A Saga to get Sleeping Pills in Chiang Mai

Caption

Hanging out with the pill statue at our neighborhood pharmacy.

Did you know that Zolpidem (off brand Ambien) is a highly regulated, government controlled substance in Thailand?  Neither did I.  Being from a country where many doctors hand this stuff out like candy let me a little bit ill-prepared for our foray into the Thai Medical system to try to obtain some sleeping pills.

I definitely am not a habitual sleeping pill user.  In fact, I regularly fall asleep while still holding my Kindle when all the lights are on. However, I am highly open to using one of these magical pills to sleep soundly on a 13-hour flight.  I also have been known to use it for one night at my travel destination to get over the jetlag hump.

So Riddle me this – how many hospital visits does it take to procure some sleeping pills in Chiang Mai?  The way we did it, it unfortunately (and infuriatingly), it took FOUR visits, which ended up costing us about eight hours out of our lives, and we only have ten pills to show for it!  Read on for the tale of our epic journey…

Hospital Visit #1

First we stopped by Chiang Mai Ram Hospital on a whim on the way from the Khao Kha Moo lady who serves delicious tender-cooked pork with rice. We usually follow up Khao Kha Moo lady with a trip to the cake woman, who makes the most divine coconut cake on this planet.  Sadly, she wasn’t there that night, which we should’ve realized was a sign of the struggle to come.  We popped into Chiang Mai Ram, where we learned that a doctor must be a Psychiatrist in order to subscribe sleeping pills.  The Psychiatrist was not currently in, which didn’t surprise us at 8pm on a Sunday night, so we headed home.

Hospital Visit #2

After doing some research, I learned that Sriphat Medical Center (part of Maharaj Hospital complex) is supposed to be cheaper than Chiang Mai Ram. You know we can’t resist a bargain, so we headed to Sriphat to scope things out on a Friday morning.  We walked in, realized there wasn’t a single sign in English, and realized we were probably the only non-Thai people in the entire building.  Luckily, a super nice man who spoke English took pity on us and pointed us up to the 13th floor.

We packed into a hot, steamy elevator with about 15 other people and slowly made our way up to the 13th floor. When we got there, we were met by a nice lady in a pink jacket who spoke English and escorted us around, and we were super excited that this floor had pretty good aircon.  The lady in the pink jacket helped us register, snapped my photo for my hospital record, and walked us in to the nurse’s desk.

This is when things started to head south.  They said we should come back at 2pm to see “Dr. Aneesa.”  I wasn’t mad yet, so we said okay and happily went about our day.

Hospital Visit #3

We came back to Sriphat at 2pm, headed to the nurse’s station, and no one knew who this mysterious “Dr. Aneesa” is.  So that was weird.  The nurse was so puzzled about why I thought we had an appointment, but set us up for a 9am appointment on Monday.  In spite of the appointment time, she advised us that it’s first come first serve.  Frustration began to set in…

Hospital Visit #4

We showed up to Sriphat right on time at 9am Monday morning, headed up to the 13th floor again, and were so sad at what the nurse’s station told us. Sure, my “appointment” is for 9am, but I’m number four in the queue, and the psychiatrist won’t be here until 10:30am.  Awesome!  SO FAR SO GOOD, right?!  Luckily, Kevin and I brought our Kindles and iPhones, so we were able to stay occupied.  Maybe this is part of the visit with the psychiatrist – they try to see if they can push you to snap.  Good one, guys!  On the plus side, we were on the 13th floor, so there was a pretty nice view:

The Nice View that kept me sane!  There's a golf course in the middle, and the airport in the back right.

The Nice View that kept me sane at Sriphat! There’s a golf course in the middle, and the airport in the back right.

Finally, at about 11am, after over two hours of waiting, we got to visit with the Psychiatrist. She was nice enough, but seemed extremely suspicious that I was asking for sleeping pills.  She grilled me about why I wanted them, asked if I’ve ever seen a psychiatrist in the U.S., and wanted to know if I had taken them before and in what dosage.  It was kind of an ordeal.

So, Did We Ever Get the Pills?

We spent 8 hours at 4 hospital visits and all we got were these 10 measly pills!

We spent 8 hours at 4 hospital visits and all we got were these 10 measly pills!

Yes, we did.  But in the end, we learned that Thai laws limit a prescription for Zolpidem to just TEN pills.  TEN!  Or at least that’s what the hospital told us.  I spent 8 hours in hospitals, spent 1,230 Baht ($38 US), and all I got was ten measly sleeping pills.  Would I do it again?  Never!  Am I glad we did it?  Not at all!

Luckily, one good thing came out of this ordeal – we sort of had an epiphany while we were waiting for the doctor in the hospital.  The whole reason we went to Sriphat was to try to save a little money – maybe five dollars, at the most ten dollars.

We realized that if you’re willing to spend maybe 25% extra, no matter where you are in the world, things are generally much more pleasant.  If we spent just a little bit more and went to Chiang Mai Ram (the more upscale private hospital) we’re sure things would’ve gone much more smoothly.

This holds for so many things we’ve encountered in Thailand.  Spend an extra dollar on dinner and it can save you from a rough day of stomach problems.  Fork out an extra $5 for the first class overnight bus and you’ll actually get a decent night’s sleep.  Better yet, spend an extra $35 to fly instead of bus, and you can save yourself ten hours of traveling.

We Want To Hear From You!

Have you had any crazy medical experiences in foreign countries?  Everyone loves the we-don’t-speak-the-same-language game of charades when body parts and medical problems are involved.  Please share your stories with us!

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