How I stayed healthy in Southeast Asia
It is very usual to hear these horror-stories of terrible illness that people traveling in developing countries as in SE Asia have experienced. I myself can brag that I have been traveling around Asia for about 4 months in total without having any serious episode. It’s true that the tropical climate is not the most welcoming to Westerners and that these countries are not good in keeping sanitizing rules, but there are ways to protect yourself and even if you are unlucky enough to get sick you still don’t have to let it ruin your traveling. Here are some tips from my own experience in this part of the world:
Do your homework
When deciding which countries you want to visit, read all about the diseases that you may have to face. Most of the countries in SE Asia are malaria-endemic, while dengue fever can also appear especially in urban areas. Japanese encephalitis is also visible in some areas. Rabies can be fatal within hours. Knowing is everything. Read about the symptoms of each decease, how serious they are and if they can be fatal. Learn how to recognize them, and how to protect yourself. There can be vaccinations or pills for many of them. Make sure to set an appointment with the appropriate doctor a few months before your trip and get your shots in time. Read carefully every material that the clinic may give you and do not afraid to ask your doctor any questions.
Avoid mosquito bites
Most of the serious diseases in SE Asia are mosquito-borne, so you should really take your protection against mosquitos seriously. Even if you are taking malaria pills, remember that they are not 100% protective, and dengue fever is also another possibility. Use spray with the appropriate DET every single time you go out day and nigh. Make sure you refresh it after you go in the see. Wear long sleeves as much as possible and avoid areas that attract mosquitos like standing waters, lakes etc. Prefer A/C rooms and make sure you keep the doors closed at all times. If you get a fan room, make sure you bring a sleeping net and learn how to use it.
Get a travel insurance
That’s a serious one. If you go away for more than a couple of weeks there is no way you don’t wanna do that. Except from covering hospital expenses in case you need it, you can also get insured for damage of your luggage, electronic devices and thief. Came quite handy when I threw my phone in the sea in Krabi. Make sure you know the terms of your insurance. The cost in the Netherlands should be around 5-7 eu per month.
Know where the closest hospital is
Check beforehand cause you don’t wanna do it at 4 o’ clock at night in an unknown place. In some countries like Cambodia you shouldn’t expect too much luxury so keep in mind that if it’s something serious you may have to move to Thailand which has A class healthcare. Do not be ashamed to ask for help from the locals, we were actually helped a lot of times from strangers.
Avoid contact with animals
Sure they may be cute, but they are not vaccinated. Avoid a bite from dogs and monkeys. Rabies is not that common but it can be a very serious one. Be warned that monkeys can be quite sneaky when there is food involved, so just not mess with them too much. If you get bitten you should immediately go to the hospital and get the rabies shot. Ask your doctor for more info especially if you are going to spent lots of time with animals.
Be careful with what you are eating
Just use common sense. That fried scorpion you saw in Khao San can be in your bucket list but it’s surely not a great choice. In general avoid food that may be sitting in under the sun for hours. That doesn’t mean that street food is all bad. Especially during local celebrations, the food is cooked on the spot, steaming hot and absolutely delicious. It goes without saying that tap water is not drinkable. Also be careful with ice: be sure that it’s made out of bottled water. It’s a good idea to also brush your teeth with bottled water, you better be safe than sorry.
Get a hand sanitizer
Most of the food poisoning cases come from bacteria transmitted through our hands. Washing hands is great but not always possible. Buy a few small hand sanitizers and keep one in your pocket. You can find them everywhere though Asia in pharmacies.
Protect yourself from the sun
Yeah sure you need to get tanned but let’s dace it: you are really not used to this sun. In combination with the tropical humidity you can easily get knocked-out. Notice how the locals always protect their skin and drink loads of water. Luckily water is sold in every little corner there and it’s surprisingly cheap. Do not underestimate the heat when it comes to drinking either.
Do not mix traveller’s diarrhea with serious illness
Well you can never avoid this, but see it as something normal: Changing your dietary to something you haven’t eaten before needs some to get used to. Spicy food can make it a little worse, but don’t get too scared. Make sure you drink more water than you used to back home and if you are away for long, vitamin supplements cannot be bad. Get some Imodium too but don’t use it without a reason cause this thing really works well.
Carry your own food when you go to distant areas
When you go on a 6-hour boat ride through Mekong river, or a diving trip at Phi-Phi islands you can guess that the food served was probably kept for so long under 35 degrees. Unless it’s cooked on the spot you may wanna be on the safe side by eating something that doesn’t get bad. Also isolated places accessible only by sea (eg: Railay in Krabi) there is an urban legent that food poisoning is not too rare.