Travelers Diarrhea in Asia is something that might ruin your trip and while it might not be completely avoidable for some, the chances can be lessened and there are natural remedies available here that can alleviate it in case you get it. This blog post covers some of the ways to avoid getting travelers diarrhea in Asia.
Food Glorious Food
Traveling around Asia for the first time, one of the first things that slugs you in the chest is the sheer variety of new foods to explore. Food in colors and spices that you’ve never seen before and way away from the imagination of your experiences at your local Anglicized ethnic takeaway back home. Especially in major cities where different culinary cultures have been and combined, food is in abundance in Asia and there’s probably more stuff to try than you possibly could have imagined and each country will hit you with an array of new dishes. In India they are so proud of their vegetarian food that they’ll swear you’ll never need to eat meat ever again, in Southern China you’ll have people swear that hotpot from their particular province of choice is the spiciest ever (to almost fisticuffs levels of adamancy), and Singapore – well they could talk about food to you all day and night and will take offense if you don’t go and try some of their spicy dishes such as their famous chili crabs.
There’s bound to be countless YouTube videos on food in Asia, but this one from Anthony Bourdain in Singapore is one of my favorites:
Looks awesome! Get me my bib and let me tuck in!
Hold on there a second. Just do a couple of google searches for travelers diarrhea in Asia (also known as TD in some backpacker circles), and not to mention “Delhi belly” to see what you’re going to be up against. The CDC reports that 30-50% of travelers get travelers diarrhea and if you look at most backpacker blogs on the web you’ll see almost one in every few posts has complaints about some sort of stomach upset. Some, if not most, travelers will wear it as a badge of honor to have gone through several days of running to the bathroom. Personally, I managed to get travelers diarrhea in Asia on my first trip here by simply eating a bowl of beef noodles from a well known chain.
Travelers Diarrhea in Asia and Your Delicate Western Stomach
Actually it is not so much your delicate Western stomach that is used to beef stews and mashes potatoes (with the occasional toned down kebab if you’re from certain parts of Europe) but something to do with the enzymes in your stomach not being used to the local groceries. I’ve also heard stories of people coming from Delhi, where the cleanliness of back street eateries is questionable, going to Japan, which is famous for being clinically hygienic, and having horrible diarrea due to the change in groceries available. Keeping your stomach in check with some preventative methods and not taking any silly risks will enable you to lessen the impact on your stomach and allow you to get the most out of your trip or expatriate contract. Not getting travelers diarrea in Asia could soon become a bragging right too.
Boil the Water in Your Hotel Room
At temperatures of 80 to 100 Farenheit (30-38 degrees Celsius), keeping hydrated in some of the hotter Asian destinations like certain parts of India and most of South East Asia is key to having a healthy trip. One of the first things to do when you get to a hotel is boil some water and set it aside. Once you’ve run out of the complimentary bottled water, you’ll be thankful of the ready to drink ‘safe’ water when you wake up in the middle of the night sweating and thirsty from either the blistering heat or the hotel’s overzealous air conditioning. Oh yes.. and try to avoid asking for tap water in cafes and bars. Drink the beer instead. If you’re drinking from a canned drink, be sure to wipe the rim first. Some antibacterial hand sanitizer might be useful to bring along too.
I read about this years ago in a travel magazine and although I can’t debunk it, I have little reason to not believe it. Eating questionable food with Tabasco sauce not only makes it taste better, but can aid in prevention of food poisoning and other food-bourne illnesses.
One of the ingredients of Tabasco sauce is cilantro. Which has some scientific backing to being able to kill of salmonella bacteria. Most notably the presence dodecenal, which has some antibacterial properties.
Axe Brand Oil
Axe Brand Oil. Yes the word ‘brand’ in the product name is a bit superfluous but the effectiveness of Axe Brand Oil as relief of almost every ailment under the sun extends to stomach aches. This ‘oil’ comes in small, easy to carry, vials which you can carry with you in your backpack and is made up of a mixture of eucalyptus, menthol and camphor oils to sooth your stomach. It should be available in most supermarkets, chemists and corner shops around Asia. Dabbing some on a tissue and inhaling it provides stomach balancing relief.
Chinese Medicine Effective for Travelers Diarrhea: Yu Yee Oil
TCM and other means of alternative therapies you can find in Asia have always fascinated me with their non-harsh but effective ways of dealing with common ailments such as stomach aches, colds, flus and you name it. A few weeks back, I had some serious stomach ache and was looking for a TCM alternative to the typical Western ways of dealing with stomach problems and while I was looking on the shelves of my local supermarket an unassuming old Chinese lady stopped by and started pointing at random things on the shelf and telling me what is good for what. One of the things she pointed out was, what I’ll call a ‘magic potion’ called ‘Yu Yee Oil.’ If you can find this stuff, I’d like to say that it works magical wonders for settling your stomach. It can be rubbed on your stomach or inhaled through a tissue and I’m pretty sure it will be effective for travelers diarrhea.
Its main ingredients are peppermint oil (mostly), clove oil, nutmeg oil, menthol, borneol cortex cinnamoni (cinnamon bark) and resina calamus draco (fruit resin from a fruit called calamus draco). The oil can be found in supermarkets or at pharmacies. All this sounds great as a natural remedy.
Carry Tissue – Lots of It
You can’t always guarantee that there’s going to be toilet roll or tissue paper in public bathrooms around popular Asian travel destinations, even in built up malls and train stations. If you find yourself with a case of the runs, the last thing you usually look for in your dash of despair is whether there’s toilet roll. So make sure you have your own supply.
Don’t grin and bear it
So there’s a few tips for preventing and alleviating travelers diarrhea in Asia. If you’re really dying of some sort of stomach upset while traveling, that won’t go away, be sure to go to a hospital for treatment (medical insurance is a must when traveling – but you don’t need me to tell you that). This happened to me in 2005 when I had a bad case of stomach flu and ended up having to be put on a drip at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. If your stomach is bad for more than a day or so, seek medical attention immediately. Otherwise, you’ll spend most of your trip in a hotel room blogging about your diarrhea experiences than your sight seeing and food tasting.