Thailand Tried to Kill Me

When you picture Thailand, you think of beaches, waterfalls, and great food. At least I did before I went. Now I’m haunted by golf-ball sized blisters, out of date bugs, dehydration, infections, monkey bites, deadly farts, and bombs.

Welcome to the story of when Thailand tried to kill me.

8 Years Ago…

I visited Thailand in 2015 with my friend, Victor. We were 20 at the time, and it was our first experience in Asia. The first thing I remember was stepping off the plane and being blasted by a shockwave of heat. It wasn’t like heat back in Europe though. The air felt thicker, as if I was trying to breathe with my head stuck inside an oven.

Attempt #1: The Bomb

While we landed in Bangkok, we didn’t stay there – and it’s a good job too. A few days after we left Bangkok, there was a terror attack in the centre that killed 15 people. By that time though, we were snugly settling in to the island life, and, just like in Timor Leste, I was blissfully unaware that I had cheated death, Final Destination-style, and was now in the firing line for it again.

Unlike most first-time visitors to Thailand, we decided to head to Koh Chang, a less visited island in the south east of the country. The island is actually the second largest in Thailand and the name directly translates to Elephant Island. As you can probably guess, there were lots of elephants and elephant sanctuaries there. It was pretty cool if you’re looking for somewhere lowkey compared to the bustling hotspots of Phuket and Koh Samui.

Riding an elephant in Koh Chang, Thailand

Attempt #2: Dehydration

That is until we decided it would be a really great idea to hike around the entire island. Now I don’t know if I need to repeat this, but this is the second largest island in the country. It’s no joke. Most of the inhabitants live on the west coast, which was where we were staying, but on the south east coast there was a fabled secluded beach known only as Long Beach.

It looked beautiful. It sounded beautiful. It felt like an adventure. Surely we’d be fine circumnavigating the island without any paths, trails or GPS? Actually, we were. The real problem occurred when we realised we’d only taken one small bottle of water each. Climbing along the rocks on the south coast of Koh Chang, hours after we last saw a person, we realised that we were running low on water. And there was no guarantee that Long Beach was gonna have anybody there. The whole point of this expedition was that it was supposed to be remote.

Walking around the coast of Koh Chang
Victor and I trying to circumnavigate Koh Chang

We started to ration the water, but the midday heat was taking its toll. I’d taken my t-shirt off and put sun lotion on, but within 30 minutes, I was red all over. 

Attempt #3: Sunburn

Being young and naive to the climate of Thailand, we kept going, shirts off and water empty. It took us several exhausting hours to finally reach Long Beach – and when we did, it was empty. 

Matt finally made it to Long Beach
I’m super thrilled to be here.

I started to worry. If there was nobody there, how were we gonna get water? Or get back home? On the up side, the beach was gorgeous. On the downside, I couldn’t enjoy it. I was dying for a drink and the entire village appeared to be abandoned. That is until we stumbled across a maintenance man doing work on one of the buildings.

Thankfully, he offered us water and agreed to taxi us back to our village after an hour. By the time we drank water and recovered from our hike, we were already on the way home. 

So far, so good, right?


Attempt #4: Blisters

I had the hint that something worse was about to come when I was in the pool that very night. My skin, especially on my upper back, felt tight. It was as if it had shrunk in the wash and was now pulling itself apart to stay on me. Every movement caused pain in the skin. If you’re squeamish at all, I advise you to scroll past the next photos.

It wasn’t until the morning after that I saw the full damage. I had blisters the size of golf balls all over my upper back. I looked like the Action Man villain, Professor Gangrene. These orange gooey balls were everywhere and there was no way I could sleep. I couldn’t even get remotely comfortable. 

The beginning of my blisters
The orange golf ball on my shoulder
The blister aftermath.

To make matters worse, we’d booked a twin room but the bed was actually two singles next to each other with one sheet between them. Victor was disgusted by the blisters, and rightly so, but they were lying next to him all night, steaming with pus and painting the sheet orange.

My new Palermo top was stained orange

We were supposed to go Scuba Diving the next day. I’d been looking forward to it all trip. In the end, Victor went alone and I sat in bed with a big bucket of ice cream and watched Four Lions. There was no way I was going to be able to get into a wetsuit. It would’ve burst all the blisters. I had something better up my sleeve for that…

Attempt #5: Ziplining

Okay, when we booked ziplining, I hadn’t put two and two together. I didn’t realise that my shoulders and back would be zipping at high speed next to a line made of very sharp metal. The good news is that by the end of the day, all my blisters were gone. The bad news? I had to head home in my t-shirt that had wet patches all over the back and shoulders as if it rained on me and me alone. 

Ziplining in Thailand could've been better
Ziplined my blisters away

Attempt #6: Silence

We went to a 10-day silent meditation retreat in the middle of nowhere near the Cambodian border, and that’s when the peeling started. For each of the ten days, I woke up in a bed of skin at 4am to the bellowing call of Goenka. An army of ants marched through my room each morning, probably eating the yummy old blisters on their way. 

Staying quiet was a struggle too. Victor and I had to pretend we didn’t know each other. We had to ignore each other as we walked to our 4am meditation. We had to pass by as strangers when we heard Goenka’s call to meditation. We had to eat in silence and avoid eye contact at all times.

I have to admit, I didn’t exactly follow the rules. They told us not to bring anything with us to the rooms other than clothes, but I had a backpack full of stuff with nowhere to leave it. I ended up reading The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan in those ten days. We also may have broken the speaking rule once, too.

It was 8 days since I’d heard Victor’s voice – or my own for that matter. One afternoon we found ourselves washing our dishes side by side at the outdoor sink. It overlooked a swampy area. I tried to be calm and meditative. I tried not to pay attention to my best friend standing right next to me. That is until he said, “This is my swamp,” in reference to the infamous pervy ‘Shrek is Love’ video that he’d introduced me to just before we arrived at the retreat. 

This is my swamp

I had to leave to stop myself from laughing, and besides a few smiles here and there, the rest of the silent retreat went smoothly. 

By the time we finished, I was like a new man. No burns, no blisters, no pain. I could speak again. I could laugh openly. I could run and jump and swim. So what did I do with my newfound freedom? Hitched a lift to Cambodia and decided to fuck myself all over again.

Attempt #7: Cambodia’s Killing Cave Double Whammy

So when I said that Thailand tried to kill me, I wasn’t completely honest. Cambodia had a hand in the attempted murder too. On our first day there, we visited Battambang, went on the bamboo train and got absolutely drenched in a tropical storm, then we checked out the killing caves and the bat cave.

The bat cave in Battambang, Cambodia
Victor and I with a view over the plains of Cambodia

It was a weird standalone hill in the middle of a flat plain for as far as the eye could see. At the top was a Buddhist temple and a shit ton of monkeys. Having never seen wild monkeys this close, I thought it would be an amazing idea to try and get some good close-up pictures. And we did get a few.

Monkeys in Cambodia

But then we met the main monkey. The don. The one who other monkeys feared. This monkey made the ground shake as he walked. He strolled around raping whichever poor female monkey he pleased, constantly side-eyeing us as if to say, “I dare you to get closer.”

Dare accepted.

Attempt #7.1: Monkey Attack

When he looked calm and peaceful, I decided to sit near him. I’d say I was around 4 feet away. Not super close, but close enough to get a decent picture. We got a few, and then the monkey decided enough was enough. He needed to teach me a lesson.

Moments before tragedy struck...
One picture too many.

He leapt for my face and I had to hold up my arm up to shield it. Not able to claw my face to bits, the monkey latched onto my arm instead. It clamped its teeth into me for a solid 5 seconds, then jumped off and ran away. I’ll never forget that as the monkey was clinging onto my arm, time seemed to freeze. I turned to Victor in shock and we both burst into nervous laughter.

It wasn’t until a snorkelling trip near Monkey Island that the guide told us that if we’re bitten by a monkey, we need to go to the hospital within 24 hours to get rabies shots. This was around 10 days later…

Meet the inhabitants of Monkey Island
Meet the inhabitants of Monkey Island.

Attempt #7.2: Exhaust Burn & Infection

Back in Cambodia, monkey bites weren’t even the worst of the day’s offerings. We hopped on a moto taxi from the monkey-infested temple and rode down the hill to see the bats flying out of the cave at sunset. There were millions of them – a non-stop trail of bats for more than an hour. 

With ten days of silence followed by so much chaos in 24 hours, this had to be my favourite day of the trip. Despite that, when I hopped on the motorbike to go home, I brushed my leg against the exhaust, burning it. The driver told me not to worry, it happens all the time.

Three days later, it was infected. Seven days later, it had spread down my leg and the entire bottom half of my leg was a red patchy mess.

This was actually the motorbike ride to the meditation retreat, but you can imagine the rest
Motorbike burn infection

But by this time I had a bigger issue.

Attempt #8: Bangkok Bugs

If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ll have heard of the Thai trots. Well, I’d had amazing food up until then and couldn’t imagine it getting worse. But in Bangkok, on the legendary Khao San Road, I saw the man I’d been hoping to find for the entire trip: the bug man. 

I always like to eat weird stuff when I’m abroad. In Bolivia, I ate their local speciality, bull testicle soup. In Peru, I ate guinea pig. In Egypt, pigeon, and in France, frogs legs and snails. But in Thailand, I’d heard you could eat spiders. Big ones.

So I stroll over to the bug man. He had a tray with around a dozen different compartments, each one filled with a different critter. From mealworms to grasshoppers, cockroaches to beetles, little dried frogs to ants; I was in heaven. But what appealed to me most were the two separate containers that had tarantulas and scorpions. 

Matt eating scorpion on Khao San Road
Matt eating tarantula on Khao San Road

Eyeing up the different bugs, I asked the man how much the spiders were. He gave some ridiculous price, almost as if he were sceptical that I actually wanted to try them, like he thought I was just there to gawp at his goods. How wrong could he be…

I told him I wanted some of everything. He dished them all up in a little see-through plastic bag and gave me the tarantula and scorpion on a stick. I paid him (a decent price in the end) and went on my way.

The spider was actually really nice. It was crunchy but also juicy. The scorpion, however, had the texture of a nut shell, only there was nothing inside the nut. It was just like eating one big shell. Wouldn’t recommend.

Then I got onto the lesser bugs. Grasshoppers: yummy. Cockroaches: pretty good. The bigger and crunchier the bug, the better it was. 

As time went by, I got a bit full. I’d already eaten dinner – these bugs were my evening treat. So I decided to wrap them up and leave them for tomorrow. Or maybe the day after…

When I finally got round to eating the rest of the bugs, I was determined to try at least one of each. But by now, the bugs were no longer crunchy. They were soft like biscuits left out for too long. 

The mealworm was like eating soft empty skin. The frog that was once dried tasted wet and gooey. Even the beetle, which looked so delicious and crunchy before, was soft like butter. It didn’t help that I’d not put them in the fridge. Instead, they’d been baking in our stuffy hotel room.

Out of date bugs: yummy
The big one: mmmm...
My beloved bag of soft bugs

Anyway, I tried one of each and tossed the rest. Then we flew to Phuket. 

Attempt #8.1: Deadly Diarrhoea 

By the time we landed, I knew something was wrong. I was getting stabbing pains in my stomach and I had a bit too much wind. And this wasn’t the faint, scentless wind either. This was the most silent and most deadly farts I’d ever done in my life. I’m talking pure toxic. I’m surprised Victor didn’t pass out in the taxi to our hotel. It probably helped that we were in the back of an open jeep. Had we been locked inside of a room or car, there’s no doubt about it, he’d have needed a hazmat suit.

I took some anti-diarrhoea medicine – thankfully I’d brought some along with me in preparation for such an event – and carried on as if it was no big deal. It worked to seal me shut and, after a day, I figured: why not do a bungee jump?

I was still having stomach pains, still pumping out toxic fumes, but I already missed scuba diving. I didn’t want to miss the bungee. Even if that meant I was going to rain brown down on the peasants below. 

Luckily for me, and all those beneath me, that didn’t happen.

Attempt #9: The Constipation of Kings

The medicine worked its magic and I remained poop-free for the rest of my time in Thailand. In fact, I remained poop-free for about 2 weeks after I returned home. It got so bad that I had to go to the doctor, who, in a fit of worry, didn’t know what to treat first: my potential rabies, the growing infection on my leg, or the fact that I had almost 20 days worth of shit stored somewhere inside me.

In the end, I didn’t get rabies, my leg healed, and I can now poop on demand. I guess that’s Matt: one, Thailand: nil. 

Looking for the moral of the story? You simply have to try the bugs on Khao San Road!

Getting lost in Khao San Road, Bangkok.

Share the shit

I’ve got more tales from the toilet than you’d believe, but what’s a travel story without a dose of danger and a pinch of regret?

Share the shit to let other people know that walking around a huge island without water under the midday sun is a bad idea, or that eating out-of-date bugs should be avoided, or that they should probably see a doctor after being bitten by a monkey. How else will people learn these critical lessons?

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