Tonsai Longtail

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!

Scuba Diving Koh Tao Fish

Learn to Dive in Koh Tao, Thailand

**Disclaimer: I received this Open Water dive package for free through a partnership with Go Beyond Asia. I enjoyed myself so much that I paid for the Advanced Open Water Certification with my own money and received no additional discount beyond the usual offer from Coral Grand Divers.

Scuba Diving in Thailand

We all know I went to Thailand for the primary reason to climb my face off. That happened. Multiple times.

But what you may not know, or forgot, but probably just didn’t know/care, is that I also went there with the intent of getting my PADI scuba diving certification. I dove one time for 40 minutes the last time I was in Cozumel, Mexico, and I was hooked. I’ve been a water baby my entire life and being able to stay underwater for 40 minutes at a time, 100 feet underwater is f*cking AWESOME!

Before I get into the diving, we have to back up to the month I lived in Chiang Mai.

Go Beyond Asia

While living in Chiang Mai, I did what I always do: work from a coffee shop. On this particular day, at this particular coffee shop, it was particularly busy. Unlike most places in the U.S., people started sharing tables, and I happened to get seated next to Berit Bonde of Go Beyond Asia.

Go Beyond is an adventure tourism company that coordinates adventure tour packages going off the beaten path that bajillions of tourists have traveled before. They have tour packages in just about every SE Asian country and include scuba diving (duh), city tours, jungle trekking, zip lining, private cabins in Myanmar, and off-road quads, motorcycles, and mountain biking. Oh how relevant to my interests!

One thing led to another, and we were able to work out an agreement that I’d be able to get my dive cert when I visited Koh Tao. YASSSSS!!

Open Water PADI Dive Certification

Coral Grand Divers PropertyI got my certification at the 5-Star PADI Dive resort of Coral Grand Divers. The certification itself includes 4 days of classroom, pool, and ocean diving. The package offered through Go Beyond also comes with basic lodging.

On Day 1, you meet with a dive instructor, get a brief overview of the course, and they hand you a tablet loaded with all the course work. You watch a few movies, bullshit a little, and leave the room with 3 chapters to review and pass the tests.

Day 2 consists of classroom review and your first pool session. (Pro tip: there is a swimming test and treading water test.)

On Day 3, you finally get in the ocean for your first two dives! And another pool session. Which order you do them in just depends on the weather, number of students, and how well you’ve mastered the classroom material and your first pool session.

Day 4, the last day, you get two more open water dives and have to take the final test for your certification.

Throughout the whole process, you have the same dive instructor and group sizes range anywhere from 1-on-1 (which is what I had) and up to 4 people. That’s critically important to develop a relationship with your instructor so he can get a feel for the type of diver you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what your favorite beer and shots are when you’re done for the day. Gosh, divers like to party. Who am I to say no?

(I say that jokingly, but it’s never ok to dive under the influence or extremely hungover. We’d just have a few drinks and call it a night.)

The atmosphere is generally relaxed, people are always smiling, and you instantly bond with your fellow students from around the globe. You are all there for the same reason after all.

Night Diving Koh Tao Thailand

Dive Skills

Scuba Diving Koh Tao ThailandSome of the skills you learn are quite intimidating at first. Taking the regulator out of your mouth underwater while continuing to breathe out might be a little scary if you’re not incredibly confident in your breath holding skills. From there, you advance to taking the entire mask off your face while still breathing through the regulator, but you’re not allowed to plug your nose. I can tell you, it’s kind of a mind fuck to do that and probably the trickiest thing I experienced.

The last skill that’s a little different, is breathing through half your regulator. You do this to simulate your regulator being stuck wide open and it dumping air into your lungs at the max rate. There’s no way you can keep your regulator in and breathe normally if that were a real world scenario. So, what you do, is just put half the regulator in your mouth and you’re basically just breathing bubbles. It’s bizarre, man!

You also learn how to read a dive computer, monitor your oxygen, adjust your buoyancy, equalize the pressure in your head, and get a brief intro to orienteering and navigating underwater with a compass.

Advanced Open Water PADI Diver

As I mentioned, I had such an amazing time with everyone at the resort and the dive instructors I decided to stay 3 extra days and get my advanced open water PADI diver certification with my own cash. Why wouldn’t I? I got to go diving 5 more times!

Here, you have a little leeway on what areas of specialty you’d like to learn. There’s advanced buoyancy, navigation, marine life identification, photography, deep dive, night diving, wreck diving, and propelled vehicle operation (just going off the top of my head).

I opted for advanced buoyancy (because floating completely inverted is fun), deep diving (because it’s an unreal feeling to be 100′ underwater, and I was hoping to get hypoxia), wreck diving, navigation (because ‘eff getting lost underwater), and night diving.

At this point, you’ll have your same instructor for 9 dives, and they should be comfortable with your skills. These dives are a lot less about ‘not dying underwater,’ and more about leading dives and enjoying yourself with what you’ve already learned. And oh the things you’ll see.

Above and Beyond the Package Price

I would be remiss to tell a story about the resort staff at Coral Grand Divers. On the day I showed up, I didn’t realize it until later, but I was beginning a 24 hours of hell in the form of food poisoning. I was originally in a fan-only room per the package with Go Beyond, but once the food poisoning got out of control, I couldn’t stand to be in a fan-only room in 90 degree weather.

At one point, I couldn’t even walk and was about one more trip to the bathroom away from going to the clinic. Right before that, I managed to stagger to the front desk and tell them what was going on. I asked them to upgrade me to an air conditioned room, regardless of cost. They saw the state I was in, upgraded me for free, and allowed me to leave my luggage in the old room until I was well enough to collect it myself.

I am not some hot shot famous person, and I’m not entirely sure they knew of why I was there and what I was doing for them from a business agreement standpoint. That leads me to believe they would have done this for ANY  of their guests. I cannot thank them enough for this because I did NOT want to go to a clinic for an IV of fluids.

Singapore's Gardens By the Bay

Quick Visa Run to Singapore

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two months already. My original 30-day tourist exemption is long over, and I extended that an additional 30 days by renewing at the Chiang Mai Immigration Office. I certainly could have done a border run and got renewed for another 30-days for free, but here are a few reasons I didn’t:

  1. At midnight when trying to fly to Thailand from the U.S., Delta Airlines forced me to buy a budget ticket out of Thailand or they would refuse to allow me to board the plane. So on June 17th, I bought a ticket from Bangkok to Singapore on August 12th.
  2. Doing a border run by land only buys you another 30 days until you have to do another border run. If you have too many 30-day tourist stamps, they start to get suspicious and may deny you entry on any random attempt.
  3. I knew I was staying in Thailand longer than 30 days. With an actual tourist visa that you get at a Thai Embassy while outside of the country, you’re good for 60 days without having to do a border run, and you can extend that for another 30 days by visiting an immigration office and paying a fee.

I decided that Option #3 was the best, and I already had a ticket purchased to get out of the country thanks to #1. As complete, random luck would have it, within my first two months of staying in Thailand, a friend from Boulder moved to Singapore and was gracious enough to let me sleep on the couch. Looks like I’m heading to Singapore!

Bangkok to Singapore

As with all statements about Bangkok transportation, it was easy. Since I have now spent more than a month in Bangkok, I learned the best way to get to and from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is not necessarily the best way that I mentioned previously. Though, I’d rank what I’m about to tell you as #1a and the previous way on the BTS and #1b. It just depends on where you happen to be within the city that will dictate which one you choose.

For me, staying in Silom, the MRT (subway) is the better option even though the BTS (train) interchange are both just steps apart.

Taking the MRT to Suvarnabhumi Airport from Silom is SO EASY.

Simply get on the MRT at the Si Lom station, change trains to the Airport Rail Link (SA City Line) at the Phetchaburi station, and get off when you can’t go any further. That’s the airport.

Once in Singapore…

I Googled directions to my friend’s place and since I wasn’t intimately familiar with Singapore’s MRT system, it seemed like taking the bus with just one transfer was going to be easier than using the MRT with 3 different transfers.

I was wrong. But that’s only in hindsight.

It was almost annoying though, that the bus drivers assumed I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and I needed to have a 5 minute conversation of broken English, smiling, pointing, and cell phone-showing just to convince them I knew where I was going and that I was in fact on the right bus…for each bus. I do not think they realize how powerful The Google and Them Internets are.

No Same Same

Singapore ice cream shop flowersSingapore is not the same as Thailand. Singapore is basically America with a lot less white people.

Gone were the hoards of scooters. Gone were endless rows of street vendors. Gone was cheap food. Gone were the feelings of the Wild Wild West. I couldn’t even find coffee in this neighborhood. You can’t spit in Thailand and miss a coffee stand. I wandered into an ice cream shop, thinking I could have an ice cream and hang out for a couple hours on their wifi. Nope. Singapore isn’t a huge fan of widely available wifi either. So I hung out (and ate — barf) in McDonalds where it is available.

But I did find out that with high enough contrast between your subject and the background and a slightly longer exposure, you can almost create a white room effect without distorting the subject. That was accidental and probably useless knowledge.

I eventually made it to Allison’s and met her rambunctious young daughter. I also found Singapore’s version of cheap street food….which was still four times as expensive as Thailand’s.

Goodnight, Singapore.

Singapore Skyline at Night

The Next Two Days

I didn’t do much of anything. I worked all day the next day, and the following, which was Friday, I made my first trip to the Thai Embassy about 5 minutes before they closed.

You see, Thai websites aren’t always a definitive source of information. Even when it’s something official that could stand to land you a big fine or jailed if misinterpreted. Because Asia. — Adopted saying from fellow SE Asia traveler and climbing homie Elizabeth Bandy.

During these two days, I became intimately familiar with Allison’s dining room table. But then Saturday and Sunday happened.

Gardens By The Bay

Before visiting…wait, no….even after visiting….when I would hear the word Singapore, I would think of an ultra-modern, ultra-chic city with crazy architecture. Kind of like UAE’s younger cousin. The features that most stick out in my mind are from Gardens by the Bay. And I finally got to visit them.

Singapore's Gardens By the Bay

You also walk by the incredibly famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

And take in the sight of the Singapore Flyer:

Gardens By the Bay-3

And eventually, walk past those crazy tree looking things.

Once you step foot inside the Flower Dome, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the visual stimulus.

 

Gardens By the Bay Flower Dome

The roof is art in and of itself.

Flower Dome Roof

But then realize, it’s time to bust out the macro lens.

They even had flowers that weren’t actually flowers.

Break time!!!

Gardens By the Bay

And then off to my favorite part of the day — Cloud Forest.

Walk in and be greeted by a towering, multi-level waterfall.

I particularly liked feeding time.

Cloud Forest Watering

But the rest of the structure was pretty equally as impressive.

Once down from the very top, you’re greeted with a video that predicts what the world will be like 100 years from now if the global temperature continues to rise. *IF* what they predict is accurate, a temperature rise of just 5°C is quite scary.

But one of use was more interested in the Splash Park. I guess the view was ok while waiting.

Gardens By the Bay Splash Park

On the way out, I couldn’t help but feel like we were being watched.

Gardens By the Bay

And we caught one last glimpse of the skyline before heading down to the MRT.

Singapore Skyline

The sun was setting on the day,

Singapore Sunset

But there was just one more picture I had to take. Goodnight.

Singapore Night Photography

Treetop Walk

When I landed in Singapore, I grabbed a magazine from the airplane that had “50 Things to do in Singapore.” Everything we did the day before was listed, but I was going to do those regardless. On Sunday we chose one from the list — The Treetop Walk in MacRitchie Reservoir.

I had visions of monkeys swinging to and fro and walking on endless suspension bridges from treehouse to treehouse. It was a whimsical good time!! In my head.

The reality, is that it’s quite a long hike. On the ground. In incredibly dead air. And the monkeys we saw were either semi-aggressive or just sitting on their asses.

There was one cute guy. But he was just as boring to watch after 30 sec.

Singapore Treetop Walk Monkey

There was one, *A*, singular suspension bridge.

Singapore Treetop Walk

And it put you out in the open with just the canopy to see…which looks like any other green canopy I’ve ever seen.

Singapore Treetop Walk canopy

Perhaps you can’t tell, but I was unenthused with the day…..to one’s fault except the damn magazine I grabbed. Karma?

Singapore Treetop Walk

Once done with the hike, which was about 10km, we were all pretty spent. The only cure was air conditioning and the pool. So back to the apartment we went.

Thai Visa in Singapore

Now it’s Monday, and I can finally go back to the Thai Embassy to apply for my Visa. My last visit at 5 minutes to close wasn’t a complete waste. I’ve heard stories of getting a new visa without having an outbound trip within 60 days already booked, but I also heard the Thai Embassy in Singapore is super strict. When I showed up the first time, I was definitely going to try get my visa without a plane ticket out of the country.

No dice.

They absolutely required you to have your flight itineraries printed out for coming back into Thailand as well as leaving Thailand.

That kind of sucks for me because who the fuck knows where I’ll be in 30, 60, or 90 days from now? I ended up buying a plane ticket to Vietnam and spent the extra money so I can change dates without penalty.

So, what you need to get your Thai Visa at the Thai Embassy in Singapore:

  • Passport
  • A new passport picture taken within the last 6 months
  • A filled out visa form
    • Have the address of your first stop in Thailand available
  • Flight itineraries for in and out of Thailand
    • The flight out has to be 60 days or less from the day you come in
    • You can still renew for another 30 days at the end (for a total of 90 days) but since it’s not guaranteed you’ll be granted the extension, they still need to see that you’re able to get out of the country by the time you absolutely need to.
  • 50 SGD (Singaporean dollars) — about $35.50.

Anticlimactic Ending is Anticlimactic

Sorry, nothing profound to share. I only came to Singapore for one reason, and I accomplished that. I wasn’t looking for worldly enlightenment, but I’m glad I came.

Despite not being my scene, I still got another stamp on my passport and got to exchange Asian experiences with Allison and her daughter. I saw just about all the country has to offer in just 2 days. Anything else there is to see…you can see the exact same thing in the U.S.

I grabbed my visa on Tuesday and on a plane back to Bangkok by Wednesday amidst the edginess of another bomb going off somewhere in the city.

Like I said, it’s the Wild Wild West.

And I love every bit of it. Except the bombings.