A tuk tuk driver hiding from the Bangkok sun.
So why would anyone fly from America to Bangkok, Thailand with the country’s hottest month of the year, April, fast approaching? To steal a sarcastic line from Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “I came for weather”.
Anyone who’s been to Thailand will tell you it is ‘hot all the time’. Even the monks are uncomfortably mindful of the heat. In April the average day time high in Bangkok is around 35c or 95f and it’s not a dry heat like in the American Southwest. It’s a thick, clingy heat that fills your pockets with sweat making the pages of your moleskin notebook curl and its red cover bleed through the fabric giving you the look of a tourist hemorrhaging through his high tech travel shirt.
The reclining Buddha at Wat Poh Bangkok, Thailand
The truth is I came to Thailand because it’s a good place to begin my travels through SE Asia, the visibility for SCUBA diving is especially good in April, and it’s known for cheap, high quality dental care. Some Americans think going out of country for healthcare means putting yourself in the hands of a witchdoctor. Most of those people are not well versed on international healthcare and probably never received care outside of the United States. Being a graduate of an American medical school and having practiced medicine in both the US Navy and private practice I also think the quality of American medical care is very good. But I have worked and trained with physicians from other countries and they provided excellent care too. Early in my career I had to leave a shipmate with an acute appendicitis on a foreign shore in the hands of an unknown surgeon. I worried about the young man for the balance of our deployment but when we pulled into Norfolk he was waving at us from the pier looking and feeling great.
In fact medications, surgical techniques and new treatment regimens are developed by physicians and dentists from around the world and many of those medicines and practices become the standard of care in America. What America does more poorly than many countries is the access and delivery of healthcare as well as its cost management. The costs of American healthcare is ridiculously high and it’s priced as erratically as airplane seats.
The Bangkok clinic I visited was approved by the same agency that approves hospitals in America. It was seven stories tall and offered most dental specialities along with 3D imagining services. The medications and instruments were the same we use in America but the prices were about half of what I’d pay back in the states and the dentists all spoke English. In fact my primary dentist had just returned from three years of training in the US. The main difference I noticed was a gentleness to the doctors movements and a slower, softer speaking pattern. Those traits were more pronounced in the two female dentists than the male but they all exhibited the traits. The other difference between America and Thailand was having your doctor clasp their hands together and bow as you entered the exam room. And it didn’t have a heavy religious “Praise Jesus” type of feel either. It was more a respectful gesture which set a pleasant dynamic for the doctor-patient relationship. Through their speech, body language, and touch I was assured they were doing the best they could for me and they performed the procedures smoothly and with confidence. It was by far the best dental experience I have had in my sixty one years.
My Scuba Club instructor team between dives at Mango Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand
I deferred a molar implant because I didn’t want my dental care to interfere with my diving so I just had my teeth whitened and some veneers placed. The temporary veneers are made of plastic not porcelain and therefore are much more fragile. The first night with the temporaries I cracked a significant piece off. I showed up the next morning at the office and they gave me an appointment for later that morning. The dentist patched me up, talked about the common reasons chips occur, asked about my diving plans and dispensed some travel advice. He charged me 150 Thai Baht, the same amount I paid for my morning Starbucks, about 4 US dollars. I have since done five dives including a wreck dive down to almost 90 feet without any dental issues. In a few days I will return to Bangkok to have the permanent veneers placed.
One of the SCUBA Club team preparing for our night dive at 3 Rocks in Koh Tao, Thailand.
Even with the heat Thailand is a fine place to start a trip through SE Asia, to SCUBA dive, and to see a dentist.