You know you need a holiday when you’re pathetically weeping two days before you leave because the weather looks terrible and maybe you should just cancel it and fly somewhere else where the monsoon isn’t hitting and therefore you need find a new hotel even though you spent ages finding one with a great pool and atmosphere because what’s the point because it’s cold and rainy anyway.

That’s how I felt before flying to Vietnam last year. My spirit was tired.

On the day we left I decided the weather could shove the rain up its tornado and I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to explore and relax and eat pho and not look at Twitter for a good two weeks on my first overseas adventure with my boyfriend.

Flying into Hoi An was a breeze. We arrived at our hotel and were flabbergasted at its beauty, a Balinese style villa with just five rooms that overflowed with indulgence, even though the price was backpacker friendly. We dumped our bags and started the 20 minute trek in to town. The hotel was in a quiet part of town, surrounded by houses and dirt tracks full of kids playing and wild dogs sniffing trees.

That glorious feeling of being in an unknown culture immediately returned to me, when everything normal becomes odd and slightly thrilling, from the hundreds of non-white faces beaming smiles at me to the bustling local restaurants packed with plastic Coca-Cola slogan chairs and playing loud Asian pop.

As we walked into town, Tom began complaining of a headache. “It’s fine, you just need some water. You’re just tired. We’ll eat soon and then you’ll stop whinging,” I told him.

It was his first trip to Asia and I thought perhaps all the new smells were making his senses freak out or something.

After wandering the small colonial streets, packed with tailors spriuking their wares and overpriced touristy cafes, we found a restaurant and sat down to eat. Tom was looking queasy, so I quickly ordered.

“These spring rolls are a revelation!” I announced. Tom said he didn’t want anything, because his mouth was hurting. This is a man who plans breakfast before he’s eaten dinner, so if he says no to a meal, you know something must be seriously wrong.

But I was starving. It wasn’t until Tom started spitting blood into his glass that I realised maybe it was more than jet lag.

He opened up his mouth and I saw a giant blister on the side of his gum that was spewing blood. His face had gone white and looked like he might keel over at any minute.

We’d been in the country for two hours by this stage. It was 8pm on a Tuesday night.

Jumping into a cab, Tom admitted that he hadn’t been to a dentist for ten years. Great.

Back in the no-longer-so-relaxing villa, Tom stood in the bathroom spitting up blood while the hotel manager tried to contact a dentist. My low blood pressure is notorious and people only have to tell me a gory story about someone I’ve never met suffering an injury and I can pass out cold on a tram (true story). So watching my boyfriend perform a live show of The Exorcist in my bathroom had me unable to breathe.

Instead, I lay outside on the cool tiles, about 10m away, feebly yelling out “you ok?” every few minutes.

When not dealing with the blood volcano in his mouth, Tom would stress about money. “That’s it, the holiday is over. We’ll probably have to fly home. This is going to cost thousands. In fact, next year’s trip to South America is probably not happening because do you know how expensive dental work is? My sister just spent like 10 grand on her teeth…”

I told him perhaps he was a touch overreacting. And we had travel insurance.

“Oh god, I’ve never noticed that this tooth at the back is black. I think it’s dead..,” he replied.

Finally the hotel manager returned saying he had found a dentist. Tom was going to ride on the back of a motorbike and I would have to wait back there alone. I spent it pacing up and down wondering if I could pretend that I didn’t mind that my boyfriend was suddenly missing teeth.

An hour later Tom returned, smile from ear to ear. It was a minor infection. He just needed some antibiotics. No black teeth, they were just stained by blood. Apparently the dentist didn’t speak a word of English and ignored Tom for most of the appointment, instead carrying on a loud conversation with the hotel manager and occasionally stabbing Tom’s mouth with needles. The whole thing — including antibiotics — cost $20.

From then on, the trip was a breeze.We relaxed and drove scooters alongside rice paddies and Tom ate two dinners a night to ensure he got to taste everything.

A week or so later we went and got both our teeth cleaned and checked at an international clinic in Hanoi which was fancier than any other dentist I’d ever visited. It cost us $40 each.

Turns out, if you’re going to have a dental emergency, Vietnam isn’t a bad choice to have it in. Spend the thousands on swish hotels and delicious spring rolls instead.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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