You’re just minding your own business, checking out a beautiful temple when all of the sudden your stomach clenches painfully and you start to break out in a heavy sweat. Uh oh. It’s caught up with you— Thai Tummy, Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge— whatever you want to call it, you’ve got food poisoning.
It’s bound to happen to all travelers at some point, especially when traveling through high-risk areas such as Asia or Latin America where street food is prevalent.
Joe and I had a terrible case of food poisoning our second week in Thailand. We basically spent two whole days wallowing in self pity in our hotel room. We still have no idea what could have caused it. We don’t remember eating anything that we felt was questionable. Unfortunately, food poisoning can come from anywhere— a dirty street stall or a 5-star restaurant.
Thankfully, there are some basic steps you can take to avoid food poisoning while traveling through Southeast Asia:
Don’t Drink the Water-
The tap water in Southeast Asia isn’t purified and often comes from local water sources with bacteria that your stomach won’t be used to. Don’t drink from the faucet and order bottled water at restaurants. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach it might be best to brush your teeth with bottled water as well.
Check Your Ice Cubes-
Since the water can be the culprit of food poisoning, restaurants usually have special ice cubes made from filtered water. These ice cubes look like a hollow tube. Make sure to pay attention to the shape and if it is crushed or square make sure that it was made with purified water. This can be super tricky with things like the delicious fresh fruit shakes that are available everywhere.
Eat at Street Stalls with Lots of Customers-
Try to pick street stalls with lots of people eating at them. Not only does this mean that the food will be delicious but lots of turn over means that the food hasn’t been sitting out for long periods of time and will be fresh cooked.
Buy Activated Charcoal Tablets-
You can buy activated charcoal tablets in any pharmacy in Southeast Asia. These tablets are supposed to be taken at the first sign that something you’ve eaten hasn’t settled right. The activated charcoal blocks your stomach from absorbing any bacteria and prevents you from getting sick. These can’t be used too often though, as they also block your stomach from absorbing any nutrients from the foods you have eaten.
Don’t Let it Dictate All Your Choices-
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t let the fear of food poisoning keep you from trying new and exciting foods. We met a group of girls that never ate any street food because they were too afraid and that is just sad since they missed out on so much deliciousness. Sure be smart but don’t let it stop you from everything. It could happen anywhere so enjoy that fresh fruit shake or homemade ice cream pop and stop worrying so much.
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