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Chilly Night on Thai Train Sends Editor to ER

If you’ve ever traveled on Metro-North when the thermostat is stuck on “arctic,” try imagining an overnight trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on Thai Railways (12 hours per the schedule, plus three more just for the heck of it) with the temperature set to “North Pole” and the fan speed on “tornado.”

By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, the tickle in my throat had developed into a case of instant bronchitis. I sounded like Bryn Terfel as the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Of course, I’d forgotten to buy any trip insurance, so I was a bit worried that I’d blow my holiday budget on a doctor before I’d even set foot in Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar.

The hotel receptionist sent us off to the McCormick Hospital, just around the corner. When you live in a country like the U.S., with its world-famous medical institutions, turning up at a local hospital in northern Thailand has a frisson of adventure. As the taxi drew up to the Emergency sign, a pretty nurse in a crisp uniform jumped up to greet us. “You are sick?” she asked as I coughed and spluttered. She led me through a dazzlingly white modern building with gleaming tile floors and rows of neat blue chairs. Within five minutes I’d been registered, had my blood pressure and temperature taken and was sitting outside Room 2 waiting to see the doctor.

The doctor, a middle-aged lady who spoke perfect English, knew exactly what the problem was by the time I croaked hello. “You have a sore throat, too,” she told me, whipping out an industrial-sized flashlight and pointing it down my throat. A quick listen to the lungs and heart reassured her that I was in no imminent danger of expiring on her watch, and she sent me to another row of blue chairs outside the pharmacy to wait for my prescriptions.

It took a few calls of “Fenerra” before I realized that I was being summoned. The letter L doesn’t slide off oriental tongues. The cashier wanted to see me first. The bill, printed in English, came to 1,143 baht. I was still struggling with the conversion, so gave it to my daughter, Dimity, to figure out. “It’s $38,” she said. I asked the cashier, another perfect English-speaker, if this included the three prescriptions the doctor had ordered. It did.

Now I don’t know about you, but with my medical insurance plan back home I have all sorts of co-pays. I added up what a trip to my internist and the three prescriptions would have cost, and it was more than this bill. I handed over my baht and had only just sat in the next row of blue chairs before my meds were ready. Total time spent in McCormick Hospital’s outpatient clinic: 25 minutes. It says so right on the bill.

Have you ever been sick on vacation? Did you have a good experience?

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