Top spots for a medical adventure

Want it modified, enhanced, drilled out, implanted or just plain alleviated? Whatever your bodily need, there's a place for you.

India

With its colour, culture and chaos, India is one country where you'll be wanting 20/20 vision. Just as well the country's eye surgery facilities are top-notch! The Aravind eye-care system, centred in Madurai but with hospitals around India, is a remarkable program originally designed to minimise unnecessary blindness; in addition to foreigners, it has helped over 2.4 million poor Indians to see in the past 30 years. Aravind's Eye Hospitals treat everything from glaucoma to cataracts and even eye replacement. Patients relax in private suites costing US$20 per day; specialist doctors commandeer the latest technologies and speak faultless English.

Bangkok, Thailand

Back in 1984, British pop singer Murray Head noted that 'one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble'. Oh, but Bangkok makes a hard man so much more than that… Welcome to Thailand, sex-change capital of the world. Whether you want to re-emerge from the operating room as he, she or 'other', Bangkok's highly trained surgeons are world leaders in the art of 'gender reassignment'. Thailand is also famous for heart surgery, eye surgery and more. State-of-the-art Bumrungrad International Hospital is a major destination for overseas patients.

Beijing, China

Somehow, experiencing acupuncture in its home setting just feels right – especially when you get the balms, oils and smelly unguents of traditional Chinese medicine. Since 1975 Beijing has been home to the International Acupuncture Training Centre, a university for foreign doctors who want to have a stab at it. Prefer to be pricked rather than do the pricking? Book yourself in at Dongzhimen Hospital. The People's Republic is also pioneering stem-cell treatments, offering patients with the gravest conditions a chance to try new treatments not yet approved at home.

Colombia

North Americans and others head to Colombia for complex treatments performed by crack doctors at bargain rates. Bogotá offers a wide variety of medical treatments and operations, ranging from dentistry and cosmetic surgery to open-heart surgery. Joint surgery is one of Colombia's specialties: getting a hip replaced or 'resurfaced' costs one-fifth of what it does in the US, while the prosthetics used are of high international quality. Many Colombian doctors are foreign-trained.

Nuuk, Greenland

Imagine you're in Greenland and a polar bear bites your arm off. Don't just leave it there! Dronning Ingrids Hospital, in the southwestern capital of Nuuk, is the main hospital on this frigid maritime landmass, and is renowned for performing special operations requiring very low temperatures (such as reattaching severed limbs). They don't need air-conditioning here, and the heating system prevents any contaminated airflow. You'll quickly feel good as new when recovering on this sparsely populated island: not only is the air is clean and, er, invigorating, but the seafood is excellent.

Tehran, Iran

How does Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keep up his fierce stare? We're not implying anything, but plastic surgery in Tehran is big business these days. Iranian plastic surgeons do lifts, chin implants, tummy tucks and almost everything else that's done in the West, but for less. Nose jobs are especially popular, interestingly enough. For Muslim women in the Islamic Republic, their nose is often one of the few body parts they can display; however, Iranian men also seem to be fond of the procedure.

Cuba

So you've arrived on a Communist-run island and the authorities have confiscated your passport and money. Some might say it comes with the territory – or you might be at a Cuban rehab clinic, where it's often standard procedure. Frequented by ordinary folks and famous figures alike (Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona among them), Cuba's rehabilitation villas are renowned for their professional service, effectiveness and super-reasonable rates. Rehab here mixes balmy island living with no-nonsense regimes for keeping you stone-cold sober, with the assistance of trained psychologists, doctors, and – of course – Caribbean sea breezes. You can book a private rehab getaway through an operator such as Grupo Cubanacan.

Malaysia

Mix pleasure with procedures in Malaysia, another leading destination for medical travellers. Places like the beach resort town of Penang are popular for breast-enhancement surgery; some package-tour companies even cater to this kind of trip. It's great that a recuperative beach vacation is included, since doctors warn that long plane journeys after surgery can cause thrombosis. The dynamic capital, Kuala Lumpur is where more complex procedures (such as brain surgery for epilepsy) are performed.

There's no denying it: travelling for medical purposes is an increasingly popular, if somewhat controversial, trend. Would you do it? Have you done it? Would you even tell us if you had? It's certainly a hot topic on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum