The number one biggest struggle for me since arriving in Thailand has been adjusting to the food. I have now been here for over two months and my stomach has still not completely gotten used to the food yet. This is obviously situational and depends on every individual person. I was hospitalized for three days at the beginning of my time here with a pretty nasty food poisoning situation and since then I have had about 3 other episodes of food poisoning. The other three times I never went to the hospital because I had learned how to take care of the illness myself. Luckily, with the support through my program I have adjusted with more ease than I would have on my own, but I have definitely had to change a lot of my eating habits. At first, this was devastating to me because I am such a foodie and love trying new foods and my stomach has definitely hindered me from doing so. This unfortunately is one of the downsides that many people face while traveling abroad and if I can help one person with this post then it will be worth writing it to me!
What to stray away from:
- Market food, specifically the meat and sushi, has caused issues with my stomach here. Unfortunately, a lot of the meat they cook here sits in the hot open air for hours at a time, making it easy to be contaminated. The time that I was hospitalized, I ate pork and rice from my local night market and it has honestly scared me from ever eating the meat at the market ever again. That does not mean that you need to cut it out completely, but just be cautious and make sure that it has been freshly made and not contaminated by outside factors.
- Another thing I stray away from is food that has been prepared outdoors. This does cut out a lot of the joy in eating in Thailand considering markets and outdoor dining is so popular. Once again, cutting it out completely is not always necessary… it definitely is for me, but that does not mean it is for you. I would just be cautious and make sure that the preparation areas look clean enough for you to eat from.
- Anything that is too spicy may also give you issues. I always thought that I loved spicy food but let me tell you, Thailand takes it to a whole other level! There are chilis in a lot of the food here so if your stomach is not used to that, it can cause a pretty good stomach ache. It is definitely not to the extent of getting food poisoning but can give you a run for your money. The Thai word for a little spicy is pronounced “nit noy phed” or if you want no spice you can say “mai phed.” These are a staple in the Thai language I have learned thus far. Overtime, I have gotten used to more spice in the food here though so you can just ease your way into it!
- Tap water. I think this goes without saying but only drink bottled water here and be careful while brushing teeth and showering that you are not swallowing the tap water. Most apartments and living situations will have a filtered water bottle filler. I keep a big jug in my apartment and just go and refill it there which is a lot more economical than buying bottled water all the time.
How to deal with food Poisoning if you do get it:
So as I said previously, the first time I got food poisoning, I had a decently long hospital stay. I had never stayed overnight in a hospital before, let alone in a foreign country where I can’t understand anything going on around me. It was very scary and I had not seen any of the country yet so it was very discouraging and I honestly just wanted to go home. Although, after I recovered and went on my first weekend trip, I knew that I had to push through and see all of the beauty this country had to offer. Food poisoning is very debilitating but if you learn how to handle it, a long hospital stay won’t be necessary and you can care for it on your own.
- Go to the pharmacy and get antibiotics: The pharmacies here are very abundant and cheap. They will give you antibiotics without a prescription so whenever I feel an episode coming on, I just go straight there to get medicine for it. This has been a lifesaver and has saved me from needing to go to the hospital to get medication.
- Stay hydrated: With food poisoning, your body will become very dehydrated and you need to replenish it with water and electrolytes. They sell bottled water and electrolyte mixes at 7-eleven which will help out a lot.
- Keep antidiarrheal and anti-vomiting medication handy: these can also be obtained at 7-eleven or the pharmacy and will save you if you feel an episode coming on or are already having one. Once again, they are very easy to obtain and are definitely worth seeking out. They are even worth bringing over here before your travels in case you get hit with sickness early on.
Options you can take advantage of:
- 7-eleven meals: These have been a lifesaver to me. They are inexpensive like market food, filling, and you know exactly what is in them. They will heat it up right inside the store for you which is nice especially if you don’t have a kitchen or any appliances. The cheese toasties and rice bowls are two items that I live off of.
- Foodpanda or Grab: These are the equivalent of door dash and uber eats in the United States. The fee for delivery only equals about 50 cents USD and you can order tons of options like different Asian cuisines, Thai food, or Western food! This has been such a lifesaver because you know it is freshly prepared and delivered straight to your apartment. If you are sick then it is great to have it delivered so you don’t have to go anywhere.
- Indoor Thai restaurants: if you do want to indulge in Thai cuisine, there are plenty of Thai restaurants that prepare food indoors that are still very inexpensive and delicious! This way you know the food is not being contaminated by factors from the outside environment.
Food poisoning and stomach issues are something I never envisioned myself having over here but it is always good to come prepared and to know what to expect if it does arise. Once again, I hope this helps at least one person that is struggling with food here, as it has definitely taken a toll on not only my physical health but mental health. But alas, I promise you the struggles are way worth the amazing moments you will have here; you just need to learn how to adjust to it. It takes some time getting used to but if I can do it, you can too!