Before you embark on your first Southeast Asian adventure, it might be best for you to learn from my mistakes.
Food poisoning in SEA is more or less inevitable at some point, especially if you like to eat as the locals do, which I strongly encourage. I’ve tried being vegetarian, avoiding ice and salad, etc., but at some point I always suffer from some element of non-normalcy in the toilet department. Once, in Cambodia, I even went for three days on just rice, freshly caught crab and bottled water to avoid needing to do ‘twosies’ while camping.
Even when you end up violently ill, it’s usually entirely worth it. I’ve said previously that sometimes we must balance the deliciousness of the food with the risk of food poisoning, and I always vote for number one – food!
After many trips to SEA and many experiences of surviving less than normal stomach and toilet behavior, I thought I was a true survivor and all over the solo traveling experience. Then, I went solo to Myanmar. I had been desperate to get there before it became “too touristy” and managed to accomplish this before there were ATMs and before tour groups started there.
Anyway, off I went to the land of 1,000 stupas and wow, did I enjoy some mean curry! It was so good, and yes, as I found out… so mean! I remember one particular meal (actually I don’t, but I remember the aftermath) – stomach pains and multiple toilet trips.
The following day, I travelled to Yangon, checked into a dorm and made friends with a gorgeous American girl. I still didn’t feel that well, but was not going to miss out on exploring, so off we went to explore the sights of the Shwedagon Pagoda (the ‘Crown of Myanmar’ – apparently it holds more gold than in all the vaults of England). It was incredible.
That night, when we returned, I realized I was really not feeling well… I hadn’t actually eaten all day, so I stomached a tiny bit of food, said goodbye to my new friend, who left early the following morning, and went to bed. I continued to feel TERRIBLE and was up and down to the bathroom all night. Unfortunately (and stupidly), I only had a couple of Hydralyte and nothing at all to stop my diarrhea or vomiting (huge mistake).
The next day I managed to score my own room and spent the day dragging myself back and forth between bathroom and bedroom. I ended up so exhausted, I remember trying to pack, one item of clothing at a time, as I was flying out the next day. I then realized I hadn’t really eaten properly for a couple of days. I practically crawled down the two flights of stairs to the guesthouse restaurant, ordered some plain rice and a Fanta. I drank a fair amount of Fanta, ate two mouthfuls of rice and decided it was not helping.
I walked up the first few stairs, where I passed a French guy brushing his teeth (the sink/mirror was in the hallway). Suddenly, I had this inexorable need to vomit. There was nothing I could do except pivot and leap towards the sink, promptly knocking dear French man (sorry whoever you are!) out of the way and power-chucking fluoro-orange Fanta, rice, curry and corn (why is there always corn in it even if you’ve not eaten it?!) all over the sink. I did unfortunately see the look of absolute horror on Frenchy’s face as I put my head down and charged for my room (sorry again – blame the food!).
I was too sick to find any help, medication, doctors or pharmacies and there were none near my guesthouse. I knew exactly where to go when I got to Cambodia, my Asian home, and had lots of friends there to care for me.
The next day I had finally stopped vomiting and was going to the toilet a little less frequently. I got to the airport and was in the lounge, ready for my flight, via Bangkok, to Cambodia. At this point, I was so relieved to be leaving.
Next, I was given the news that the flight was delayed. By then, I felt weak, emotional and hadn’t eaten properly for another whole day – I just wanted to cry. The lounge had nowhere to purchase food/drink, but the airline provided a plain cheese sandwich. I decided to attempt it and was pleasantly surprised when it stayed inside me. Eventually, we boarded the plane. I sat between two lovely businessmen – both decided fish was a great choice, one fancied red wine, and the other, coffee. My nose and stomach did not fancy their choices. I made a grab for each of their vomit bags, as well as my own and commenced the power-chucking routine again.
The airline was a lifesaver and gave me pillows, water and three seats behind everyone, near the bathroom. Upon arrival to Bangkok, they tried to convince to me stay in Bangkok, but NOTHING was stopping me now from getting to the familiar people and comfort of Cambodia. They kindly wheel-chaired me through the airport to my connection. Numerous people told me that I looked like I’d been shot and offered various medicines from strange bottles. My mum taught me to never accept candy from strangers – so I definitely didn’t accept medicine even though I REALLY wanted to at this point.
Finally, when I got to Cambodia, I was able to get all the medicine and Hydralyte I needed, and came to life just in time for a Khmer Christmas Day dinner to end my famine.
It was one of the toughest few days of my life, it took me nearly two years to eat curry again and I still feel a bit queasy if the thought of curry catches me off guard. But, I conquered it and I would not exchange that experience for anything.
Travel is always worth it but now I NEVER travel without the following:
- Hydralyte – and if you think you have enough, times that number by another 20.
- Water purification tablets – JUST IN CASE you get stuck somewhere without drinking water!
- Tablets to stop each end.
- Stomach antibiotics
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- Dry crackers – sometimes the only thing you can stomach.
- Pack all medication, a set of clothes (and undies) in hand luggage. You never know when you’ll end up on a 16 hour flight with food poisoning and then have the airline lose your bag for 3 days… but that’s another story!
Have you ever gotten super sick while traveling?
About the author:
As a result of her love for adventure and travel, Emma Turner is often introduced by her mother as “The Gypsy One.” She first started traveling in Southeast Asia in her twenties and refuses to stop – though has in more recent years extended her travels to other continents. She says “it’s the food and the people that make the experience.”After practicing criminal and family law in Australia for a number of years, Emma took the plunge and moved to China to teach last year. She loved the expat life and living abroad so much that when an opportunity to move to Romania arose she fully embraced it. Emma has a strong passion for helping the plight of children and women in developing countries, and it’s strengthened through travel. She also loves new food, cooking, running, fitness and yoga. The only thing she loves nearly as much as traveling is writing or talking about traveling, and inspiring others to take the chance and experience everything the world has to offer. She recently started a blog about expat life and travels – you can follow it at http://thegypsydaughter.blogspot.ro