Life in TransitA Digital Nomad in Asia

Falling Ill while Backpacking Asia


The cream and anti-histamine tablets from the doctor.

If you were to fall ill while backpacking in Asia, Malaysia would be one of the least expensive places in Asia to find medical care.

Two weeks ago in Melaka, I developed a really bad rash.

When I reached Kuala Lumpur, I sought out a pharmacist who recommended a cream, TravoCort, for the rash.

Within a couple of days, the rash was gone from the original areas, but had spread to my arms, legs, hands and feet.

I was a little concerned and went to find a doctor.

My first stop for directions was a pharmacy at Pasar Seni in the neighbourhood where I’m residing. The staff at the pharmacy didn’t seem to know where the nearest clinic was located. I figured that they would be the most knowledgeable since patients would interact with them while purchasing medication.

I feel that it was more of a policy to not reveal the location of the doctor than actually not knowing. They all smiled and said they didn’t know. Then one pharmacist suggested I look at the RHB building and everyone seemed to appear stunned at the revelation. Then they all recovered and smiled as they told me it was probably closed.

Definitely awkward.

I then walked all around the Chinatown area looking for a sign that said “Klinik” to no avail. One security guard gave me hope and pointed me to a clinic down the street. Alas, the store unit seemed to be under renovation.

The nearest clinic that Google maps listed also didn’t exist. The unit sold shoes.

Exasperated, I took a train to Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre the next day. Google once again pointed me to a government polyclinic across the street somewhere but I was hesitant to follow this lead. As I stood on Jalan Ampang pondering my options, I looked up and noticed a sign that advertised the Twin Towers Medical Centre.

The medication alone in Canada would have been way over the 72 RM (or about 24 CAD) that I paid.

I found out that the Twin Towers Medical Centre offered outpatient medical services to foreigners at 35 RM per consultation. I waited no more than 15 minutes to see a doctor though it was almost 5pm: closing time.

The doctor suggested but did not insist upon a 100 RM blood test. I do not know if it was a matter of trying to up sell services or if it was standard procedure to do a blood test for a rash in Malaysia. Either way, being afraid of needles, I declined the offer and was prescribed cream and an anti-histamine.

The medication, two tubes of cream and 10 anti-histamine tablet, came up to 37 RM.

The total damage: 72 RM.

The medication alone in Canada would have been way over the 72 RM (or about 24 CAD) that I paid. A big reason for the lower cost is that the medication is a locally produced equivalent of the original.

For example, the anti-histamine I was prescribed was called Clarityne. According to the package, it was produced in Indonesia. The western equivalent would have been Claritin.

While 24 CAD for the visit inclusive of medicine seemed like an awesome deal, the government clinics are a different story.

I managed to find a local who told me that the Chinatown government clinic, which he called the “1 Malaysia Klinik”, is located in the Pudu Raya bus terminal.

Apparently it only costs 15 RM for tourists. And only 1 RM for locals.

He claims the 15 RM covers blood work as well as medication.

I hope I do not have to see the doctor again. But in the unlikely event that I do, I will scout this place and update this post.

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Tagged: health, Malaysia
Posted in: Cover, Journal