Food Poisoning in Thailand: The Day Thailand was My Toilet

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Hardly Old Friends

I wouldn’t say I am intimately familiar with food poisoning; but it and I seem to find one another at the most inconvenient of times.

My first brush with the stomach cramping, cheek clenching, bile tasting beast was when I was on the bumpy, day long journey from Tashgorkan to Kashgar along the Karakorum Highway in 2012. On a drive where toilets ranged from non-existent to holes in the ground where the pile of shit very nearly reached the lip of the hole, suffice to say it was an unpleasant day.

Change of Venue

On this particular day, though, I was about as far removed from the dusty roads of China’s Xinjiang province as I could be – boarding a tiny boat in the Thai beach paradise of Phuket for a day exploring the islands that dot the brilliantly blue-green water.

Our tour was ostensibly to see the island made famous in The Man with the Golden Gun; a movie in which Christopher Lee proves he was born looking like he was nine hundred years old, but we’d also visit a few other spots as well.

Even as we jumped from boat to boat tor each our home for the day, I could feel the tell-tale groans and growls of dissatisfaction from my stomach. I prayed the boat at least had a bathroom on it.

It did, but it wasn’t pretty. And I knew today was going to be a long day.

Obstacle #1 – The Bat Cave

Christian Bale was conspicuous in his absence as Nomadic American and I clambered down into our canoe for the trek into the aptly named ‘bat cave’. Our guide smiled at us cheerfully and snapped a few pictures before we moved from the brilliantly sunny summer day and into the oppressive, cloying stink of a cave in which hundreds of bats voided their bowels as freely as I wished I could.

Waiting to enter the world's smelliest cave.
Waiting to enter the world’s smelliest cave.

The stink of the place was monumental. I’m not a man with a weak stomach, but in its already compromised state, my gut began to voice its protest.

Having skipped breakfast, my stomach had only a watery soup of luke warm Sprite in it, but it gladly ejected it violently from my mouth and threatened to spray anybody foolish enough to approach too closely to our canoe.

Our guide, whether out of a misguided sense of responsibility for my state or just not having anything better to say, hastily apologized as he rushed to get us back to the fresh air.

Doing my best to not look like I just vomited everywhere.
Doing my best to not look like I just vomited everywhere.

I can’t say I remember a great deal of the fabled bat cave, save the rising terror I felt as I realized I was going to vomit, and the temporary relief I felt when my stomach had completely emptied itself.

A Temporary Reprieve

Having embarrassed myself and my (then) girlfriend, I was feeling remarkably good when we got back onto the boat. Hell, I even tucked into the buffet lunch they’d laid out for us on our way to James Bond Island.

We arrived on the popular tourist island with the sun shining high overhead and the worst of my stomach cramps having abated.

I touched it!
I touched it!

When Nomadic American suggested the pair of us swim out to touch the famous pillar of stone that the island is famous for, I even felt good enough to wade out into the muddy water and give it my best.

Touching the rock proved slightly difficult given the swarm of spider-like crabs on it, but I wouldn’t be Australian if I let the threat of multi-limbed death prevent me from doing something.

Staggering back onto dry land, I was feeling remarkably good about myself. Not just because I hadn’t thrown up in a while, but because the swim was a decent length and I’d done it without dying. Go me!

Obstacle #2 – The Long Swim

Perhaps buoyed by my rock touching exploits, I decided to join the younger members of our tour in swimming to a distant beach. After acrobatically leaping (okay, belly-flopping) from the upper deck of the boat, I swam in to the shore with Nomadic American not far behind.

Not long after reaching the sandy beach, though, I began to feel the familiar aching that had prologued my last explosive exclamation of excrement.

I know vomit isn’t excrement, but alliteration is cool, okay?

The swim back to the boat very nearly broke me.
The swim back to the boat very nearly broke me.

Realising I had a lengthy (150m or so) swim back to the boat and its attached bathroom, I began to frantically paddle against the current and back towards the boat.

Before too long I was too tired to keep swimming and too proud to let one of the canoes drag me in, so I did what any reasonable man would do: I hastily tugged off my pants and let nature take its course.

Thank Christ the water was already muddy brown.

“Are you okay?” Nomadic American shouted as she swam towards me.

“Stay away!” I screamed my warning back at her, dreading her reaction if she had to do the breast stroke through the oil slick I’d just generated.

Thankfully, she listened.

Feeling a lot better (and worse) about myself, I finally made it back to the boat.

Obstacle #3 – The Trip Home

I spent the trip back curled up in the fetal position on the boat’s lower deck in the grips of intense cramps and cold sweats. A kindly South African man tried to make conversation, but I wasn’t at my erudite best as I tried my hardest not to repaint the decks.

We finally made it to land and were hastily piled into a van, but I was feeling worse and worse. I could barely see straight and the van was taking TOO FUCKING LONG!

Seeing my distress, our driver pulled over to the side of the road where my South African friend upended a bottle of water over my head and I resumed doing the fetal rock on the ground.

When we finally did make it home, I literally lay down on the floor of our bathroom and let the shower run. My poor girlfriend had to come wake me up and drag me to bed.

While I slept, she went out and bought everything she could think of that would help settle my stomach: plain bread, bananas, plain chips, and some soda. She was good that way.

Recovery

As these things tend to do, it promptly disappeared not long after her return. I might have vomited and shit in the waters of Thailand, but I’d managed to touch the spire for which James Bond Island is famous. The day wasn’t a complete loss.

Your Say

Do you have any embarrassing stories of food poisoning from the road you’d care to share? Got any tips for combating the dreaded stomach bug on the road?

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5 comments

  1. There was that time i was hospitalized in Melbourne for campylobacter enteritis… had the world’s most gorgeous doctor taking care of me. Every morning for 5 days he walked in asking how my diarrhoea was… and i wanted to die…

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