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Siem Reap


Dealing with a medical emergency in Siem Reap

When a friend suffered a nasty fall recently whilst crossing a street in a flash flood I realised that knowing how to find a good doctor fast in Siem Reap could come in useful. Said friend is quite tough which meant he managed to wait until the following day before giving in to the pain of what turned out to be a fractured fibula, and was compliant enough to climb into a tuk tuk for a better-late-than-never trip to Siem Reap’s shiny Royal International Hospital.

Why did the tourist cross the road? So he could get a fetching blue plaster cast…

Luckily for him it was a straightforward break and he was adequately prepared for just such an eventuality with a fistful of credit cards and plenty of insurance. Had it been anything more serious, then a trip to Bangkok, or even a flight home, might have been on the cards.

In countries like Cambodia where food hygiene isn’t always as reliable as it could be, where traffic rules are next to non-existent and trip hazards like 1,000-year-old temple ruins or an uneven pavement beneath a flooded street can easily lead to broken limbs, travel insurance from a reputable insurer is not just a good idea, but can be a lifesaver, and certainly a long-term money saver.

Treacherous: The famous Angkor Thom Trip Hazards.

If you are unlucky enough to be struck down by illness or injury while on holiday in Siem Reap, there are several options for treatment depending on the severity of your ailment and the depth of your pockets. Knowing these options in advance means all you will need to do is ask your hotel or hostel to find you a tuk tuk to take you where you need to go, or if you are out and about when disaster strikes, you can hail the nearest tuk tuk and tell the driver yourself. If you find yourself in a genuine emergency and can afford the fees, The Royal International Hospital does offer an ambulance service; call the number listed below.

For less serious situations, first stop should be one of the pharmacies. U-Care has branches just off Pub Street and in The Lucky Mall shopping centre on Sivatha Boulevard, and can supply most Western over-the-counter drugs and many prescription-only ones too, only without the need for a “script”. Make sure you check everything they give you. One holidaymaker famously went in for pain relief for a flu-like virus and came out with a bottle of Valium.

Checking dosages is also good idea before you start merrily munching away on your medication. Paracetamol and codeine tablets for example come in regular strength (8mg of codeine per tablet) or horse strength, with a powerful 15mg hit of codeine per tablet. And if you do need Valium, for a long journey, say, this is available over the-counter too, and at higher dose than would normally be prescribed back home for your fear of flying.

If you need the services of a qualified doctor rather than just a dispensing chemist, there are two recommended town centre surgeries that most expat residents use with varying degrees of satisfaction.

On a small street off Route 6 behind the Akira Electricals emporium, a couple of Khmer doctors share a surgery — Doctor Rithy Kong and Doctor Sok Leng. Between them they speak some French and a smattering of English and provide a quick and cheap consultation service — no appointment is necessary. Communication can be difficult but at only $5 a shot it’s worth a try if your symptoms are straightforward and easy to explain in simple English. Or French. There is a handy blood testing lab upstairs as well, and small chemist on site for your virtually guaranteed antibiotics prescription.

Rather unfairly, full paying Western tourists seem to be ushered straight to the front of the queue ahead of waiting locals attached to the ubiquitous IV drip and languishing on ol- fashioned metal framed hospital beds that fill the reception area.

The IV drip is highly favoured by the Cambodian medical fraternity. Sadly, you don’t see many like this.

The Naga Clinic is on Hup Guan Street, parallel to Samdech Tech Vong Street and behind the main ANZ Royal Bank. The Doctor here is Dutch, speaks excellent English and is efficient and business-like, although his linguistic skills are not matched by his bedside manner. On a recent visit with food poisoning I was unimpressed with his inference that my sickness could be a blessing in disguise since I could do with losing a few kilos anyway. To be fair his prescription did cure my week-long gastro nightmare within three days, so who cares if he wouldn’t win any personality contests? Consultation fees start at $10, appointments advised.

The Naga Clinic: conveniently located next to a helicopter charter, should you feel the need for a sharp exit…

Should you need hospitalisation you still have “choices” but you will need to pay upfront at both. The Siem Reap Provincial Hospital, also known as the Referral Hospital, is conveniently located in the centre of town, not far from Pub Street, but anecdotal reports from here would suggest that unless you can already self-diagnose with some accuracy, you can time your medical emergency with normal office opening hours, and have an immune system made of galvanised steel, then you are better off bypassing it and going straight to the other option on the list, the Royal Angkor International Hospital on the Airport Road. It’s clean, efficient and it has the closest thing to an A&E department this side of the Thai border.

Mixed reports abound about the International and seem to depend on the severity of your condition. Mending a simple broken fibula is well within their skillset, as it would seem is any regular infection that requires nothing more than intravenous antibiotics and a couple of nights in a rather swish air-conditioned private room. Complicated orthopaedic issues and drug resistant infections seem to require a referral to the parent hospital in Bangkok, and if things get really bad then the only option is “medivac” – evacuation to your home country for more familiar and possibly more reliable treatment. Make sure it’s included in your insurance policy.

Thanks to the combination of tropical heat and cheap beer, the most common ailment here is dehydration, the symptoms of which are frequently underestimated and can include dizziness, confusion, disorientation, palpitations, shortness of breath and debilitating fatigue. Take all the usual precautions, and stock up on rehydration salts. The local panacea is called Royal D, costs just 15 cents a sachet, and tastes a whole lot better than anything you can buy back in the West; it’s available at U-care and other pharmacies, many supermarkets, and even in some of the better bars. In fact the orange-flavoured variety makes a very nice Bucks Fizz when mixed with sparkling wine, but only in moderation of course.

U Care Pharmacy 1
Pi Thnou Street
Old Market Area
T: (063) 965 396

U Care Pharmacy 2
Ground Floor
Lucky Mall
Sivatha Boulevard
T: (063) 966 683

Doctors Rithy Kong & Sok Leng
Behind Akira Electricals
Route 6 Phnom Penh Road

Naga Clinic
660 Huop Guan Street
Central Market Area
T: (092) 793 180

Siem Reap Provincial Hospital
Pi Thnou Street
Old Market Area
T: (063) 764 091

Royal Angkor International Hospital
Route 6 Airport Road
T: (063) 761 888

About the author:
Simon is fluent in English, Spanish and French, but to date he has only mastered a few carefully chosen words of Khmer, like "Food" and "Beer" and "Fat".

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