How to avoid getting sick in Thailand
Looking after your health whilst travelling a country in South-East Asia gets to be easy, just by raising your awareness of a few simple things.
Ultimately, your gut health plays a vital role in all physical ailments. How they show up, how you deal with them & how you prevent them can all be determined by what’s going on in the gut.
Thailand has a high rate of tourists getting sick through contracting bacteria & parasites. But don’t let this freak you out.
The thought of it can be pretty scary but it IS avoidable AND manageable when you know what to look out for & how you can assist your body through the motions.
Prevention is better than cure…..
Preventing the contraction of a bacteria infection or parasite takes attention to detail AND luck!
Even with the upmost respect for the body, you can still be unlucky & pick up a nasty bug very innocently in Thailand.
Contaminated water/ice is a common way to pick up bacteria.
Drinking ONLY sealed bottled water is the only way to avoid that possibility.
Using tap water for anything, even for rinsing the mouth & brushing teeth will still carry a small risk of infection.
Boiling it will kill bacteria but still isn’t filtering it. Use bottled water from the kettle! When eating out, raw foods like salad may be rinsed using tap water, so that is something to consider.
Drinking water stations can be found throughout Thailand, the water is filtered & safe to use, it’s much cheaper than continuously buying sealed bottles but how sterile the actual stations are is another consideration.
This water will also lack essential minerals, so adding pink Himalayan rock salt to it (available to buy in Thailand) or having the odd bottle (or fresh) coconut water, will ensure you top up on these essential body minerals whilst staying free of bacteria & keeping the cost down.
Avoiding street food meats & raw vegetables.
This one can be tough, the mouth-watering offerings & unbeatable prices can be hard to resist. Often street food, particularly the cooked meats, raw fish & even the raw vegetables, will carry bacteria!
Meat that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly, or has changed temperature & created bacteria that way, can make you very sick, as can a vegetable that hasn’t been cooked properly (to kill bacteria already present).
There are ways to still indulge in street food without completely avoiding it; just pay attention to the detail, what does the hygiene of the stall look like? How is the vendor handing the food? Is the food freshly cooked & hot throughout?
Some street food is completely safe, you just get to be smart when making a choice, rather than thinking only with the taste buds!
Increasing good gut bacteria.
The more healthy gut flora you have, the easier it is for you to fight exposure to bad bacteria.
How do you do this?
Especially in Thailand.
Consuming Pre & Probiotic cultures will allow your healthy gut bacteria to flourish.
What foods are they found in?
There are many food establishments across Thailand that will have weird & wonderful pro-biotic culture foods on the menu, the menu will often make this clear as it’s a big selling point.
Popular Pre/Probiotic foods & drinks in Thailand include;
Kombucha – This fermented drink is super tangy & has a real kick to it! You will find it in SO many places in Thailand. Many locals make it, simply by fermenting tea. Its unqiue synergy of bacteria & yeast creates an incredibly powerful pro-biotic. (Good bacteria!)
Often it is infused with other zesty flavours, fruits or honey!
Tempeh – Fermented soy beans, this popular dish is often served with a soy sauce or as a small side dish. This food can be made in many ways & is high in protein, making it a great alternative for meat, fish or tofu.
Miso Soup – This isn’t just found in the Japanese restaurants; Miso soup is served in many health-conscious cafes. This nutrient dense dish is made from fermented Rye, rice, barley or beans.
Sauerkraut – Fermented cabbage. This could be found as a side dish when eating out or purchased in health shops & kept in the fridge!
Kefir – A little like yoghurt, this is a fermented dairy product made form goats milk & kefir is full of live pro-biotic cultures! Kefir is sometimes used in speciality coffees! But will also be served as a yoghurt, often infused with coconut as it is sour to taste!
Pickles – not just the regular kind, but pickled vegetable’s & fruits will also contain pro-biotics, they are served as side dished in some restaurants, get ready for the twang!
Dark Chocolate – Harder to find in general stores, but plenty of raw, vegan style delights will contain good quality, high percentage goodness. Dark chocolate itself isn’t a pro-biotic but instead acts as an awesome carrier, so it plays a vital role in flourishing good gut bacteria!
Micro Algae (such as Spirulina & Chlorella) are popular add ins to smoothies across Thailand, these ocean based plant algae are pre-biotics, which feed the probiotics in your gut, allowing them to flourish even more! They can be purchased in small pouches too, then added at your will or taken in your water each day.
Apple cider vinegar, Chicory root, garlic, onions, tomatoes, leeks, asparagus, bananas, apples, cocoa & seaweed are all pre-biotic foods that you may find in many dishes or snacks whilst eating out in Thailand.
If you are keen to increase you healthy gut bacteria & you are not consuming much of the above whilst in Thailand, purchasing pro-biotics from the pharmacist or a health store is always possible.
The best kind will be refrigerated as they contain live cultures!
Fairly expensive but a short course will see you have a healthy gut boost worth every penny.
The cheaper ones won’t be kept in a fridge but will be less effective (but still worth having if it’s the only option!)
What if I get sick form bacteria/parasite? How will I know? How can I recover?
If you find yourself with unhappy toilet troubles that are not improving or re-occurring, rule out food intolerances first.
Thailand LOVES SPICE! This alone can play havoc on the gut. Start asking for no spice on your food & see if that calms things down.
Eating new foods or completely changing the diet (as travel often creates) can take the body a little time to adjust.
Use the above foods to assist your healthy gut bacteria as that helps to fight the bad bacteria that may be present.
If you have had a bout of severe diarrhea, sickness, lethargy & fever, followed by re-occurring toilet issues (generally this is diarrhea), despite consuming the pre & pro-biotic foods,
then it’s possible you have picked up a parasite & its winning.
You may want to have some tests to be sure, the local hospitals can run simple stool & blood tests for this & will have your results in a few hours.
if the results are positive, a course of anti-biotics (certain strains kill parasites) will be prescribed.
Anti-biotics not only kill the bad bacteria, but the good too! This means that consuming the pre & pro-biotics (as foods and supplements) is even more important!
The parasite will be killed off by the drugs, however, the eggs will not.
Eggs will lay dormant in the gut, hatching after a few weeks or months & re-creating your earlier symptoms & unhappy gut health.
How do I kill the eggs?
Herbal remedies are the answer here, as well as prioritising & promoting the healthy gut bacteria, a herbal remedy will kill the eggs & assist in preventing the re-occurring sickness.
Thailand is great for herbal & Chinese medicine so this IS accessible whilst travelling. Perhaps even more so than in the western world.
Phuket homes one of Thailand’s oldest Chinese medicine stores, in Thalang Road, Old Town, nestled amongst other traditional stores is Nguan Choon Tong.
With a sign outside reading ‘Oldest Herbs Shop’.
One particularly potent herbal remedy is ‘wormwood’. This brown powder is used to make the spirit Absinthe!
Just half a teaspoon of this terrible tasting herb is taken on an empty stomach each morning for a month!
You repeat this treatment every 2-3 months, ensuring any remaining eggs are destroyed!
Should I worry about getting sick?
No! All countries & experiences come with a set of risks & considerations, Thailand is no different. No worse nor better.
Taking precautions to avoid unnecessary exposure to bacteria & parasites will go a long way in prevention.
Knowing how to deal with the situation of a bacteria infection of parasite contraction should it occur, will assist you greatly.
Pay attention to symptoms & treat accordingly, it is possible to clear it, it just gets to be prioritised!
Many travellers pick up these bugs without diagnosis, this means that it isn’t correctly treated & will continue to re-occur for months, years or even decades!
As soon as it is treated correctly, the body can be nourished & remedied appropriately!
Fill your body with flourishing pre & pro-biotic cultures, be street food smart, pay attention to symptoms & enjoy tour travels!