Samui Wining & Dining
Keeping Tabs

Just what the doctor ordered, at Morya Pharmacy.


60Many visitors to Samui have the same suspicion of pharmacies as they do of menus and bathrooms. With the question arising – can you trust them? It’s not a far cry from the embarrassment of facing a menu written entirely in Thai, or of having to make a desperate visit a toilet in a time of great need. Will you get when you really need to buy the right sort of antibiotics in a strange country where you can’t speak the language? It’s a familiar problem with any holiday abroad and prudent travellers always pack an array of familiar cure-alls.


But there’s always something that you haven’t brought along. It might be a prescription that you’d forgotten all about or an inhaler that suddenly runs out. And the next question is – when you find a pharmacy will you be able to make yourself understood? Will the person you’re dealing with know how to help you or merely sell you snake oil? And will the brand-name be familiar and, failing that, will it be any good?


A decade or so ago, some of these points would have been valid. But not today. On the health-care theme, Thailand is now renowned for the quality of its international hospitals, with many people coming here each year from abroad for ‘surgical vacations’. And the street pharmacies, the grass-roots links to the doctors and hospital services, have evolved along similar lines. The Thai people themselves, unless they’re seriously ill or injured, are in the habit of first turning to their local pharmacist for advice and even diagnosis – that’s the esteem in which they are held. But, if you look more closely, you’ll notice that the local people will favour just one or two pharmacies over the multitude of others. And the reason for that is that they know something you don’t!


You see, there are two types of pharmacy. The first type is one that sells everything from beauty products to Chinese herbs and also dispenses medicine. And the second sort is one that does all this … but also has a trained and qualified pharmacist in full-time attendance which not all do. And that’s the knack; knowing which ones are staffed only by unqualified sales-assistants and which ones have the benefit of a dispensing pharmacist, too. But with each of the branches of Morya Pharmacy that you’ll see around the island you won’t need to worry about this as they all come with a resident pharmacist – as standard!


Even the actual appearance of the shops inspires confidence. The entire frontage of each is made of glass, displaying a fresh, modern and brightly-lit interior and the staff in their spotless white lab-coats. The name ‘Morya’ comes from the Thai word ‘mor’, meaning ‘doctor’, and ‘ya’ meaning tablet or medicine. And the chain of now more than 20 shops around the island is the result of one man’s vision. Khun Kwanchai Patpaen opened the first Morya Pharmacy in 2001 and today it’s become a kind of unofficial symbol of reliability in the otherwise confusing arena of Samui island medicines. And Khun Kwanchai, himself a qualified pharmacist, places great value on the knowledge and expertise of his dispensing staff.


It’s a long and sometimes costly business to make an appointment with, and then consult, a doctor at one of the (excellent) local hospitals, whereas often similar advice and treatment can be quickly and informally obtained by popping in to the nearest ‘Morya’. Thailand’s teaching hospitals and universities offer degrees in pharmacy which are as intensive and demanding as their Western counterparts and include in-depth studies similar to the first part of a lengthy degree in medicine. As well as anatomy and physiology, there’s also medical and pharmaceutical law to get to grips with, and that’s before an exacting study of organic chemistry and biochemistry which comes into play. The end result of the seven-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree program is a highly-trained individual, able to make laboratory tests, diagnose conditions and prescribe the appropriate treatment and medication for an extensive range of symptoms and ailments. It’s exactly what the Thai people themselves have always expected of a good pharmacist, but you can rest assured that there’s an excellent pharmacist in each of the Morya branches.


Probably the best proof of all this is in the wide range of supplementary services that are also offered. They are able to run blood tests for diagnostic purposes, supply mini-oxygen cylinders and masks and have a rental service if crutches or a wheelchair are needed. They can even identify what medication you are currently using and either offer you an alternative, or actually track-down and provide you with an identical product. There’s a delivery service, too, with temperature-controlled storage for those medicines which require it. Hopefully, you’ll never need these services, but it’s reassuring to know that this kind of aftercare is readily available all over the island and at a cost that doesn’t have you reaching for a credit card. But this is a further point in Khun Kwanchai’s overall plan; all of his pharmacies have a realistic approach to pricing and every outlet has an identical pricing policy.


Although the social role of a pharmacy in Thailand differs somewhat from its Western equivalent, you’ll find that there’s a reassuringly-familiar array of products on the shelves. In addition to the tropically-biased sun-creams, mosquito repellents, prickly-heat or allergy treatments, Thai and Chinese herbal medicines and exotic balms, there’re also cosmetic, hair and beauty products, baby-care and health-care items and diet supplements, with many imported and familiar brand-names prominently on display. Exactly what you’d expect, in fact, from any shop with the word ‘pharmacy’ written on the front in your home country.


Except, in this case, there is also the word ‘Morya’ to go with it, plus the distinctive green cross of their logo. You’ll find a branch just about every populated area on the island and an additional benefit is that they stay open late, with the more-central branches closing at midnight. It seems that at Morya Pharmacies they’re not only keeping tabs on everything but they’ve pretty much got the whole business sewn up and taped, too!


Rob De Wet


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