NIP-TUCK holidaymakers booking in for cut-price cosmetic surgery in Asia in record numbers are being greeted with centres ranging from the five-star to street stall.
A Sunday Mail investigation in Thailand found Australians using facilities spanning from plush hospitals complete with chandeliers to the rundown Bangkok Pratunam Polyclinic with its tatty couches and cockroaches.
Foreign patients can wake up with new breasts or a trim tummy the day after walking in off the street for up to a third the price of surgery at home.
Patients are flocking to the cosmetic surgery hotspot for new breasts and flat stomachs for as little as $6500.
Some hospitals visited operated like well-oiled machines with highly trained surgeons some managed by US and Australian management teams leading impressed patients to “upsize” from a single procedure to a range of extras, including botox, dental work, eyelid lifts or liposuction.
“Their attitude is: I am here, why not?” cosmetic surgery tour operator Virginia Riddle-Cross said.
It comes amid the first major cosmetic surgery tourism study across five countries by Australian and British researchers.
Early findings reveal more Australians are signing up to cosmetic surgery group tours than three years ago and at younger ages.
One hospital visited by The Sunday Mail, Yanhee International Hospital in Bangkok, resembled a cosmetic surgery fast food restaurant, with queues of people waiting to see a surgeon and young errand girls on roller blades whizzing down the hospital’s corridors.
The Sunday Mail was consulting with a surgeon less than two hours after walking off the street, with breast implant surgery offered for as early as the same day for under $3000. There was no warning about the potential risks during the brief consultation.
Cosmetic surgery tour operator Daniela Pratico, of Medi Makeovers, said most Australians considered the short wait times a boon compared to months of waiting for cosmetic surgery at home.
While most of Yanhee’s patients were locals, she said the hospital was internationally accredited with highly trained doctors.
Across town at the cluttered Pratunam Polyclinic, Dr Thep Vechavisit describes himself as the street stall of cosmetic surgery, or like a guest house compared to a five-star hotel.
Both can be useful, he said, disposing of a dead cockroach on the floor mid-interview.
He berated “farangs” (foreigners) as “stupid” and “brainless” for paying more at one of the country’s reputed hospitals.
He sees “a lot” of Australians lured by prices as low as $1400 for breast implants.
The clinic is a far cry from the chandeliers, plush lounges and uniformed medical teams at Asia’s biggest private hospital, the Bumrungrad International Hospital.
About 4000 Australians a year are flying to the hospital for cosmetic surgery.
A Starbucks coffee shop occupies the lobby. McDonald’s, a large eatery and a Japanese restaurant can be found upstairs.
In the country’s south, Phuket International Hospital is treating 1000 Australians a year 20 times the number four years ago.
The hospital’s international service manager, former Tasmanian paramedic Peter Davison, estimates 10,000 Australians a year are flying to Thailand for cosmetic surgery.
“When you are talking about plastic surgery, it is doubling each year,” he said.
Queenslanders make up a quarter of the patients at the hospital, mostly women having breast enlargements.
In Australia, implants can cost between $8000-$17,000.
That compares to about $5000 in Thailand at a major hospital, including surgery, flights and accommodation.
Cosmetic surgery tour agents or operators usually charge a $100-$250 fee and get a commission from the hospital.
Gold Coast firm Somnio International Medical Holidays has called for a code of conduct for Australian operators.
University of Technology Sydney senior lecturer Dr Meredith Jones and researcher on the Sun, Sea, Sand and Silicone project said more Australians were considering cosmetic surgery only after hearing about the cheap price overseas from their girlfriends.
“They were getting it because it is cheap, not because they decided I have to have this, now what is the cheapest option?” she said.