I Had LASIK Surgery in Vietnam!

If you’re unlucky enough to be short-sighted you’ll know what an extra hassle wearing glasses or contact lenses can be when you’re travelling.  If, however, you are blessed with the gift of perfect vision then allow me to paint the picture for you.

When you are short-sighted…

  • You have to pack bottles of expensive solution and saline to take with you and it is surprisingly heavy.
  • There is nowhere to keep your glasses on the plane when you try to sleep.
  • At the end of a long day of wearing contact lenses your eyes feel dried out, gritty and usually resemble the bloodshot orbs of a drug addict or vampire.
  • You have to decide between fashion sunglasses with contacts while sunbathing, or the not-so-glam prescription sunglasses you bought because you have an irrational fear that your contact lenses may melt onto your eyeballs if out in the sun too long. Or is that just me?
  • Water sports with contact lenses? Not a great idea. Do you know what it’s like to lose a contact lens round the back of your eyeball after rubbing water out of your eye? I do, and it’s not nice.

You get the idea? Being short-sighted adds a plethora of problems for a backpacker. And so because of these problems, and the fact that I am excessively vain, I opted for Laser Eye surgery when I was in Vietnam.

A very rare photo of me wearing my glasses. Excuse the baby powder in the hair, this is the day after Khmer New Year!

I had considered laser-eye surgery in the UK but it was very expensive and I was already in too much debt. Years later in Vietnam it became a more plausible option. A few friends of mine did it before me and I watched their progress with interest. They returned from their operations with no visible burn marks and as they hadn’t gone blind it seemed safe enough so I booked a consultation at the Cao Thang International Eye Clinic in Saigon.

The consultation was straightforward enough. The doctor poured eye-drops in my eyes, poked around my eyeball with an electronic pen and talked me through the procedure. Although she spoke reasonably good English some of our conversation got lost in translation which concerned me but as my friend’s operations had been successful I pushed these thoughts aside. The consultation revealed that my pupils dilate to larger than the normal area for a successful operation which means that I am more at risk from the halo or starburst effect when looking at lights at night. Because of this my operation would be more complicated than my friend’s and a new more specialised laser would be required. I was on my own. The laser, I was told, would need to be ordered specifically from Bangkok but the clinic kindly offered the more specialised operation at the same price of the usual one. I paid 11million Vietnamese Dong for both eyes, at the time this was about £350.

Picture taken from Cao Thang website

A week later I was back at the clinic and shaking with nerves. I tried to pacify my anxiety by asking the doctor how many operations she had performed that day and was relieved when she replied ‘eight’. I asked how many of them she had performed with the new laser that I was to have and she replied ‘I have never used this laser’. Hmmm, not so comforting. I was given a sedative in the waiting room and then escorted through to the operating theatre where nurses wandered around fully attired in protective clothing. It was like a scene from that biological disease movie ‘Outbreak’. I lay down on what looked like a dentist’s chair and was immediately clamped down by four small, but surprisingly strong, Vietnamese women: one on each arm, one on each leg and one holding down my head. I felt like I was about to be administered the lethal injection. The doctor told me to look at the green light throughout the operation but I kept blinking. Each time I blinked she demanded that I open my eyes and my command of Vietnamese was too limited to explain that I was blinking, not being deliberately awkward. Eventually they taped my eyes open with masking tape.

The next problem I faced was trying to look at a green light when the lens of your eye has been removed; leaving you peering into blackness wondering if you’ll ever be able to see again. Add this to the putrid smell of your retina burning and it makes for an unpleasant experience. Sorry if you are squeamish! I won’t elaborate more on the details of the operation which thankfully didn’t last long. In less than ten minutes it was all over and I was given a cup of warm Milo, eyedrops, and being sent on my way.

Unless you have had bad eyesight you can’t begin to fathom how incredible it is to have clear vision. The next few days were amazing. I could wake up in the night and see that the shadow in the corner was a pile of clothes draped over the chair and not an escaped man-eating tiger, or be able to read the clock on the bedside table. I could shave my legs in the shower without missing parts around the ankle (this is a surprisingly difficult feat when you can’t see your ankle) or put my head under water in the pool.

Image from Cao Thang's website

Many people are surprised when I say I had Lasik surgery in Vietnam but if you choose a reputable clinic then I don’t see any difference than having the same procedure in your home country and I have never had cause to regret my decision. Cao Thang Clinic were professional in both the pre and post-care procedures and the operation was performed flawlessly.

You should probably only consider laser-eye surgery overseas if you are going to be around for at least 6 months. I did this whilst I was living as an expat in Vietnam, not as a short-term traveller. Take time to ask around about which clinics have a good reputation or better still, get advice from people who have used the clinic themselves. After the surgery you will be required to attend a few post-op check-ups for up to 6 months so you will need to be in the area.

You can find Cao Thang on the web at http://www.cthospital.vn/about-2/about/.

Would you consider having surgery abroad? Why/why not? Have you had any cosmetic surgery overseas? What was your experience? Do you think it is better to do these things in your own country? Or not at all? Please leave a comment!

Post Author
Runaway Brit

Comments

36 Comments
  1. posted by
    Roy
    Jul 3, 2011 Reply

    Wow great post! I’ve been wearing contacts for years and I hate it for the same reasons. But laser surgery still terrifies me :\

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 3, 2011 Reply

      It terrified me too, especially doing it in Vietnam but seeing a few friends do it first gave me the confidence that I needed and I have never regretted it. The surgery is completely painless but unpleasant. It lasted less than 10 minutes though and I LOVE not being burdened by contacts and glasses anymore!

  2. posted by
    Kate | transatlantic sketches
    Jul 3, 2011 Reply

    WOW! brave girl. i’ve heard about people doing this but never really thought about it. ohhhhhh how nice it would be to not have to wear contacts anymore!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 3, 2011 Reply

      I know how you feel. People with good eyesight have NO idea about how troublesome contact lenses are. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to leave a smoky pub early or come out of a pool because I’ve lost a lens or that it’s too uncomfortable. I was pretty blind without them 🙂

  3. posted by
    Maria
    Jul 3, 2011 Reply

    The surgery would be angst provoking anywhere. I’ve had to visit doctors in foreign countries (Czech Republic and Cambodia) and found them to be far better with bedside manner than American doctors which made a huge difference for me.

    Thailand is very popular for general and cosmetic surgery due to cost in Western countries and reports come back daily of how high tech, sanitary and skilled the doctors, staff and clinics are.

    Kudos for researching first and going with your gut.

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 4, 2011 Reply

      I think you are right about the bedside manner – the clinic seemed very attentive while I was their patient and I was really impressed with their follow-up care which lasted 6 months after the operation.

      • posted by
        Kimberly
        Sep 13, 2011 Reply

        I been thinking about getting my eyes done in Vietnam for about 2 years now. But after reading your post im pretty confidence that they can do a good job.. U mention that u should stay in that countries for at least 6mths. If I only have one month time there, should I do it? also can we do check up in the US?

  4. posted by
    Chris Backe
    Jul 4, 2011 Reply

    That seems REALLY cheap! If you had been charged the ‘proper’ price for the more9 complicated surgery, any idea what that would’ve cost? As you might be able to tell by the glasses in my picture, I suspect I’d need the same sort of surgery.

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 4, 2011 Reply

      I’m not sure what the full price would have been but I think it still would have been a good price, I was lucky at the time with a very good US$ – £ exchange rate which worked well for me. They seem to be able to operate on most people these days as the technology is always getting better!

  5. posted by
    Rease
    Jul 4, 2011 Reply

    “I could wake up in the night and see that the shadow in the corner was a pile of clothes draped over the chair and not an escaped man-eating tiger”

    This is the fear of all short sighted people. Well, I usually imagine it is a psychotic rapist waiting to rape and kill me, but really, it is always some sort of inanimate object that looks like a life threatening situation in the dark without contacts.

    I want lasik! Now that I am an expat with good health insurance, I am considering it. It will have to wait until after my trip home to the US where I will spend crazy amounts of money.

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      It really was the best thing that I ever did and I have not regretted it at all. It’s worth it not to worry about psychotic rapists in the night!!

  6. posted by
    Lloyd
    Jul 4, 2011 Reply

    A few of my friends have gotten the surgery done here in Korea – where it’s also very cheap (about the same price I believe). My vision is absolutely horrible and I just hope it’s not too bad for them to correct because I’m planning on getting it done this winter!

    Thanks for the details – I think I’d like to read about them first before being “surprised” as it’s happening! Freaky!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      You will probably need a more specialised laser, like the Wavefront one I had but they should still be able to do it. The worst thing for me was the smell when they were operating, thankfully it doesn’t last too long!

  7. posted by
    The Travel Chica
    Jul 5, 2011 Reply

    I am such a wuss about having anything medical done overseas. Then again I’m a wuss about any medical done in the US. When I traveled through Central America, I was surprised to discover that Antigua, Guatemala is a hot spot for dental work. And I believe Colombia is another medical tourism hot spot.

    I think I’m going to get my teeth cleaned and have a chipped tooth checked out in Argentina. Shouldn’t be nervous about it, but I’d be nervous doing it at home. At least here it won’t cost me a million dollars.

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      I regret not getting dental work done in Vietnam but maybe I’ll check it out in Colombia when we get there. It’s a nightmare getting anything here in Sweden as they have very strict regulations over the sale of medicine. You can buy painkillers over the counter but not much else. Everything requires a doctor’s prescription so I usually stock up on cold remedies and cough medicine when I go to the UK.

  8. posted by
    Kris Koeller
    Jul 5, 2011 Reply

    In a word, wow. I was scared to get my hair cut there!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      Ha ha! I don’t blame you, I was more scared of getting my hair done in Vietnam than my eyes!!!!

      • posted by
        Alena Lin
        Aug 19, 2013 Reply

        Vietnam actually has some really nice hair stylists! Just don’t trust those who cut on the sidewalk or those who cut in shabby places that look like they live upstairs.

  9. posted by
    ? Roy Abraham
    Jul 11, 2011 Reply

    Wow, I paid NZ$5,000 for LASIK many years ago. That’s almost 10x the price!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      Wow! That’s expensive and technology has changed so much since then, I imagine my operation was more straightforward too. Has your eyesight deteriorated again since? I often wonder if the operation lasts longterm.

  10. posted by
    Lauren
    Jul 12, 2011 Reply

    Wow, you are brave! I don’t think I could ever get laser eye surgery unless my eyesight deteriorated a LOT. Scary stuff!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jul 20, 2011 Reply

      My eyesight was pretty bad and it made travelling quite difficult at times so I decided that enough was enough. I don’t regret it at all!

  11. posted by
    LASIK surgery
    Jul 20, 2011 Reply

    Wow that was an interesting story. Well let me tell you that currently there are many people who is considering to have this surgery out of the States and the simple reason is because the price. In fact I know a lot of people who have it done in Peru for like $500 both eyes.

  12. posted by
    Bao Tran
    Jul 20, 2011 Reply

    @Brit: Thanks Brit for your good words about our Cao Thang Eye Hospital (CTHospital). If you have times, would you please drop by our place for a free checkup. Call Ms Thuc (our English speaking staff) at 0913 681 168

    @All: We have already updated the new pricing policy. Lasik (with Wavefront) is $900 for both eyes. It is a really bargaining price because our labour cost is cheap comparable to US, UK, Oceania or Singapora.

  13. posted by
    weiboheng
    Sep 8, 2011 Reply

    @Brit,

    Hi there my name is Heng, a Singporean living in Saigon, I just came across your blog while searching for Lasik in Vn. You really captured me reading into your stories.. and did they really use masking tape to hold your eyelid?? My British friends always have a way of not letting the truth gets in the way of a good story… 😀 By the way, your blog is great ..

    @ Bao Tran,

    I visited the CT hospital website and it seems that it does not provide Intralase procedures. Do you also have the wavefront and tissue saving technique as well?

    Many thanks

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Sep 10, 2011 Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Heng, Yes, there was definitely masking tape. I don’t know whether they always use it or if I just got lucky 🙂

  14. posted by
    Celen
    Jan 22, 2012 Reply

    It’s hard sometimes when you pushed through all your dreams that will come true. I’m proud of what you did despite of all circumstances happen. But with your faith that brings you to the top with success. No risk, no reward!
    Celen recently posted..laser stretch mark removalMy Profile

  15. posted by
    Brit – I Had LASIK Surgery in Vietnam! | Cao Thang Eye Hospital – JCI accredited provider in Vietnam
    Feb 28, 2012 Reply
  16. posted by
    tofu
    Feb 17, 2013 Reply

    Hi Elaine,

    this is probably a bit of an odd question… i’m interested in your experience of Cao Thang Eye Hospital, but on a different aspect of it.

    I’m a 4th year medical student from London, UK, and I’m keen on gaining some experience in ophthalmology abroad during my elective period. I’ve sort of looked around the internet, and this Eye hospital seems to offer free electives for medical students.. and I wasn’t sure if it was too good to be true ??

    I was just wondering if you came across any foreign medical students whilst you were there, or did you feel the hospital seemed reputable and safe? I’ve never travelled alone before, and wouldn’t really know what to do if I were to have troubles with the institution whilst abroad.

    I know this is slightly odd, and not very specific to your post, but i’ve not been able to find much information elsewhere, and hope you would be able to help. Hope you don’t find me rude.

    X

  17. posted by
    Mai
    Dec 3, 2013 Reply

    Hi!
    Can u tell me what kind of Lasik you had?
    Cause there are many kind listed on the website. Im very shortsighted (roughly -10 and -11) and I would like to get Lasik cause Im sick of all those glasses and contacts.

    Thanks:)

    Mai

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Dec 5, 2013 Reply

      Hi, I had the Wavefront laser for my operation. I was -7 in both eyes and have astigmatism. They did the test to see how much my pupils dilate ad they were larger than the size for the regular lasik surgery.

      The wavefront laser was brought in from Bangkok especially for my operation, and the Doctor had never used it before!

      She did a wonderful job though and I am very grateful!

      I am so happy that I don’t have to worry about glasses and contacts anymore!

  18. posted by
    Anthony Bolton
    Mar 10, 2014 Reply

    Hi Everyone,
    I had a plastic lens fitted in AEK hospital Udon Thani Thailand. The lady who did it was nothing short of fantastic, gentle caring and very skillful. My right eye in which I had the lens fitted is clear as a bell eight years later, perfect.
    My left eye is now playing up, and as I live in Vietnam now I shall be giving the Saigon eye hospital a visit after hearing your comments. Thanks.

  19. posted by
    Richard
    Mar 19, 2014 Reply

    Your story is awesome. How many follow-up visits did you have to return for? I hope that I can have the same positive results that you did.

  20. posted by
    jerome .
    Dec 11, 2014 Reply

    hello there,
    I was checking in to see if all is still ok with op.
    I have booked in and are still nervous.
    Thanks

  21. posted by
    Kari peters
    Oct 6, 2015 Reply

    I have an appointment booked next month at Cow thang and I was wondering why they ask you not eat before the exam. The lasik consult place in Canada didn’t have that requirement

  22. posted by
    The Best Female Travel Blogs for 2014
    Mar 14, 2017 Reply

    […] Post you’ll love: I Had LASIK Surgery in Vietnam […]

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