Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

Nip to Thailand for a quick tuck

One sector of Thailand’s tourism industry is shrugging off the global economic downturn and thriving

Thailand’s cosmetic and gender reassignment surgery industry is bucking the global economic downturn, with glamorous international ladyboy shows a walking advertisement for the skills of local surgeons.

Preecha Tiewtranon, chairman and CEO of the Preecha Aesthetic Institute, the nation’s leading cosmetic and reconstructive surgery provider, said Thailand remained the world’s leading destination for such operations.

“One of my cases came from Iran. He told me God made him with male organs, but his inner feeling was that of a woman. He wanted to become a woman,” said Mr Preecha.

The cost of gender reassignment surgery in Thailand averages about 275,000 baht, compared with between 510,000 baht and 1.2 million baht in the United States.

Mr Preecha said such surgical procedures in Thailand had grown in popularity because new technology allows patients to experience the “real feeling of sexual intercourse” after surgery, which he claims is the first of its kind in the world.

“Thailand is a well-known destination for gender reassignment surgery in the eyes of foreigners. In fact, we never promote the service, it comes from word of mouth,” Mr Preecha said, adding that the growing number of ladyboy cabaret performers working overseas helped promote the business.

But India might soon prove a worthy rival for cosmetic and gender reassignment surgery. Going under the knife in Bombay costs 50% less than in Thailand; however the Kingdom has an advantage when it comes to operating facilities and quality of service – not to mention more attractive post-operation holiday locations.

At present, Thailand competes head-on with Singapore and South Korea, luring patients with more attractive pricing.

“On average, Singapore’s cosmetic surgery industry charges 50% more, while South Korea is at least twice the cost of Thailand,” said Mr Preecha.

A nose job, or rhinoplasty, in Thailand costs between 15,000 baht and 20,000 baht, while in South Korea it can be as high as 100,000 baht.

For double eyelid surgery – Asian blepharoplasty – the average is 15,000 baht, compared with 50,000 baht to 100,000 baht in South Korea.

“There’s no doubt as to why many Koreans fly to Thailand for plastic surgery, even if South Korea is recognised among Asian celebrities as the premier cosmetic surgery hub. The average Korean cannot afford the high prices in their country,” he said.

Thailand’s cosmetic surgery market shows healthy annual growth, despite the economic slump that has affected other industries.

While tourist numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years due to political and economic concerns, 3,000 to 4,000 foreigners a year still come here for surgery.

Currently, there are between 400 and 500 foreign patients at Mr Preecha’s institute, enjoying services from consultations to cosmetic and gender reassignment surgery.

Of the institute’s clients, 60% are from the US – mainly from California and New York – followed by Australians – 20% – and Italians – 10%.

The remainder are from South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

Non-Asians prefer face and breast lifts, while Asians mainly prefer eye, nose and breast surgery.

Meanwhile, the number of patients from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, is on the rise. Interestingly, many of them like to show up at the institute without appointments. Female patients make up 80% of the clients, while one in 10 male clients wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Currently, there are 300 doctors specialising in cosmetic surgery nationwide, and each year, of more than 200 medical graduates, many choose to specialise in this field.

Another growing trend is the popularity of cosmetic surgery among Thai teenagers, especially those obsessed with Korean film and music stars who want to mimic their appearance.

And increasing numbers of male professionals are seeking to improve their looks. Cosmetic surgery is becoming a lifestyle option in Thailand.

“Even students from elite universities come to see me. They are not afraid to bare their breasts before me. In the old days, they would come here shyly and without confidence” Mr Preecha said. But Mr Preecha also warned that promoting Thailand as a medical hub could have dangerous consequences, as some doctors only consider profits and not medical ethics.

“There are violations of medical ethics. Doctors should keep in mind that a human life has no price tag,” he said.


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