Thailand Health Travel Tips
A former colleague who is also a travel fiend like me once remarked that you know you’re getting old(er) when you have to pack more medication than clothes for your holidays!
There is no doubt that as we get older we become more susceptible to infections and illnesses particularly on long haul travels to tropical destinations and / or third world countries. On my very first trip to Thailand I recall waiting in a hotel lobby in Chang Mai with some other people for a day trip to some attraction or other. Suddenly the table that I was leaning against gave way and the legs collapsed, (riddled with woodworm) and I fell flat on my back on the hardwood floor – and came around very sore and a little dazed. Instantly a small army of hotel staff appeared and picked me up, dusted me down and carted away the offending furniture item before you could even think of much less utter the word ‘compensation’. A glass of fruit juice was served to me on a silver platter by a smiling Thai waitress. It didn’t cure the pain in my back so I went for a Thai massage the next day. A proper Thai massage where I remained clothed and with lots of pulling and pushing and kung fu like jabs. No funny business and a happy ending of a different sort – I felt much better / recovered and was able to enjoy the rest of my trip and partake fully in all activities. I recommended the Thai massage to one of my fellow travellers so he gave it a try also. His comments on the experience are unprintable – he found it to be a tad uncomfortable.
It hasn’t quite reached the stage with me yet of packing more meds than clothes but I do seem to have an ever-lengthening list of meds or supplements that I usually pack in my mini medical kit, either because I may need them daily or ‘just in case’. Thankfully I usually bring most of them home unused but it can save a lot of hassle to have some emergency supplies in case you’re laid low while travelling. And remember to keep the more essential items handy / accessable and not stowed in your luggage on a bus, train or plane that you might not be reunited with for several hours.
For trips to the tropics deet is a must to repel mosquitoes. Thai people are very friendly but Thai mossies are vicious little ba*tards! All that biting, sucking and nibbling – just like the ladies but without any of the pleasure! Citronella oil is a milder alternative to deet. A few drops on your pillow at night seems to repel the little buggers – and it smells nice too! Anti-histamines and bite cream are essential packing for me also as no matter how careful I am the mossies always seem to attack me at a weak moment – probably when I’m drinking or distracted by the ladies. Some people swear by gin and tonic. Apparently the quinine in the tonic is an antidote to malaria. And who drinks tonic on its own? Just be careful about the ice though!
For some other meds it can be an idea to remove them from the packet / box if space in your bag is an issue. Something for tummy upsets (Rennies / Pepto bismol) and / or diarohea are also prudent to carry and a few sachets of dioralyte (electrolytes) to help replace lost fluids and salts if you get a particularly bad dose. (A bottle of Sprite allowed to go ‘flat’ can be just as effective).
Bear in mind that most common medications can probably be bought at your destination, albeit under a different brand / name. There seems to be quite a few Boots pharmacies around Bangkok now and local pharmacists can usually dispense advice in English and the appropriate medication for most travel-related illnesses. Even antibiotics can be issued without a doctor’s prescription in Thailand and many other third world countries. How the compliance regulators / health and safety ninjas in the western world must hate that! I recently discovered probiotics that can be taken in capsule form and apparently help to give the stomach an extra ‘lining’ that can help to prevent or treat many digestive problems. And remember that if tummy trouble does strike then the ubiqutous 7-11 shops are your friend. In a country where plain food can be hard / impossible to find you can easily find plain crackers, pot noodles and yoghurts that also provide important ‘cultures’ that are good for the tummy. As you begin to recover a medicinal brandy with a dash of port is a well tried and tested remedy for digestive problems. Just the one, mind!
On one occasion the dreaded traveller’s tummy struck while I was spending a few days on Ko Samet. The local pharmacist dispensed antibiotics and issued strict instructions to avoid alcohol, fried food, fish and vegetables for the next three days. That didn’t leave me with a whole lot of options. Later that night as I sat sipping a sprite at a beach bar with some of the locals I mentioned my condition and the prescribed fast / diet. I was inundated with offers to find me a lady to ‘take care’. I politely demurred as it was clear to me that the prime candidates did not have any nursing qualifications or experience – but were undoubtedly experienced ‘care givers’ in all other respects. In Thailand there is always an angle to sell a service that is not necessarily appropriate to the requirement.
Any basic medical kit should also contain some sticking plasters, antiseptic cream and painkillers, for any minor cuts and scrapes – or even just to ease a hangover. A small bottle of hand sanitiser gel and / or wet wipes and pocket tissues are also useful to pack – just remember to use them as our western immune systems are not used to some of the unusual bacteria in the East
I always carry some aspirin tablets with my passport and take one before each long haul flight to help prevent the risk of embolism or deep vein thrombosis. There is a long held theory that the recycled air on long haul flights can increase the risk of respiratory infections being passed on. I recently read about a study that QANTAS did on the subject and apparently the hard surfaces such as your seat, arm rests, tray table, remote control etc pose a far higher risk of transmitting bugs than recycled air, which kinda makes sense. This is where wet wipes or tea tree oil could come in handy.
Prevention is better than cure and having suffered a few tummy troubles, most likely caused by eating sub-standard street food, my advice is to only eat at street stalls where there are plenty of locals also eating – or retreat inside to the wonderful food courts. I recall once getting sick after gorging on street food (a burrito) in Honduras and having to endure a full day’s bus journey on to Nicaragua the next day. A couple of young Australian nurses that were travelling in the same tour group had taken the precaution of carrying some ‘sick bags’ with them and boy was I grateful to them as I frequently had to throw up during the journey. Another member of our tour group empathised with me later and recounted his bad street food experience while travelling in India and having to vomit all day into a squat toilet on a slow-moving and very dirty train. However bad you might be feeling there is probably always somebody worse off.
For the naughty boys amongst us the usual precautions apply – but of course can be overlooked in the height / heat of the moment. Usually the ladies provide ‘the protection’ but sometimes it might not be the right size! Apparently Thai men tend to take a small size : ) A burst condom can cause unbelievable stress for all parties so it’s best to carry your own backup and take responsibility for your own sexual health.
Some of the ladies I’ve met in Thailand seem to prefer their ‘meat raw’ in some circumstances. I asked one young lady I met in an upmarket soapy if she was worried about catching STDs from her customers. She told me that she always carefully examines the goods before deciding to taste and washes all relevant body parts very thoroughly! I hadn’t the heart to explain to her that most STDs are not treatable with soap and water and are invisible to the naked eye. But maybe she knew more about the risks than the W.H.O.!
There is an old sailor’s maxim about taking a pee immediately after sex to flush out any unwanted visitors! Sound advice if you have the right bladder control. An old seadog friend of mine tells me that the sailors sometimes supplement that with a shot of penicillin when they return to the ship from shore leave. Which reminds me of an old gag about a lady wondering out loud what to get her husband for a birthday present:
‘What do you get for the man who has everything?’ she asks her friends.
‘Penicillin’, is the droll response!
I read a comment on a discussion board once about a guy whose doctor recommended he carry a small bottle of mouthwash and use it to disinfect (and not just his mouth) after time spent with a lady of the night. Apparently the alcohol in the mouthwash can help to kill bacteria. Sounds like a nicer alternative than Dettol but who would have known?
I recall another reading on another fairly graphic discussion thread about boosting the male hormones or more specifically the semen reserves when planning to indulge in more sex than usual (e.g. multiple shots). One poster was advocating nude sun bathing to boost the vitamin D levels! I think there are tablets for that nowadays. Apparently peanuts can also be a useful supplement!
A browse of the web for country and region specific healthy travel advice can also be helpful and maybe save you an expensive trip to the doctor for unwarranted anti-malarial prescriptions – but don’t skimp on this protection if the region you are visiting is high risk for malaria.
Stickman’s recommendation of daily vitamin C / zinc is a simple and easy precaution to take. I recall once catching a cold as I was travelling in the Baltics. I tried to ‘kill the cold’ with alcohol at a bar in Estonia one night but it didn’t work. So I bought a large carton of orange juice next day as I set off for my next destination. Unfortunately the carton leaked in my backpack and killed my mobile phone instead! So even some remedies have their unexpected risks too.
If you do come a cropper of course make sure you have a decent travel insurance policy and keep your receipts for a claim when you get back home. And follow Stickman’s advice and seek out a good / recommended hospital e.g. Bumrungrad in Bangkok if your condition is in any way serious.
Now if only I could remember to take my own advice more often I might avoid some of those travel woes that can spoil a good holiday.
Wishing all Stickman readers happy and healthy travels.
The author of this article cannot be contacted.