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Day 1 – Because of the Metric System? (A Glimpse of Thai Healthcare)

March 5, 2010

A flower AND a bendy straw?

Dateline:  Thursday, March 4, 2010

The first day after crossing the international date line is like becoming a shark.  That’s because the goal is to keep moving lest you die, or in the case of the traveler, fall asleep.  Only way to quickly get over jet lag is to ignore your body’s cry for sleep and force it into the local routine.

I checked out of my hotel and lugged my mini-pasalubong to another place down the road that was half the price.  I was late to meet my friend Becca, so I hopped in cab instead of taking the BTS (the Bangkok skytrain).

The hotel, Suk 11, was late giving me my room, so I was thirty minutes late to our meeting.  That might not usually be a big deal (when have I ever been on time?), but Becca had had a baby a couple weeks back and she had a 1 p.m. appointment with her obstetrician.  By the time we met up, it was 12:45.  Instead of walking to the hospital, we flagged down a cab.

At the hospital, I was reminded that it’s the little differences that are the most surprising.  The hospital is one of the premier healthcare centers in Bangkok.  It is a popular destination for medical tourists.  No surprise there.  I’d heard people come to Thailand for medical procedures because the healthcare is both cheap and world class.  Becca told me that a friend of hers came here for an MRI.  In the U.S., it would have cost him $10,000 out-of-pocket.  Here, it was $350.  That can’t all be because of a favorable exchange rate and cheap labor.

It’s what I didn’t notice at first, that tripped me out later.  We walked into a pristine outpatient center, as professional as any in the world.  Becca checked in with the receptionists.  This was all in Thai so I zoned out and looked at the little tiny price list sitting on the counter.  In my jet lagged haze, I calculated (probably incorrectly) that a normal delivery would cost about $1,000 and a C-Section about $2,000. That seemed cheap to me, since I know that a routine bed at a U.S. hospital can run that much for one night.  The price list was itemized, showing what came with each procedure.  It included other types of deliveries, to which I paid no mind.

But did you catch it?  If you did, you’re a better super detective than I am.  There was a price list sitting on the counter.  It wasn’t hidden behind the counter or in a book.  It didn’t show up after the procedure.   It wasn’t something discussed verbally.  It was sitting on the counter, itemized and proudly displayed.  Now, I haven’t had a baby (that I bothered to stick around for), so this may be par for the course in the U.S.  I have a feeling that the actual cost of a delivery isn’t something most parents see up front.  They may see their out-of-pocket, but I’d bet their insurance company has a special negotiated rate with each facility.  I’d also be willing to bet a small amount of money that the cost isn’t sitting on the counter at the receptionist’s desk.  Regardless, hours later, when I realized the how weird the price list was, I wished I’d taken a picture of it.  That happened a lot today.

After Becca finished with her doctor, we took a taxi to a river pier so she could take a water shuttle to her condo and her husband and child.  She pointed me to a part of town where I could grab a mid-afternoon lunch and suggested a place where I could get a massage-and-nothing-else.  The shuttle dropped me off and I spent the next half hour trying to find the massage place.  No luck.  I grabbed lunch at a place filled with locals.  Nothing on the menu on the wall was in English.  Through monkey grunts and pointing, I ordered. . . something.  I ended up with a bowl of egg noodles and assorted compressed Asian meats.  It was good.  If I hadn’t been trying to keep a low profile, I’d have taken a picture of the meal.  Now, I wish I had.

I went back to Suk 11 for some down time.  I wrote for a bit and internetted.  By the time I was through, it was about 7pm.  Feeling lazy, I ate at the restaurant next to the hostel.  I ordered chicken wrapped in pandaan leaves as an app, chicken rice, and coconut juice.

As I sat on the matted, elevated floor, I noticed that there seem to be a lot more Germans and Koreans this time around.  Last time I was here, in September, it seemed like everyone was Israeli or Italian.  Perhaps it’s the time of year.

When the food arrived I had a mini-dilemma:  should I eat the pandaan leaf or peel it off?  I’d assumed I would peel it off when I ordered it off the menu but, now that it was in front of me, peeling it seemed like a giant pain.  The pieces were small and bite-sized and really intricately wrapped.  Almost like they didn’t want you to unwrap them.  I bit at the leaf and decided to go with my gut.  I peeled it off.  The chicken was moist, yet crisp, with a bit of sweetness from the leaf.  Good stuff.

Pity the poor soul who must peel these.

The rice wasn’t noteworthy.  The coconut juice was solid and served just the way I like it, straight out the shell.  I spent the last minutes of my meal digging at my dessert of fresh coconut meat.

I remembered to take a picture of that.

It was late so I headed back up to the room, the day’s mission accomplished.  As I drifted off to sleep, I vowed that tomorrow I’d aim higher than “staying awake.”  One step at a time, though.  And with that I passed out.


Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: Your hand sanitizer is useless in your hotel room; remember to take it with you when you head out for the day.

Not-so-stupid Travel Tip: The ticket dispenser machines at Bangkok’s BTS stations only take coins.  If all you’ve got is cash, twirl around and look for the glass booths where attendants will give you change in coins.  You don’t need to say anything, just hand them the cash.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Fran permalink
    March 6, 2010 3:41 am

    What about pictures of your hotel? I want to see what you can get for 200 baht…

    • March 6, 2010 3:11 pm

      This hostel isn’t 200 bht. It’s actually 650 bht for the room I described. It does have two single beds to if I could find someone that wouldn’t bug the hell out of me and that I trusted with my stuff, I could cut it down to 325 bht (i.e. $10).

      I’m actually holding off on describing the hostel because I want to take pics of the halls and stuff. As a quick preview, I can tell you that it’s pretty cool. I’m even considering switching to a room that has no private bathroom. It would cut the cost to 500 bht saving me $4.50 or roughly 25%! Soonest I could do that would be Tuesday, though. We’ll see.

  2. March 6, 2010 6:14 am

    If you get bored with your hotel — go check out the only art deco hotel in Bangkok:

    Awesome place for a night or two…

    • March 6, 2010 3:15 pm

      I actually saw this place in the Lonely Planet. It made the short list for places to move to. Biggest reason I chose Suk 11 over The Atlanta is that Suk 11 was just 100 yards down the road. Moving to the Atlanta would have forced me to drag the pasolubong to the BTS station, up the station stairs, onto the train, down the stairs, blah blah blah.

      I’m considering The Atlanta for after I return from Krabi/Railay. If my planning for this trip holds to par, you’ll know shortly after I do.

  3. becca permalink
    March 9, 2010 5:15 am

    I like the Atlanta Hotel for its caveat.

    • March 9, 2010 12:32 pm

      I agree. They just barely go short of saying they’ll cane you if you bring in a prostitute or get belligerently drunk.

      I’ll have to cut down on my whoring if I switch to the Atlanta.

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