Healing on a holiday: Cheap rehabs boost Thailand’s medical tourism

Is Thailand promoting affordable “drying out” places to gain tourism numbers? Source: Shutterstock.

SOUTHEAST ASIAN tropical paradise Thailand is known for many things.

Mouthwatering delicacies, bustling markets, thriving nightlife, pristine beaches, beautiful resorts, sunshine a-plenty and apparently, even cheap rehab.

The country is also one of the most popular medical tourism destinations by most estimates. In 2006, medical tourism raked in 1.2 million arrivals, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported, citing data from the kingdom’s Commerce Ministry.

But it is not without competition.

Neighboring countries Malaysia and Indonesia have also been pushing medical tourism, with Indonesia being a new player in the industry.

Malaysia’s quality of care is rising but costs are falling, which appeals to medical tourists. In fact, the number of medical tourists in Malaysia has more than doubled since 2010, bringing in a revenue of RM777 million (US$102 million) in 2014 and RM900 million (US$233 million) in 2015.

A team of surgeons performs an operation on a patient at a cardiac surgery clinic in Bangkok, Thailand. Source: Shutterstock.

That having said, Thailand still has a stronger price point, as the cost of a hip replacement surgery in Bangkok is about half that in the US.

The reasonably priced medical options mean tourists are also zoning in on other treatments. Such as rehab.

Because of its warm climate, cheap food, affordable accommodation, and availabilities, Thailand has become a prime destination for those seeking to “dry out”, otherwise known as alcohol or drug recovery at hospitals or rehab centers.

But first, the mother of all rehabs..

Believe it or not, the toughest rehab in Thailand is in a temple.

Located 150km north of Bangkok, at the foot of the mountains in Saraburi province, is Tham Krabok Temple. In this place of worship, the monks and nuns help people overcome their addictions by living like them.

The best part is, it’s free.

Source: Shutterstock.

The worst part? Patients must commit to a 15-day drug rehabilitation program that requires them to consume a “cleansing” brown herbal juice that makes them vomit, sweat and excrete excessively each day.

But they don’t call it the mother of all rehabs for nothing. The success rate is astounding.

“90 percent of those who come to Tham Krabok complete the program and 60 percent remain drug-free one year later. Those are compelling statistics compared to the recovery rates in Western rehab centers, which are closer to 30 or 40 percent,” VICE wrote.

At the end of their “journey”, some patients even get ordained and opt to stay on at the temple.

Perhaps to pass on the wisdom?

Designed to feel like a holiday

Of course, not all rehabs will sign you up for daily purging.

There are resort-like ones such as DARA Thailand, located on Koh Chang island; Lanna Rehab, located in Chiang Mai; Hope Rehab Thailand, located at Chang Wat Chon Buri; The Dawn, located in Chiang Mai; Inspire Center, located in Bangkok; The Cabin, located in Chiang Mai; the list goes on.

Most of these centers offer all-inclusive programs that take anywhere between just a couple of days to months-long, depending on how severe the individual’s case is. Some centers require you to submit a clinical assessment prior to getting there.

But let’s get to the price.

“Luxury rehabs” in Thailand are championing healing on a holiday. Source: The Cabin.

The Cabin, for example, charges US$15,900 for a month’s stay. A similar stay in the US would set a person back more than US$50,000. All things considered, that is a steal.

The team behind The Cabin has also seriously dolled up the center. Each of its 120 residences has tropical flora-fringed private pools, al fresco dining area, fully equipped gyms and clinics with mountain views.

Meanwhile, tucked away behind large rice paddy fields is Lanna Rehab, a tranquil 24-bed luxury in-patient center that was remodeled for rehabilitation from a resort.

Source: Lanna Rehab.

“Lanna Addiction Rehab Center in Thailand is surrounded by fantastic scenery and places of wonder offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” the center wrote on its website.

“In combination with our individualized treatment programs, created specifically around you and your needs, there simply is no better place to feel and enjoy yourself and your life being revived.”

It’s a wonder that anyone would want to leave these centers at all.