A quick post before I get to Laos:
Before I came to Korea, I did extensive research into how Korean hospitals and pharmacies work. The consensus I found was that painkillers are very strictly controlled, and sleeping pills are not.
My experience with Korean hospitals has been good and bad.
The good- treatment is speedy, clean, and cheap, you don't need to bring your insurance card, just your ARC. This includes trips to get pills and x-rays, and I was able to get LASIK done same day with no appointment.
The bad- Doctors are paid by fee for service...I'm assuming most of you never took a course on health economics but this means they are heavily incentivized to prescribe as much tests and pills as possible "just to be safe". A lot of American doctors do this too.
Do NOT let them screw you. If you are going to the hospital with a clear intention, do not be afraid to decline all the extra crap they push on you without even explaining what it is. When it comes to drugs you aren't trying to score, JUST SAY NO!
Here's a common hospital scenario for foreigners:
Otto Oxycontin walks into the ER and announces he's a foreigner. Within minutes, he is directed to an English-speaking doctor who graduated from a Korean, i.e. questionable-at-best university. He complains of back-pain, migraines, and insomnia. The doctor is too incompetent to observe drug-seeking behavior but if he wasn't, he wouldn't care.
Otto is then run through the gauntlet which he doesn't object to, as he's heard of it from friends before-
First the x-rays, the butt-shot, and then a prescription for 4 different pills. He is charged ~$5 copay and a reasonable price at the pharmacy, but is disappointed when he gets home and finds out that in his strip of pill packets, 1 is digestion medication, 1 is a NSAID, 1 is a weak muscle relaxant, and only 1 is what he came to get.
Fee-for-service doctors prescribe all sorts of shit, that's just basic economics. However, the stories I'd heard of easy-to-get sleeping pills have not been true in my experience.
Most Recent Hospital Experience
Complaint: 1 week of insomnia with no other problems/pain.
Received: 7ct 10mg Stillnox, aka Ambien, Zolpidem.
Charged: 4.9k copay, 2k for the 7 pills, so about 1$ per 10mg.
Time spent: Negligible.
Conclusion: Don't be an idiot like me and bring back only 3 pills from vacation. I should've brought back 300. Airport security is confiscating liquids, not pills, and Korean docs are pill-dispensers, but not the good kind.