How to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea and Tonsai Tummy in Thailand

Food poisoning, Tonsai tummy, Montezuma’s Revenge, E. Coli, Salmonella, whatever you want to call it, Traveler’s Diarrhea is a surefire way to ruin your trip. With climbers and tourists flocking to tropical locations during the coming winter months, there’s a whole lot of people about to experience explosive diarrhea and vomiting. You probably won’t die but you might end up in the hospital with dehydration, and I’m here to help you avoid it.

Bangkok Food Cart
That cleaver could easily be used against you if you’re an asshat.

 

Tips for avoiding Traveler’s Diarrhea

I spent 3.5 months traveling Thailand and nearly escaped without getting Traveler’s Diarrhea, eating street food almost exclusively. (It’s the cheapest and most authentic!) It wasn’t until the last 2 weeks when it finally got me and forced me to postpone my SCUBA diving certification for a day.

Get the Immunizations on the U.S. CDC Travel Website

Go to the CDC Travel website, and then navigate to the country you’re visiting. They’ll have all the recommended immunizations to help keep you healthy abroad. For Thailand, they currently list:

  • All routine immunizations for here in the U.S.
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • And I’d throw Hep B in there for good measure if you need a booster. Hey, shit happens when you travel and party.

Start Eating more Variety now

Thai Street Food

Different vegetables, different fruits, different meats, different cooking methods.

If you eat a relatively strict diet, your body will react poorly no matter what you eat, even in your own home. If you’re a good citizen of the Midwest, you probably eat a healthy dose of corn, carrots, and potatoes. But if that’s all you ever eat and never mix in any type of leafy greens, you’ll likely end up having a toilet explosion the first time you try. Better to do it from the comfort of your own bathroom (though, bum guns are AWESOME!).

This is because our body adapts to everything we do, including the things we eat. If we never eat kale or spinach or chard, our body will stop producing the enzymes needed to digest those foods. Same goes for fruits, other vegetables, meat, cooking methods, and different types of seasonings and spices.

Bonus Education: This is also why some people claim gluten intolerance. If you stop eating gluten long enough, and then reintroduce back into your diet, of course you’re going to explode out your butt. Thus reinforcing the belief you have a gluten intolerance.

Find Authentic Restaurants in your Area

Rice with Pha-Loa
This is rice with pha loa. I was hoping it would be a version of the Vietnamese dish: Thit Kho Trung, but sadly it was not.

This goes along with more variety, but specifically the types of food you’ll encounter on your trip. It’s still not going to be the same, but it will be better.

Strengthen your Guts

That is, make sure your gut flora is as healthy, built-up, and strong as possible. Foods with active, live bacteria really help in this area. Anything fermented (like sauerkraut and kimchi), raw milk, some yogurts, kombucha, and kefir are good places to start.

Start Practicing Slightly Unsafe Food Handling Practices

Thailand Street Vendor Doing Dishes

This one will be the most controversial (and probably most difficult to get past mentally), but take it from someone that lives in a van: food is a lot more stable for a lot longer time than you currently believe.

Leave cooked food out a little longer before putting it in the fridge. Leave raw food out a little longer before cooking. Eat leftovers that are a week old (or more). Expose your gut to all sorts of bacteria, but start slow and give your body time to adapt. Use common sense. i.e. Probably don’t leave raw chicken out for 4 days and only partially cook it.

Next, you’ll probably think this is gross but…..wash your hands LESS. I don’t want to give examples of when and why, you’ll get the ida, but again….bacteria and adaptation.

Politically Correct, Boring, Safe Advice

You’ll be told this at the travel clinic, but also use common sense while traveling. Avoid uncooked food (but don’t, you’ll miss out), make sure the restaurant is clean (even though you can’t ensure that anyways, plus street food is the fucking bomb), and make sure your drinking water is safe.

What to do if you get Traveler’s Diarrhea

HQ Hostel Private Bathroom
This will be your favorite room, and the bum gun will be your favorite thing ever. Way better than toilet paper under these circumstances.

And if you get traveler’s diarrhea anyways? Come armed with prescribed Traveler’s Diarrhea antibiotics, Pepto Bismol, Imodium AD, and Dramamine. Accept how much it sucks. Treat yourself to a private room with AirCon for the day. Drink as many fluids as you can keep down.

Before I realized I had Tonsai Tummy, I was in a room without A/C. Once I figured out what was happening, I all but crawled to the front desk to change rooms (it was a whopping $15 upgrade for the night). I then spent the better part of a day curled up in the fetal position on the bed, making trips to the toilet about every 10 minutes. I took Pepto Bismol and Immodium AD to try calm my stomach and guts at the suggested dosage intervals, and I took Dramamine to try suppress the anxiety and relax.

If you know anyone traveling to some far off country this year, feel free to share this article with them!





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