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How to Get the Most Out of Medical Tourism

December 8, 2014

In search of Asia's top medical-tourism destinations, Diana Hubbell maps out some itineraries that add fun and relaxation to the equation. Plus the region's finest facilities, weirdest procedures, bet recovery retreats and more. Illustrations by Wasinee Chantakorn.

Published on Dec 8, 2014

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Medical tourism has morphed into a booming industry with an estimated worth of more than US$38 billion, according to Patients Beyond Borders. Some of Asia's most visit-worthy cities are also bastions of top-flight healthcare. That means accessible, private hospitals with the latest technology, armies of world-class doctors and even discounted rates compared to the West. Our prescription for converting those healthcare savings into great vacations? Five getaways centered around checking into—or just getting a check up at—six of Medical Travel Quality Alliance's top 10 hospitals for medical tourism. So get ready to recover in style. With your doctor's blessing first.

Medical Tourism


With 36 internationally accredited hospitals, more than any other country in Southeast Asia, Thailand remains the leader of the pack. About 1.2 million international visitors went to Thai hospitals in 2012 and, with an estimated 50 to 75 percent savings compared to the United States, it's clear why. Many of the doctors, both at hospitals and upscale private clinics, are trained and certified abroad, though Thailand has solid medical training programs of its own.

Bangkok's visitors are spoiled for choice. Although facilities such as Yanhee International Hospital, which specializes in plastic surgery, and Samitivej's assorted branches draw big numbers, the city's most famous is Bumrungrad International Hospital, which recently completed a sparkling US$12 million renovation of its patient rooms and sports standout technologies such as futuristic image-guided radiotherapy for cancer patients. Out of the 1 million patients who check in annually to see its 1,200 physicians, more than 520,000 are international visitors. It was Asia's first internationally approved hospital and remains one of its most prestigious.

Bumrungrad Hospital
Bumrungrad recently completed a sparkling renovation

With the sheer number of hotels in town, it's easy to get overwhelmed. The Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit's central location near Bumrungrad and serene interior position it as a tranquil choice for patients looking for a little post-op R&R without having to battle the city's notorious traffic jams. 189 Sukhumvit Rd.; +66 2 126 9999;

Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit
Luxe lobby at Sofitel Sukhumvit.

If you're here to heal, head to Rasayana Raw Food Café. where nothing is cooked over 43 degrees Celsius in order to preserve all that natural goodness. Entrees include vegetarian sushi and Thai noodles made of shaved young coconut, which is then dressed with a spicy tamarind-ginger sauce. Bonus: they deliver.

There's no better way to unwind after a hospital treatment than with a three-plus-hour, five-part Detox Journey at the Six Senses Spa Pacific City Club. Did we mention it's right up the street from Bumrungrad and has a spectacular 30th-story city view?

Pacific City Club
A facial at the Six Senses Spa

As part of its campaign to boost medical tourism, the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched a contest this spring in which three women won a free cosmetic facial surgery, cash and a vacation within Thailand.


Boasting the biggest bang for your buck in Southeast Asia, Malaysia now rivals India and Thailand as a medical destination of choice. The 30 to 50 percent savings over its neighboring competitor Singapore are so substantial that the country drew roughly 600,000 medical tourists in 2012.

Ranked No. 1 on the Medical Travel Quality Alliance's global list, Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur can hold its own against just about any Western medical facilities. The surgery and screening options here are excellent, and patient comfort is a high priority. The hospital's overnight rooms, some with views of the famed Petronas Towers, sport luxury hotel type furnishings.

If the idea of staying in a hospital room, no matter how tricked out it might be, doesn't appeal, hop a short cab ride to the stately Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur for a reprieve from the city's famously busy streets, where you can keep your fitness levels up with a round of indoor golf or do a few laps in the mammoth free-form pool with views out over the skyline.

Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur
Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur

KL's culinary melting pot makes Malaysia a fantastic place to eat, but creamy laksa and greasy char kway teow don't exactly fit the bill for a healthful recovery. For a practically perfect post-op weekend brunch, head to Hit & Mrs, where you can either stick to wholesome options like a truffled mushroom salad with walnuts, grains, greens and pumpkin, or go the more decadent route with custardy brioche French toast.

Hit & Mrs
Wholesome fare at Hit and Mrs

For specially tailored, local experiences for either singles or couples, head to Spa Village Kuala Lumpur. Though conveniently close to the major hospitals, this place feels worlds away.

Spa Village, Kuala Lumpur
Spa Village Kuala Lumpur

According to Scientific American, more than 80 percent of Malaysian doctors are already performing laparoscopic surgery. These minimally invasive techniques usually only involve a tiny incision and as little as two days' recovery. This new technology allows doctors to get a clearer picture of what's going on inside through magnification and X-rays.


The Lion City draws more than 550,000 patients to its 12 private and eight government hospitals. The tiny nation has always enjoyed a stellar medical reputation—in the  World Health Organization's famous, if slightly dated, listings, it ranked best in Asia—and boasts more than a dozen accredited facilities. It may not be the best bargain, but it shines when it comes to quality.

When Parkway Holdings, a medical behemoth in Asia, acquired a local hospital in 1987, they poured in at least S$150 million and turned it into a multi-disciplinary, state-of-the-art medical facility. Today, Gleneagles Hospital has more than 300 on-site specialists in a sprawling complex. It also has a proud record of medical achievements to its credit—it was the first hospital in Southeast Asia to perform a living donor liver transplant and to successfully use robotic surgiscope for delicate neurosurgeries. To make things even easier for the modern medical traveler, they have a whole fleet of interpreters available to ensure absolutely nothing is lost in translation.

Gleneagles Hospital
Gleneagles Hospital

Because Singapore is so small and its hospitals are so numerous, patients don't have to look hard for a plush place to recuperate. The Shangri-La Singapore's ( central location means easy access to the hospitals, while the health club and Mediterraneaninspired cuisine encourage a fit stay. Meanwhile Oasia Hotel Singapore ( periodically offers discounts at medical or dental facilities.

Shangri-La Singapore
Lush massage at Shangri-La Singapore

Despite the name, the dishes at Original Sin are far from decadent. Thankfully, offerings like peppers stuffed with quinoa, chickpeas and pickled grapes, or tandoori-grilled vegetables are more savory than sanctimonious, and the place is worth checking out even if you aren't on a health kick.

Singaporeans have the highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rate of any Southeast Asian nation, due in part to their excellent health coverage.


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Suzette, India
  • Sofitel Sukhumvit Bangkok, Thailand
  • Six Senses Spa Pacific City Club, Thailand
  • Shangri-La Singapore
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