|A hospital with a view: Gyeongbokgung Palace gives tourists the chance of learning about the country's history and culture. The hospital is becoming increasingly popular with medical tourists. —File Photo
At the Gangnam Severance Hospital patients are treated like five-star hotel guests. Do Minh
As I take my first sip from a hot cup of coffee, a cry of pain escapes from my lips as my hands are scalded. A receptionist immediately notices and hands me a cup holder with a friendly smile.
I am not staying at a hotel but a hospital in Seoul. I am surprised and moved that she realises my need despite the crowd in the room.
Clean, modern facilities, and a warm welcome like this greet hospital patients all over South Korea, including the Gangnam Severance Hospital, one of the facilities contributing to the country's growing medical tourism industry.
I visit the Gangnam Severance Hospital and am introduced to the qualified medical practitioners of oriental medicine. South Korea, emerging as a major medical tourism destination, is en route to surpass other countries as Asia's new medical tourism hub.
Treatments are relatively affordable and tourists reap the added benefits of relaxation and even sightseeing on their trips abroad, says Kim Yong- Doc, the hospital's manager.
"Someone who wants a health check-up can first come and have a tour of the city, go shopping and so on. They can then visit the hospital, get whatever results they need, then go home."
"We received many Vietnamese and Asian visitors as patients, including some celebrities," he says.
|Korean hospitality: Gangnam Severance Hospital. — VNS Photo Do Minh
After introducing Da Vinci robotic operations in 2007 for the first time in Asia, the hospital achieved outstanding results in the treatment if various cancers.
In the procedure, a surgeon operates the machine by sitting on the external robot operating seat. The robot arms and camera move inside the patient's body while performing the surgery. The surgeon uses the robot camera with its 3D images 10-15 times magnified.
Dr Ill Young-seo, director of International Health Care Centre, said there are some 30 Da Vinci robots in South Korea, each costing up to US$2.5 million.
"Using a robot in surgery helps save time, as well as the number of transfusions, by decreasing intra-operative bleeding. It shortens the inpatient stay period so that patients can easily return to their lives," he said.
A robotic surgery costs about 10 million Korean won (around $8,480) on average for simple cases.
Tourists arriving at Incheon International Airport can find the Medical Tourism Information Centre, which offers a rest area, information on medical institutions and travel agencies, and free internet access.
All hospitals we visit have reception desks for foreigners, providing services like hospital and hotel reservations, consultations, payments, and more.
With the growing number of Chinese and Russian visitors in Korean hospitals, many hospitals now provide booklets in Russian and in Chinese in addition to Korean and English.
The 70-year-old Nguyen Thuy Lieu, from Ha Noi, comes to the hospital for a health check-ups which costs $560. The services here surprise her.
"Beside the modern equipment and doctors' proficiency, I'm pleased by the care of all the hospital's staff," Lieu says.
"Doctors and nurses are candid with all patients," she says, "everything satisfies me. I'm enjoying the wonderful services that I haven't seen in any place before."
Lieu also has lunch at the hospital's restaurant where Korean traditional cuisine is served.
"I have never thought that the food at hospitals could be good like this," she says.
Here, surgery, restaurants, accommodation and entertainment rooms are available.
More and more people like Lieu are taking full advantage of trips to South Korea for check-ups and then travel and shopping.
The Gangnam area of Seoul, home to the hospital, is considered to be the heart of culture, art, fashion and economic activity.
Myeongdong is one of the primary shopping districts in Seoul. Unlike Namdaemun or Dongdaemun, many brand name shops and department stores line the streets and alleys here. Common products for sale include clothing, shoes, and accessories.
In addition, several major department stores, including Lotte Department Store, Shinsegae Department Store, Myeongdong Migliore, Noon Square and M Plaza, carry many premium labels and other fashionable goods at reasonable prices.
Myeongdong also has family restaurants and fast food, with Korean, Western and Japanese dining options. Other businesses include hair salons, banks and theatres.
Myeongdong Catholic Church is also a well-known tourist attraction. It is the pillar of Catholicism in Korea and was built in the Gothic style. Behind the church is a quiet space for relaxation.
If a walk around Myeongdong is enough for tourists to see hot trends and enjoy Korean services, a trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace offers tourists a chance to understand the country's history and contemplate its beautiful landscape.
Built in 1395, the palace is unarguably most beautiful and remains the grandest of all five palaces in South Korea.
The premises were destroyed by fire at the time of Japanese occupation from 1592-98. However, all of the palace's 7,700 rooms were later restored during he reign of King Gojong (1852-1919).
Remarkably, the most representative edifices of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeonghoe-ru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond are still relatively in tact.
The National Palace Museum of Korea is located south of Heungnyemun Gate, and the National Folk Museum is located east within Hyangwonjeong.
The tourist areas which are close to the capital's centre are often selected by foreigners who want to save time, especially if they come to South Korea mainly for medical service.
The pure environment, good travel services and medical quality improve people's health and ease their worries. Here, a trip to the hospital doesn't mean something negative.
While waiting for his mother's health check, a little boy plays a game with a human-faced robot at the hospital lobby. As for me, I'm walking along the artistic gardens surrounding the hospital and enjoying the paintings. — VNS