One Night in Bangkok, Part I.

For those following the entire story, you’ll know that violent protests cut Thailand out of the itinerary for our southeast Asia trip. Nearly. My original plans awarded me one night in Bangkok. A night that, unfortunately, I’ll never forget. It’s tough to say what caused the food sickness, but math dictates that it was either the halo-halo from the American-style fast food joint or the sisig (pictured below) from a restaurant in Puerto Princesa owned, against the odds, by a couple from Arizona.

It started on the flight to Bangkok. After boarding, I sat down next to a chatty Filipina woman, and began to feel nauseous. I fled to the plane lavatory just as she announced to me that she was an evangelical Christian. Curled over in the tiny room—as we started our descent—I had visions of my body being jerked upwards with turbulence while simultaneously feeling horrible at the timing of my departure. I didn’t want my friend to think I was avoiding her because she was a Christian. With nothing accomplished in the loo, I headed to my seat to buckle myself in and apologize for leaving mid-conversation. “My stomach hurts,” I explained.

The next twenty minutes were the most awkward and intimate minutes I’ve ever spent with a stranger (until later that evening). My Filipina seat mate, it turns out, practiced reflexology, and demanded that I allow her to work on my hands and feet to relieve my issues. I’d learned in my first few hours in the Philippines that no amount of protest will work against hospitality. I reluctantly placed my skirted, hairy and dirty leg up on her lap and miserably sat still as she poked around and reduced my abnominal pains.

I’m not sure what I think of reflexology as a whole. Her work—while invasive—was somewhat comforting and did get me through the rest of my flight. It did not, however, cure my ailments.

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The taxi driver on the way to my hotel made fun of me on the drive. The fighting in Bangkok had created “safe zones” and “dangerous zones,” and my lack of understanding of the city’s geography led me to an airport booking stand to prepay for a hotel in an area unlikely to have pipe bombs. It was clear that I’d overpaid. But I didn’t care. “I’m. Going. To. Puke. In Your Car,” I glared loudly from the back seat. The laughing stopped.

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My hotel room was huge. It was on the fifteenth or sixteenth floor, and had its own small kitchen, bathroom, and, most importantly, air conditioning. It reminded me of the Goldiana, where I’d stayed in Phnom Penh several years earlier. Each room is cool, but the hallways are not. Every time I opened the door, the weight of Thailand hit my face; I became limp and wet. I’d arrived in the late evening, and was happy to get to my room, to sleep off my issues. The explosions in my body, however, quickly let me know that sleep would join the ranks with reflexology in not solving my issues. Like a caged animal, I circled from toilet to bed, from bed to toilet, until I couldn’t take it anymore.

Standing in the hotel lobby in my pajamas at four a.m., I realized how nice it had been that most people in the Philippines speak English. I’d arrived in Thailand not knowing a single word of their vernacular. Charades, it would be. When they pantomimed “hospital,” I violently shook my head. No way. “I need pills,” I said using the international hand sign of a person taking pills. No longer strong enough to stand, I sat down and waited for the three folks at the night desk to decide what to do with me: Their American Problem. The door guy drew the short straw and ten minutes later, he was moving his laundry out of the passenger side of his car, so I could (without a bra, without brushing my teeth, carrying only a wad of cash) ride shotgun while trying not to puke.

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I watched nocturnal Bangkok through a passenger window. Vendors lined the street with fruit stands and the types of things I’d dreamt about trying with Maya. Meat on sticks. Noodles. Sticky rice. Those things whizzed by as I rested my forehead to the warm glass during the seemingly endless trip. “I hope that Filipina woman is praying for me,” I thought as we stopped abruptly in front of what must have been Bangkok’s only 24 hour pharmacy. Once again, I pantomimed my issues, this time for the pharmacist. He handed me three sets of pills and touched my hand to indicate how often I needed to take the mystery drugs. They needed to be taken with food, my driver explained. This is how my first “meal” in Thailand came to be bleached white bread from a 7-Eleven.

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Back in my room, about fifteen minutes after I popped my pills, I became terrified. I had absolutely no idea what I’d just taken. I navigated the phone (sans phone card) to weep into my dad and Ben’s voicemails that I was alone in a hotel room in Thailand and I’d just taken mystery drugs and I was scared. Ben reached me first. His internet sleuthing skills uncovered the fact that I’d taken activated charcoal, Domperidone (a drug he’d taken before) and some sort of antibiotic. If I was going to die in Thailand, it wouldn’t be from an overdose. I hung up the phone and slept until noon, completely missing the hotel’s authentic Thai breakfast.

When I woke up and found myself disappointed about missing a meal, I knew that I was back to normal.

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4 thoughts on “One Night in Bangkok, Part I.

  1. Anna Malone says:

    I had a similar experience in Bangkok. I believe my food poisoning was from the American style breakfast buffet at the hotel. Or the mystery noodles from the hole in the wall cafe near the palace. Bumrungrad Hospital was excellent though, and for $30 I saw a doctor in less than 15 minutes who sent me away with a lovely gift bag of drugs.

  2. Jill says:

    Oh Anna, had I known that Thai hospitals were simple and cheap, I would have been all up on that. I just assumed that everyone’s healthcare was as complicated as ours. Good to know, for future reference, though! (Glad you made it out okay!) Were you able to identify the “culprit”?

  3. Anna Malone says:

    Unfortunately I’ve never identified the culprit, but to this day I can’t eat Thai food! I had a similar problem in London, and while the hospital experience wasn’t as simple, there was no cost at all. I’ve learned that most countries provide free emergency health care to travelers. The best thing to do is call the US embassy wherever you are and ask them to recommend a hospital to go to. Too bad you didn’t get to spend any time in Thailand – it is a beautiful country, especially once you get out of Bangkok!

  4. Cindy says:

    I once had a bad night after some skunky shrimp on a business trip to Duxbury MA–up all night throwing up, then the next day had to teach an 8-hour class. They didn’t really believe I had been sick and that was why I REALLY didn’t want to go to lunch!

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