Want to get your teeth into Thailand? Don't come for Phuket, Samui, Chiang Mai, shopping or sex... There's a better reason: getting your teeth fixed.
Recently, when a jolly dentist told me I needed all my teeth out and dentures, I wasn't too happy. The dentist was jolly as he was working in a pretty little coastal town just north of Brisbane. Or maybe it was because he said they could all come out for $6000, plus $3000 for the dentures, and $1000 for the hospital -- no wonder he was smiling.
Fortunately, my ace in the hole was that I was about to return to Bangkok, where I've lived half-time for 10 years.
I arrived back just after Songkran, the Thai New Year. Great for kids, teenagers (Wai roon) and those who enjoy being ruthlessly soaked and plastered forcefully with Bang (talc) for four straight days, but it palls quickly.
Each year some 300 die on the roads as they go home for the festival. The Kingdom also wasn't its usual smiling self as it was almost three years into military rule and many were still wearing black after the King's death in October 2016.
If you can't wait to get your teeth into real Thai culture then forget about Pattaya and the temples and visit the Bangkok dental clinics.
My first appointment was with one of the many clinics located in Siam square. This is tourist central, home to MBK, and more dental (and skin) clinics. This dentist was one of the few who took the trouble to open the 3D Xray I'd brought from Oz.
The Siam Square Mor's (they call 'em Drs, though they ain't) advice was to keep 'em, but he went into detail about root canals and implants. This would cost 100000 baht ($4000). These treatments make dentists of all nations smile as they're time consuming and costly. One offered by another Bangkok dental franchise, called the 3x4, costs around 300,000 baht ($12000).
Tiring of the central city clinics I set out to the wilds of eastern Bangkok. This clinic had a website that promised free consultations and a limo ride there. On arrival, I was given an almost royal welcome, with several attendants and a full surgery -- including other Australians.
This Mor was a long-haired man with a brisk, businesslike manner, although on his website he looked like a well-fed Charles Sobraj. He came up with a similarly daunting plan for numerous root canals and implants and charged me 500 baht ($20) for the consultation.
This left two more clinics and two hospitals. First was a clinic north of Sukhumvit in a Soi (street) full of Chinese tour buses and massage parlors that the police raid sporadically. The nurse who took my blood pressure had a magnificent smile, but the lady Mor told a similar sad story of many implants and root canals.
So off to another clinic in Tonglor, a more up-market location with a mainly Japanese clientele. The dentist turned up over an hour late due to the ever-present 'rot tit' (heavy traffic). She was pleasant but could only give a pencil sketch of her plan -- just as costly as the one near Sukhumvit.
The second Australian dentist I'd seen had recommended to get 'em all out in a hospital and have an 'immediate denture' fitted. So I checked out two. The first was in lower Sukhumvit, one of the best-known in Bangkok with programs for Korean and Japanese patients.
The dentist was a very elderly lady who showed little interest and advised me to go to the Dental Hospital near Victory Monument, a place for Thais that foreigners can use as well. Some of their dentists are graduate students and their charges are much lower.
I then went to a close-by private Dental Hospital, where at last I found a sympathetic experienced dentist who came up with a plan for extractions, fillings, and two partial dentures -- all for around 30000 baht ($1200). He told me not to drink fruit juice and get rid of my sweet tooth.
So my story eventually had a happy ending. No, not that kind.
After several trips, I had four teeth out, eight fillings, a deep clean and two partial dentures, all for the reasonable amount of 34000 baht ($1360). I'd avoided joining the gummies club by the skin of my teeth!
If you can't wait to get your teeth into real Thai culture then forget about Pattaya and the temples and visit the Bangkok dental clinics. Thailand sells itself as a 'medical and dental hub' for the region. Most of the doctors and dentist speak English, and many have overseas credentials. On the other hand, the Shinawatra originated 30 baht hospital scheme for ordinary Thais is on its last legs, and many provincial hospitals are going broke.
The country's reputation as a tourist paradise is now rather tarnished. It's been listed as one of the most dangerous places for Australians to visit -- motorbike, road, and boat accidents, as well as murders, rapes, robberies and con-men.
But if you like hospitals decorated as shopping malls, with McDonalds, Au Bon Pain, the occasional grand piano recital and friendly staff, you've come to the right place. Just make sure you've got the cash -- or very generous private insurance.