the-go cities. But another facet of Thailand is now attracting numerous visitors to the Southeast Asian nation every year: it’s cutting-edge healthcare. 

An increasing number of visitors are drawn to Bangkok not just for the Thai capital’s ancient temples and bustling markets, but by the promise of world-class medical treatment. 

Thailand has emerged as a global hub for healthcare seekers, offering a unique blend of traditional hospitality and state-of-the-art medical expertise — the pursuit of health is interwoven with the rich tapestry of Thai culture. 

Khalaf Al-Otaibi traveled from Riyadh to Bangkok for medical treatment this month. (AN photo)

Rajeev Rajan, the chief business development officer at Bumrungrad International Hospital, told Arab News that quality of care and winning the trust of patients are the staff’s main concerns. 

“A patient wanting to travel to Bumrungrad can (simply) send us an email with a medical report. We take that report, and we give them an expert opinion with the cost of everything in advance,” he said. “Once the patient receives the appointment confirmation, they provide us with their flight details. When the patient lands, he or she is received from the gate of the plane, and escorted through our fast-track immigration office. We also have a complimentary shuttle service every 15 minutes from the airport to the hospital or to a nearby guesthouse.” 

Typically, the patient will enter the hospital the next day, where Rajan said there is a support team of more than 170 people who speak Arabic. A member of the team will accompany the patient throughout their treatment. Several of the doctors also speak Arabic.  

The hospital also offers prayer areas and Halal food choices for Muslim guests, and Rajan explained that the hospital also remains in close contact with relevant embassies, offers visa extension services, and provides dedicated offices for medical liaisons from diplomatic missions. 

Chulalongkorn University, home to Thailand’s oldest medical school. (Shutterstock)

Of the 1.2 million patients Bumrungrad receives each year, Rajan estimated that 50 percent are from overseas, and of those around a quarter are from the Gulf region. 

Rajan said the hospital will soon open a coordination office in Riyadh and noted that the ministries of health in both Thailand and Saudi Arabia are in discussions about technical collaboration opportunities. 

Rajan said that Thailand received 50,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia in the last four months of 2022, and that he expected the total figure for 2023 to be around 250,000 to 300,000. 

“If you look at anywhere in Europe (or elsewhere in the West), you know, it’s expensive (to visit from the Gulf),” Rajan said. “Thailand is very close. Flights are affordable, and the destination itself is very affordable. This might be one of the only destinations where you have 100 percent security, and you have the halal foods, mosques, beaches… So, it is a culturally favorable ecosystem.” 

At Bumrungrad, Arab News also interviewed Khalaf Al-Otaibi, a 55-year-old from Riyadh, who had come to the hospital for treatment. 

“Once I arrived here, it took less than 10 minutes to see my doctor. Their services are great. They respect their patients. They explain everything in detail, and doctors (really listen) to what you say,” Al-Otaibi said. 

One of the rooms at Bumrungrad Hospital. (Shutterstock)

Jiruth Sriratanaban, associate dean for planning and development at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of medicine told Arab News that his university is the oldest medical school in Thailand. 

“We work closely with the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, which belongs to the Thai Red Cross Society,” he said, adding the hospital is the only site in Thailand that provides proton therapy for cancer patients. 

Tanupol Virunhagarun, CEO of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, which operates 58 hospitals across Thailand and Cambodia, said that health and wellness was an increasingly important factor in people’s travel plans. 

“Our patients come twice a year, usually, to check their body fat and blood. Those from the Arab countries are mostly interested in advice about longevity, anti-aging, weight loss, and sexual health,” he said. 

“At our clinic, we pay attention to physical, mental, and even spiritual health, because we believe that to have a healthy body, you should have a healthy mind. That is how our clinic is different from a hospital; we do a lot of preventive medicine here,” he added. “We want people to check their health before they get sick.” 

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