…and not once.
As I was conversing with the doctor at the travel clinic before my trip to Vietnam and Thailand she said “I’ll prescribe you doxycycline for when you inevitably have diarrhea.” I chuckled. I thought she would too.
She didn’t laugh, she was completely serious, and worst of all, she was absolutely right.
Hot Mess Tip #1 – Don’t Drink the Water
Our tummies in the USA (or Canada or the UK or wherever you’re from) are so delicate that if you accidentally consume drinking water in these places, you will have diarrhea akin to preparing for a colonoscopy. I could embellish, but do you really need more nuance?
Tips about places water hides:
- Brush teeth with bottled water (or don’t brush them)
- Be careful eating produce that may still be wet after having been washed with water
- Drinking out of a glass that has been recently washed
- Be weary of melting ice in your glass or ice on cans taken from a cooler, etc.
Story Time: I Brushed My Teeth with Tap Water
I had gotten lazy by the end of our trip, feeling a bit cocky that I hadn’t gotten sick yet when I didn’t think it through and used tap water for my toothbrush before bed at a hostel in downtown Bangkok.
I woke up at 3 AM to my body pooping my pants. It was pretty jarring. Sharing a bed with my friend as I was, I scurried to the hostel bathroom down the hall, assessed the damage, and determined that no clothing from my waist down was salvageable and that I also couldn’t put it back on my body to collect fresh clothes. I threw my pants and underwear away, washed my butthole and surrounding surfaces, and then scurried back to my room – the literal furthest room from the bathroom, naked from the waist down.
As I was digging through my bag in the dark trying to find new bottoms when my friend stirred and looked at me, “what are you doing?” she asked. Worried she would think I was some pervert in the middle of the night naked from the waist down on her side of the bed (where my bag was) I looked down at my genitals, panicked, and said “it’s not what you think, I shit my pants.”
Hot Mess Tip #2 – Buy Food from Sketchy Vendors
Food advice is just as important. In Thailand and Vietnam, street food is plentiful and delicious and if you don’t eat it, where are you even eating? Yet, not all street food is created equal. My recommendations follow:
- Follow the wisdom of crowds. If locals are eating there, it’s probably safe and also delicious.
- Make sure food (especially meat) is cooked through and served hot
- Actually, just eat basically everything steaming hot and you’ll be grand
Story Time: A Miscalculation with No Backup Plan
At one point my friend and I stopped to order two mango smoothies from a vendor on the beach. Despite ordering an identical drink, they came out looking very different, I guess I picked the wrong one because that night after strolling along the beach in Ko Phi Phi, we ended up at a hostel bar putting on an outdoor beach fire show and ordering a beer. As we left, we agreed to stop in the bathroom, which we didn’t realize until we were there, was disgusting.
There was a dripping tap over a 50-gallon trash can, which was to the brim with dark murky water and no toilet paper, and everything was soaking wet somehow. There was no soap, obviously. It was basically a permanently-there portapotty.
I had to go so I decided to take my chances because I thought I could pull it off without touching anything. “It’s only a pee so I’ll just hover over the toilet,” I told myself but as it turns out it was NOT only a pee.
After succumbing to sitting on the wet toilet seat (I know, help), I finished the job I wasn’t expecting to do and looked around. I was not willing to figure things out with my hand because if I did there was no soap, so it was a non-option. I looked in my wallet. I had a 20 THB bill (about 60 cents US) and you can fill in the rest. I spent the rest of our trip worrying the Thai king would have me arrested for what I was forced to do to his likeness.
Hot Mess Tip #3 – Don’t be afraid to indulge
Eat the food in the alley! Dust off the fruit and take a bite! Drink the bucket of booze for $4 with melting ice diluting that top-notch rail flavor! And for goodness sakes, ALWAYS drink the worm at the bottom of a bottle!! Wait, no, that last one is Mexico.
While eating in SE Asia, most of the time your liquid poos will be respectful enough to come at a time when you’re ready for them. The street food is more than worth a miscalculation or two. And even if you accidentally expose yourself to a friend at 3 a.m. due to the trouble, you’ll have a great story to share.
– Anthony Bourdain
“Your body is not a temple. It’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”