Sex Reassignment Surgery in Bangkok: My Experience
SRS in Thailand
This article is not just about sex reassignment surgery (SRS); rather, it is about undergoing this procedure in Bangkok, Thailand, as well as the many issues related to making such a trip. I focus primarily on the details of having SRS in Bangkok with Dr. Pichet Rodchareon—but I hope some of the issues covered here might be relevant for your situation, as well. I really do hope that sharing my experience helps. Also, if you have gone through SRS with Dr. Pichet or another Thai doctor and want to exchange links, please feel free to let me know.
When I travelled for sex reassignment surgery, it was my first trip outside the western hemisphere. I must say it was a sobering experience stepping on the plane in Atlanta, knowing that the next time I stepped through that door, I would be in the eastern hemisphere.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Thailand, even though I did not get to see as much of the country as I would have liked. I do intend to explore more when I return to Thailand for my correction.
My SRS was performed by Dr. Pichet Rodchareon of the Bangkok Plastic Surgery Clinic in Bangkok, Thailand. I intend to return to Thailand within a couple of years for further surgeries and based on my experiences, I intend to see Dr. Pichet and his staff once again for my next surgeries. I will have a list of places where to go and would even would like to spend some time hopping over to Ayutthaya and Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I want to do a bit more shopping and overall, have a good holiday of it. One of my biggest regrets is that I was not up to getting out of the hotel much.
Even though Dr. Pichet helped me out so much while I was in Thailand, my primary commitment is to help other t-girls. In this article, I will do my best to be honest about the realities of having SRS in Thailand.
Please note that this article is intended only for interest and information. It does not constitute medical advice. If you are interested in pursuing treatment, you must consult a qualified medical professional.
Before You Leave
The journey of a thousand miles always starts with the first step. Well, my flight to Bangkok from Indianapolis (where I was staying with a friend) was a journey of well over 10,000 miles according to the itinerary, and Delta could not get me there in any sort of efficient way. I would like to recommend to everyone involved a few things to help the journey of 10,000 miles and $6,500 more bearable.
- Have quite a bit of foreign currency available. I would recommend purchasing approximately 1,500 baht for your food/drinks in Thailand per week at the very least. If you want to go shopping for a new wardrobe, prices here are cheap, you can get a lot of lingerie and clothing at a very low price. Not thrift store low, but for new clothes, these are very good prices.
- Apply for a visa – If you are not a citizen of a country that allows visa free travel to Thailand or you are planning to stay longer than thirty days, you must apply for a Visa.
- Bring extra money – If you are a girly girl like me, you will want to shop as soon as you are cleared to. You will probably be dropped off at a big shopping centre like MBK or Central (you have to ask for something, and Chattuchak Weekend Market is closed on the weekdays). I would recommend having about 9,000 baht just for shopping, which is about $300 American. When I go back to Thailand, I am going to bring a bit more mad money so I can get a few more of my favourite skirts and have a field day at Chattuchak.
- Bring Someone Else! If you are going to Thailand for SRS, I would like to tell you that while it is doable to go it alone (I did), I would advise against it. At the time, I was horribly single and cried constantly after being discharged from the clinic. Now, I am married and will have someone to go with me for my upcoming breast augmentation surgery and I will be with her as she has her SRS and breast augmentation. It also helps when you want to go shopping and you need someone to do the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, for the next trip, that will likely be me.
- Bring Something to Read! This is more of a practice what you preach thing, I was stupid not to and as a result, I had to read and reread an overpriced copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You” that I purchased at a bookstore in Concourse D of the Atlanta Airport. For the trip back to Dr. Pichet, I will take quite a few books, a few newspapers, an iPad (I just cannot live without my A*Teens, you know?) and a few more things to entertain myself. Things such as Mensa workbooks, Word Searches, Crossword and Sudoku puzzles.
- Those Neck Pillows They Sell at the Airport May Not Help – Yes, this was yet another way I got ripped off at the airport, I pissed away $10 on a neck pillow that I genuinely thought would help me get some sleep on the flight to Bangkok. Now, I know better. Plus, it is extremely hard to get to sleep on a plane anyway, as anyone who has taken an international flight will tell you.
- The Journey of 10,000 Miles Involves the Children of Your Fellow Coach Passengers – The asshole that had the bright idea to allow children on International Flights must die a horrible death. I had eye blinders, a neck pillow, a cheap sheet that the airline gave me but what I really needed was earplugs. Other people refuse to sedate their little hell spawn before they travel and we all must pay a penalty. I say that the airlines should start supplying us with ear plugs and pay for them by levying a surcharge on all tickets for passengers under 15 years of age. If we put this to a vote, I am certain that all of the people who have suffered an Intercontinental flight would agree with me on this.
- Upgrade, if you can - If you have the power, purchase an upgrade on your airline - many times, this can be done with miles, money or both. And it is only wise to do this on the transpacific leg of your flight, not within the North American or Asian continents.
- Confirm with your doctor that you are coming – I have given my doctor the flight information, all of the money was properly wired to him beforehand and everything was good. Even still, there was margin for error and error loves to pop it’s ugly little head where it simply is not wanted. I explain my predicament up my arrival at Subvarnabhumi airport below but I will touch on it right now. If you are arriving at Subvarnabhumi Airport and you clear customs at the far left side of the airport, turn right and start walking. Do not cross the street. Eventually, you will find Dr. Pichet’s staff. If you do not, however, be prepared to find the nearest person who speaks English and ask them for help. Have Mrs. Mao’s mobile number from the e-mails handy.
When you arrive in Bangkok
If you are having sex reassignment surgery with Dr. Pichet, there are a few things you should know about your arrival at Subvarnabhumi Airport, which is the airport where virtually all flights arrive to. If you are seeing someone else, your doctor may make other arrival arrangements or none at all. Contact him before your departure to confirm this.
I arrived in Bangkok’s Subvarnabhumi Airport on the 1st of July at around 11pm or midnight. Let me tell you that the distance from the gate to the immigration counter was quite a long distance. I was running down the moving walkways in the airport so that I will be clearing immigration before all of the other people on the 737. I did make it to the counter to a lovely old lady who could not speak a word of English but happily took my passport, stamped a visa into it, stapled my entry card and took my picture.
After clearing immigration and waiting what seemed like forever for my luggage to be spat out onto the carousel, I walked through customs into Bangkok. Now, Dr. Pichet’s e-mail says that once you clear customs, turn right and you will see his driver. This is wrong because I was at the far-left side of the arrivals area of the airport. I had to look around for a while and even got into the wrong cab (thankfully, he circled back and had a friend phone Dr. Pichet’s office). Eventually, after I got someone who spoke English to help me, she phoned Mrs. Mao’s mobile. Mrs. Mao talked to me, saying that there is no need to worry and that she will have a driver take me to the hotel.
The other thing the e-mail is wrong about is who the driver is, although I am certain that this part is irrelevant. When you are arriving or departing the airport outside of the clinic’s business hours, you will be greeted by someone waiting for you and then a “limousine taxi”. However, this is not important unless you are one of those people who is really stringent on details. Once we were on the toll road, we were zooming towards Din Daeng and I was soon checked into the M-place, showered 25 hours of flight off of me and soon knocked out tired on the bed. Dr. Pichet left some sleeping medication with the desk staff at the M-place but I did not need it as I was dead tired after the flight to Bangkok.
- The Visit Card Needs to be Filled Out Before You Arrive At the Counter – You will receive a card from the flight crew on the final leg of your flight that spits you out in Bangkok. This card needs to be filled out for the immigration officers. Your information will be triaged into their system, the card will be stapled into your passport and your passport will be stamped with a 30-day visitor visa, if you are a citizen of a country that does not require a visa.
- The Thai Customs People do not speak fluent English – It has not been my experience that the people working the booths at Thai immigration and customs do not speak English at all or very well. I will update this info with subsequent trips to Thailand but for what I could notice on my first trip – the lady who stamped my passport with the entry visa and stapled the card into it could not speak English. The man standing next to her could not speak English, from what I could determine. It also appeared as though the man at the immigration counter upon departure could not speak English.
- Look for HIS drivers with a sign – It is recommended that you look for his driver or one of his employees holding a sign for you. Contrary to his instructions he sent me, his employees are not waiting right outside the doors RIGHT IN FRONT of customs but you may need to turn right and walk down a little to find the driver if you are at the far left end of the airport. When I was here, I arrived at 11pm local time and must have been out there around midnight so naturally the car that they normally use for the clinic was not out there. I got into a taxicab with a driver I did not know and I was totally freaking out because after I realized he did not work for Dr. Pichet, I was sobbing repeating the phrase “Please don’t kill me” to the driver. Thankfully, he did not speak English, but he understood my crying and took me back towards the airport to someone that could speak English.
My Time in the Clinic
The next day was a whirlwind of action, Dr. Pichet had someone from the clinic in a yellow polo shirt with the clinic’s logo come to pick me up to take me to the clinic. This made me wonder just where the hell the clinic was in relation to where I was. Turns out that the clinic is right across the street (Sutthisarn) from the M-place. Once in, they rushed me upstairs to fill out what seemed like a rain forest full of paperwork. In case you fear that you will forget the date of your surgery, they will have you write down the date numerous times whenever you sign anything. Keep in mind that I am referring to the paperwork that you have to fill out, the folder he has on you contains all of your e-mail conversations with Dr. Pichet and all of the wire transfers.
Then, it was time for the doctor to make his grand entrance and this would be the first time I met Dr. Pichet in person. Dr. Pichet took a look at me, said that he could not believe that I was over 200 pounds and that he would do the surgery for me at no extra cost. He had me write a statement of how long I had been wearing female clothes, living as a female, all legal changes, et cetera. I wrote this statement with intense attention to detail, as he does us all a big favour by not making psychotherapy compulsory. The very least I could do was this meager task for him. However, as of September 2009, there is a new law emerging in Thailand which requires a psychologist’s letter. This does not require the Standards of Care, per se, but it does require you to have a psychologist’s letter.
Once we did that, it was picture time so I had to drop my skirt and a few photos had to be taken. This was the most humiliating part of my trip, considering the fact that I did not mind being unclothed around Dr. Pichet’s medical staff. Once this happened, they took me to the next floor and showed me my room at the clinic, which would be where I would recover for the next four days. It has an electronic combination safe for your valuables. You choose the combination and you would best choose something you can remember, lest your valuables be stuck in there permanently. They had a telly which receives movie channels, news (BBC, CNN and all that stuff), sport, movies, cartoons and I think a couple of local Thai channels. There is also this one channel they have that shows you photos of people who have been to the clinic before. They also have a booklet that provides you with a lunch menu, a description of what is available for breakfast and the channel listing for the telly.
Once this happened, they prompted me to take a shower (again, as I had already done so the night before because after 24 hours of flight, I needed it) and dress in scrubs. Once all that was done, I waited around in my “grand hospital accommodation” until I was escorted to the operating theatre. Just so you know, everything looked very professional and medical – but yes, it was all done in Dr. Pichet’s three story clinic. They had to stick an IV into me (Owie) and then the anesthesiologist (I have made a decision. From this point forward, I am going to call him the Night Night man) stuck me with a spinal block, which allowed me to feel very little from the waist down. Then, Night night man put the mask over my head as it was sleepy time for Jessica. I woke up groggy and with a weird set of what looked like a cross between Ace bandages and duct tape. I did not know much at that point, but I knew one thing – I wanted the packing out.
The next few days were very uneventful, breakfast, lunch, dinner and medication before and after each meal. Breakfast is pretty standard American fare, orange juice, eggs, sausage, toast with strawberry yam (er, yes, that is what they say in the menus). Lunch is from a number of providers of Western fare – McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC. Dinner is from a standard Thai cart (I think) and I always enjoyed chicken fried rice. Yummy. All of this is provided at no extra cost to you. I would also like to make it very clear that it will hurt when you try to turn on your side or anything daring like that, simply because you have a stent inside of you to ensure that the vagina does not close up. It is hard and makes sleeping on your side very difficult, if not impossible.
On the third day of recovery, I was freaking out because no one had emptied my catheter bag. I was very conscious of this as I did not want to get an infection from my surgery. However, the bag kept filling up and I was absolutely terrified. I tried to bring this to the attention of the staff but my perception was that they did not seem to listen or care. When I attempted to walk the day that I got the response, I felt really woozy and had to sit back down on the bed. I e-mailed my friend and mentor to talk about the issue and Dr. Pichet replied to the e-mail saying “My staff wants to keep it for water measurement in daily record. Sorry to cause her inconvenience ,however, I took it out already”. He addressed the issue of the staff not caring about my issues with the catheter or trying to understand me or explain the situation to me with “I let her to have shower in moring [sic] better than washing only. She did it. She is very nice lady.Everybody loves her because she likes to talk. It might be my staff’s English is not quite well but she can contact Mrs.Mao at anytime”. Still, I feel that this could have been communicated better to me and for that, I was fairly concerned about Dr. Pichet until I was discharged from the clinic.
On the fourth day, the packing came off (the yards and yards of blood coated gauze being pulled out of me was painful), the stent came out and catheter came out (yeow!) and my new labia minora looked like a raspberry Krispy Kreme doughnut was sitting on my mons pubis and Dr. Pichet told me that he would have to perform a procedure to reduce the size of my labia minora. This would be performed at no additional cost to me. We just had to wait for the night night man to have an opening in his appointment book, as he is an outside contractor. It was originally going to be done the next morning but the night night man had an opening and once again in a whirlwind of action, it was sleepy time for Jessica. The catheter did not have to be reinserted into me and for this, I am grateful.
On the fifth day, I was released to my hotel and having been in a clinic room for what seemed to be too long, I had a serious case of cabin fever. I walked around and even bought a bottle of Thai Whisky to take back to the my mentor upon my return to the United States. I did try to see a bit more of the area around me but the furthest I got on this day was to the Tesco/Lotus mini-supermarket.
This is where the clinic is.
Being Discharged From the Clinic
You will be discharged from the clinic to your hotel and many things will happen on this day. The first thing is that the doctor will come in and let you know that you are being discharged (that always helps, that we know such things before the wheels start turning). You will be given a number of supplies, most notably the supplies that are required so you can clean your new vagina with the Betadine solution that they give you. REMEMBER TO ASK THEM TO SHOW YOU HOW IT IS DONE!!! I was told of this only a week before my departure and it may or may not have impacted my ability to heal. As a result, I had to start cleaning with the Betadine solution twice a day once I was told and at my appointment before my last appointment, I was told to increase this to three times daily. You should remind them to show you and refuse to be discharged until they show you. I did let Dr. Pichet know about this problem in the exit survey that I completed for him but a pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure, you know?
One thing I should also let you know is that anything that you were using surgery including the planning for, working for and saving for to distract you from will come back in full force sooner or later. In my case, it was the fact that I was so utterly single that came back to hurt me after I was discharged from the clinic. As I was recovering from pretty major surgery, the fact that I was single and that no one would care if I were to pass away hurt me deeply and still does. After all the work I have done to get this surgery and now that it is all over and done with, I could not hide from it. So, I am going to repeat a recommendation that I made earlier and that is to take someone with you when you are having surgery, if you can. Paying for their round-trip international airfare will be a bummer but I cannot recommend doing this enough. They can be with you and lend a shoulder to cry on, and this is a comfort that I would hope that my fellow sisters can afford. Even the staff at Dr. Pichet’s clinic that are most fluent in English will not be able to help you much, so I would recommend bringing some emotional support.