BANGKOK - Asia is the world's go-to medical tourism destination, and the availability of inexpensive plastic surgery is a big part of the region's allure. When it comes to tummy tucks, nose jobs and other cosmetic fixes, South Korea is the leader. Thailand, though, is establishing a presence in the market in part by emphasizing a unique specialty: gender reassignment surgery.
"Thailand is the sex change capital of the world," said Ismael Naypa, international marketing division director at Bangkok's Yanhee International Hospital. The facility offers both male-to-female and female-to-male operations. It handles 250 to 300 surgeries a year; 90 per cent of the patients come from abroad.
Beauty enhancements provide the bulk of Yanhee's revenue. Each year, some 3,000 patients avail themselves of the hospital's nose implants, slimming treatments, breast implants and other procedures. Medical tourists fly in from the United Arab Emirates, Australia, China and elsewhere; many get several jobs done in one visit.
Naypa concedes that South Korea is the pioneer and the world's preferred destination for cosmetic surgery. What differentiates Thailand, he said, is its lower prices -- thanks to cheaper labour -- and its expertise in sex reassignment.
Thailand is known for its significant transgender population. "Thai society has a strong understanding" of transgender individuals, Naypa said, noting the influence of Buddhism, which teaches one "to be respectful of other people's views and beliefs."
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