In Thailand, a tropical paradise known as a place to let loose, these days is starting to get another reputation: as a low-cost option for foreigners looking to dry out.
While the Southeast Asian country’s fun-in-the-sun reputation has attracted more than 200 million visitors over the past decade, Thailand in recent years has become one of the world’s top medical tourism destinations. Along with reasonably priced medical options, its warm climate and relatively cheap food and lodging makes it a prime destination for those seeking alcohol or drug recovery at hospitals or rehab centres.
The opioid epidemic in North America, the heroin crisis in Europe and methamphetamine use in Australia have led to waves of addicts seeking help. With months-long waiting lists in their own countries, tourists find booking a room at one of Thailand’s rehab centres a very attractive option, especially with the country’s lenient visa guidelines.
“Most of our clients come from overseas,” said Adrian Crump, chairman of The Cabin Addiction Services Group.
Even Thailand’s temples are offering rehab services. About two hours north of Bangkok at the foot of the mountains in Saraburi province, the golden roof of a Buddhist temple stands out among the lush forest that surrounds it. The Thamkrabok Temple, or Wat Thamkrabok in Thai, is known for its 15-day drug rehabilitation programme, during which patients project liquids through all orifices by vomiting, sweating and excreting. The cost for treatment? None. Patients must pay their own transportation there and for food, and vow never to do drugs again.
“You can’t underestimate drugs,” said the monastery’s Vice Abbot Phra Ajahn Vichit Akkajitto. “That’s why we must have them take a vow, live up to that vow and never break it.”