Bumrungrad, 8th Wonder of the World

Look closely—that security guard is SMILING

I’ve got a new travel activity to recommend to all Americans: getting a friggin medical check-up at friggin Bumrungrad.

Okay, so maybe not all Americans, just those who aren’t Congressmen or insanely wealthy. But for the rest of yous, the 99%ers—you need to get on this. It’s more mind-blowing than Machu Picchu, more culturally enlightening than the Vatican, steeped in more WTF-age than riding reliable, affordable public transit in fill-in-the-blank Western European city, when you begin to realize what’s actually possible in the world and how your Americanness has caused you settle.

Behold Bumrungrad: 8th Wonder of the World.

Bumrungrad Hospital is a big glittery hospital in Bangkok and the first place most Southeast Asian expats with medical insurance hope to get whisked off to in the event of one of those horrible, limb-mangling accidents that seem to come along with living in this part of the world. It’s the stuff of expat folklore: gleaming facilities, attentive doctors, phalanxes of nurses, fucking fresh-cut flowers in your private hospital room and on-site Starbucks.

Friends had recommended going there for a comprehensive health screening, the Big Mac of annual physicals, and seeing as though I both worked like a motherfuck this summer and hadn’t had an annual physical in like four annuals, I decided to treat myself. I booked a Regular health check-up package, though with a liver function panel, chest X-ray, stool exam AND a PAP, there was nothing really “regular” about it. For shits and giggles and an extra $30, I tacked on a thyroid level test, another thing I’m supposed to do every year but hadn’t in several.

It was my first morning in Bangkok. After Malaysia, I was more prepared for the plunge-into-wealth-and-consumerism that trips to the developed world now entail. I sat outside a money exchange house, waiting for it to open (it was only 7:30; did Bangkok not get the memo about the Asian world opening up shop at 6am?), before giving up and grabbing a motorbike across town. We weaved through the law-abiding, lane-driving, car-ridden traffic (ah) and the air felt cold and dry (ah) and I thought, Shit, I must really be living somewhere intense if Bangkok feels like a mellow, comfortable city.

After twenty minutes of high-rises and stoplights people actually stopped at, we pulled up in front of what looked like a 4-star hotel—valets and mirrored pillars and pruned shrubbery. I giggled.

I rode an elevator up to the Welcome Center, where a man pressed his palms together and bowed while another man whisked a big rolley chair out and seated me behind this massive desk, the Bangkok skyline stretching out in the floor-to-ceiling windows behind. I felt like a millionaire about to open a bank account. The man behind the desk asked me a few stock questions, clicked my photo, asked me to please wait just a quick moment while they printed my health card. He returned in about two minutes, apologizing graciously for the delay.

Yes, that’s a koi fish pond.

Things got more ridiculous when I rode the elevator up to the next floor, where smooth-voiced receptionists confirmed my information, directed me to the cashier (who accepted US dollars), and whisked me back to start my blood work. What was happening? Why wasn’t I being ignored? Where were the surly receptionists with mile-long fingernails who couldn’t tell me how much my co-pay was? Where were the screaming children and tired single moms and the junkie freaking out and the random bleeding dude who wasn’t bleeding bad enough to be triaged and so was whimpering mournfully like a dog in the corner?

It reminded me of the first time I went to a non-Oakland-public-school and had an actual PE class. Like, with equipment and uniforms and planned units on specific sports and activities I was expected to partipate in. Wasn’t PE sit-on-the-bench-and-kick-it hour? I’d been confused but intrigued by this sudden plunge into functionality. Like, was this how the rest of the world acted?

I had the same kind of thoughts in Bumrungrad. Why wasn’t I waiting? Why was I at all moments being accompanied by someone, some smiling nurse who was answering my questions and efficiently-but-not-hurriedly directing me this way and that?

After I finished my blood work, the nurse handed me a juice box, “You can finish your fast now.” How nice, I thought. I’ve been fasting for 12 hours, so yeah, I could really go for a juice, thank you.

But the real kicker came when she led me to the next room where there was no shit a breakfast buffet. Like, bananas and yogurt and sweet buns and coffee and tea and more juice and a choice of whole or skimmed milk. I stocked up. I stocked up like a fucking white trash kid who’d snuck into Sizzler. I’d like to blame it on the fasting but that’s bullshit—in moments like these, our true natures emerge, and there I was balancing two bowls, a steaming cup of coffee and another juice box.

After scarfing down my breakfast, I got poked and podded by an OB-GYN who talked like a female version of the oh-sexy-girlfriend exchange student from Sixteen Candles (“vagina feel very gooooood“) and instructed me to do twenty Kegel exercises per day (“very good for the woooooman“). By the time they led to the next room, where they gave a key to a locker in which there was a little linen suit and slippers, I was semi-hysterical with giggles, in that way that trashy people who suddenly find themselves in un-trashy environments are. I used to work in a fine-dining restaurant that attracted a lot of these types and I was only mildly embarrassed to feel that same shit-eating grin stretching across my own face—only mildly because I was so damn happy.

So after the chest x-ray I went back to the breakfast buffet room to wait for my test results. As in, the test results that would be ready in ten minutes as opposed to FOUR FUCKING DAYS, if I called this automated number and successfully navigated the maze of prompts that seemed to lead in a tail-eating circle. I poured myself another cup of coffee and surveyed all the other patients—wealthy Asians with milky skin, wealthy Middle Easterners with scarves and iPhones, wealthy Westerners with blue jeans and bemused expressions. And me.

I started humming—“Blood checked, stool checked, everything checked, Oh you fancy huh? You fancy huh?”

Like any proper World Wonder, Bumrungrad is a testament to what the human will and intellect can execute when properly harnessed. It opens your mind, expands the possibilities, takes your breath away then checks to see that the breath is recovered in a healthy and age-appropriate interval.

But I’m no fool—this was health care for the 1%, which I happen to be a part of in Thailand. Maybe health care is this good in the States, if you’re like the President or Bill Gates. But still, it’s a fucking experience to step on to the other side, to feel what things could be like—to feel fancy, huh?

17 Responses to “Bumrungrad, 8th Wonder of the World”

  1. 1 Erin August 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Awesome. Really enjoying your blogs. Keep em coming!

  2. 2 kristinthecat August 22, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Ha-ha, liked your post. (I had a private health care experience in the UK once — just the once. It was pretty damn nice.)

  3. 3 Molly August 22, 2012 at 12:21 am

    that shit cray. enjoy your posts!

  4. 4 Jessica August 22, 2012 at 2:43 am

    literally laughed out loud and your reworked fancy lyrics. america never ceases to blow mind my with our lack of efficiency. really dig your blog!

  5. 5 Robin August 22, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Nice post. Thanks..

  6. 6 k. zoraa August 22, 2012 at 4:04 am

    wow- just stumbled on your blog yesterday and i love your writing. i really can relate. i’m a cali girl, world traveler and love the shit out of bumrungrad hospital. people don’t believe me when i tell them about it. they think i’m exaggerating!

  7. 7 isabellafellini August 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Wowzers! What a polar opposite experience from what I had in Beirut. There, everyone boasted about how nice the American University hospital was, but I could never get over the janitor walking around, picking trash out of each can and putting it into a bigger trash can. Not enough Lysol in the world to undo that memory. Ick ick ick. Now I feel like I should make a special trip just to Bumrungrad…

  8. 9 denisediscovers August 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I once had a temp job in the accounts department of the most expensive private hospital in London. Yes, places like Bumrungrad do exist in western countries, but the prices are stratospheric.

  9. 10 Jeeda August 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I really enjoy your blogs! I’m Thai and had the same experience at Bumrungrad, and some other great hospitals in Thailand like Samitivej and Bangkok hospital too as I (try to) have health check-up annually and this is the standard of service i (and everyone) normally receive. I told my foreigner friends and it was hard for them to believe considering we are still 3rd world country. Will definitely share your blog to them so they know this is for real! 🙂

  10. 11 gkm2011 September 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Saw your post from Expat Lingo – very much enjoyed it. We work with an international school here and the teachers there are always trying to get us to cover physicals in Thailand. I think now I may understand why.

  11. 12 waterfallsandcaribous September 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Awesome tale of a hospital adventure – always nice when you get the “how things SHOULD be done” rather than the norm. And you oh-so-fancy!

  12. 13 Ruth @facetiousfarang.com September 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I have to agree with you – even though I come from a land of socialized medicine (ie: Canada), Bumrungrad is something else. I’m happily anticipating a physio session there this afternoon.

  13. 14 dcm2549 September 17, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Hella “O” from Fruitvale. I found this site looking for something about Oakland.

    I spent a night in Bumrungrad in 1992 when my Thai girlfriend, who informed me that very night she was my ex-gf, was flown back from Phnom Penh with typhoid. She was lucky that she was working for an airline. Otherwise they probably would not have gotten her home so quickly. There were essentially zero medical facilities, or any other facilities, in Phnom Penh at that time.

    Anyway there are different grades of rooms. She got the top grade, on the top floor, 1,000 baht per day, which was $40.00 at the time. The room included a sleeping couch for guests which ran all the way down one wall and then wrapped around the corner. And they let you stay the night, which is unheard of in a US hospital. She warned me the new boyfriend might show up, but she let me stay. He didn’t show, although her rabble-rousing sister did. This was about a week after the “Black May” massacre in Bangkok and the crowd her sister hung with, veterans of the 1973 protests, were still trying to figure out who was dead and who was just upcountry waiting for things to blow over. Turns out most of them were upcountry.

    And there’s great middle eastern food downstairs in the Arab soi.

    Bangkok Nursing Home (BNH) Hospital off Silom Road is even nicer IMO. I watched them rebuild it in 1996 when I lived around the corner. My kid was born there in 2007 when we became involuntary medical tourists. $9,200.00 for what I think I counted as 21 person-days in addition to the delivery, because Mom had complications before the birth and my son had complications after, and Mom got to stay until he went home, even though she had recovered, which is also unheard of in an American hospital.

    And it’s all on one bill you pay once. In the US you keep getting separate bills from people you never heard of for months, if not years, on end.

    Our US insurance picked up all but $2,000, and they got a bargain.

  14. 15 jayunitMorrison October 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    After visiting Bumrungrad three times earlier this year (the last of which I was summarily soaked on a soi en route, my mystery recurring strep throat happily deciding to coincide with Songkran), I have to guiltily admit that it’s one of my favorite places in Bangkok.

    Love your writing!

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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