I was at a temple in Thailand and I was about to shit my pants.
It was 2009 and it was my first trip to Asia to meet my girlfriend’s family and see where she grew up. My girlfriend, Luanne (now wife), was born and raised in Malaysia, which is conveniently situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, just south of Thailand and north of Singapore and Indonesia. Once we got to Malaysia we could easily hop on a plane for cheap and be in a different country within an hour. During this particular trip to Malaysia, we decided to explore Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
Bangkok is a thriving metropolis, with over 8 million people, so we had big plans. We would temple hop, eat a ton of food, shop, go to the red light district, explore the floating market, watch kickboxing. We were going to do it all and I was pumped.
But my ass had other plans.
We arrived in Bangkok late morning and, due to typical insane traffic, our cab delivered us to our hotel just in time for dinner. We dropped off our bags and went to find food. The language barrier in Thailand is such that the best way to choose a restaurant is based on whether or not they have pictures of the food they offer. If they don’t have pictures, you’re fucked. If they do have pictures, you might also be fucked because the pictures may or may not be an accurate representation of what you get on your plate after you order.
Here’s the thing. You must have an open mind when you travel to Thailand. If you expect your plant based, gluten free, organic, no oil, small batched, wild harvested, blessed-by-a-guru food requirements to be accommodated for, you can think again. You’ll be lucky if you even recognize what’s on your plate.
After an hour of looking for a restaurant with pictures, I got fed up and decided to go back to our hotel and order something from the tourist menu. What I did next was a rookie mistake that I would soon regret very much, and one that I will never make again.
I ordered a salad.
If there’s one thing you NEVER order from a restaurant in Southeast Asia, it’s salad. You order noodles and rice and soup and tofu and stir-fries, and anything that is COOKED. You never order raw salad. Ever. My asshole is getting panicked just thinking about it. So I ordered my salad, I ate the whole thing and off to bed we went.
The next day we got up, found some coffee, and eased into our morning. We left the hotel room mid-morning and made our way to Thailand’s biggest outdoor shopping area, Chatuchak Market. This market has 15,000 stalls and you can literally find anything you would ever need and everything you would never need. You can find belts, beads, bags, antiques, blankets, rice, shoes, sarongs, fruit, scarves, tapestries, Tom Kha Soup, jewelry, DVDs, live animals – it’s nuts.
Imagine a hybrid of Urban Outfitters, a farmer’s market, a yard sale, one of those new-age Tibetan shops, a county fair, an antique store, and a Thai food truck, all wrapped up into one and then placed outside in tents in 90°F / 35°C heat, 80 percent humidity and spanning 27 acres. It’s kind of like that.
As it turned out, going to Chatuchak during the hottest part of the day was another rookie mistake. Thailand is hot, really damn hot, and after wandering through thousands of stalls in the stifling heat, I started to get dizzy and feel faint. My stomach was also starting to feel off. We found our way out of the shopping labyrinth, got on the train, and headed back to our hotel for a rest.
I wasn’t in top shape, and my stomach was making noises that should not come from a stomach, but I wanted to explore the city. So when the sun went down, I manned up and we walked to Soi Cowboy, Bangkok’s red light district. We took a seat at an outside bar and we drank 50-cent beers and smoked cheap cigarettes while we steamed ourselves in the hot and humid evening air and observed the scene.
Thirty minutes later, it hit me. I needed a toilet and I needed it FAST. From the feeling in my tummy, I knew I would be needing said toilet for an extended amount of time, which was unfortunate because Luanne and I were fairly new, so I was bracing for some awkward moments. I told Luanne that I had to get back to the hotel because I wasn’t feeling well. I gave her some money and asked her to square up, giving me a head start to bomb the base alone, without my new girlfriend right outside the toilet in our hotel room. I grabbed the keys to our room and I RAN.
Managing to not shit my pants, I got to our room, planted my ass on the toilet, and that’s where I stayed for the remainder of our Thailand adventure.
Three days later, as we packed our bags and were getting ready to head off to the airport (the items from Chatuchak being our only souvenirs from our trip), I got super pissed that I was leaving Thailand without seeing much more than the inside of our bathroom. I told Luanne that I wanted to go to the floating market outside of Bangkok on the way to the airport. Our flight was in the afternoon so we had plenty of time. We checked out of our hotel, grabbed a cab, and off we went.
At this point, I was still not well, and the reality of not having a toilet in the very near vicinity was enough to make me panic and sweat. The cab felt small and hot and I felt so sick that I couldn’t open my mouth to talk. I just nodded and smiled and fidgeted and hoped to all things good that we got to the floating market soon.
We finally arrived and the first thing I did was find a toilet. Relief. We then paid for our boat ride, met our boat driver, and hopped on.
Thailand’s floating markets are cool. Vendors sell food, produce, clothing, jewelry, and whatever else you can think of, all along the river and the only way to access them is by boat. It’s kind of like going to a farmer’s market on the water and you stay in a boat and shop. Cool, right?
NOT IF YOU HAVE RAGING DIARRHEA.
If you have raging diarrhea in this particular situation, you make peace with the fact that you may very well shit your pants, and you tell yourself that you’re going to have to be okay with this. Which is precisely what I was doing when we got out of the crammed shopping part of the market and entered the main waterway. Our boat driver decided he wanted to show off for the Americans. So, lucky me, he started intermittently speeding up so fast that our boat was practically levitating, and then coming to a complete stop. Speed up, stop. Speed up, stop. Speed up, you get the idea.
Every time he sped up, a wave of sickness would flood over me. My hands and feet would start to sweat, nausea would kick in, my stomach would flip-flop around, chills would cover my body. I couldn’t focus on anything. I had to squirm. I couldn’t hold the shit in for much longer.
The conversation in my head went something like this:
“If the poop comes while we’re still in the boat, I’m going to have to tell Luanne. She will probably already know because she will smell it, right? Fuck. If I do shit my pants, I’ll just have to sit here until the boat ride ends. Luanne could buy me a sarong and a couple bottles of water, she’s cool, she would do that for me. I could then tie the sarong around my waist and walk to the toilet with the bottles of water. From there, I could throw away my underpants, and possibly my shorts, and wash up as best I could. Damn it, I’m wearing my cute new shorts too. I should’ve put on my older busted pair this morning. Wait a minute. Why is it that I am having to think about leaving my cute new shorts in a trash can in the middle of Thailand because they’re filled with shit. WHY?!”
As I was having this conversation with myself, Luanne looked over at me and asked if I was alright. “Mmm hmm” was the only noise I could muster, as I gave her a thumbs up. As soon as I couldn’t clench my butt cheeks any longer without passing out, there it was. And it was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
It was a Buddhist temple that we could access from the boat.
And it had a bathroom.
I told our boat driver to pull over, and FAST! I hauled ass out of that boat, I RAN up the stairs, and I got to the toilet in the nick of time, without a second to spare. My cute shorts were spared.
THANK YOU, BUDDHA.
After our boat ride that I couldn’t really remember, on account of focusing so hard on not shitting my pants, we got a cab to the airport and we flew back to Malaysia. From there, I would continue to be sick for the next two days, while we stayed at Luanne’s brother’s house. Not the ideal circumstances to meet your girlfriend’s family for the first time, but at least shitting my pants was no longer a threat.
I have since traveled to different parts of Thailand without getting sick, but every time I think of Bangkok, a chill washes over my body and a single bead of sweat falls from my brow.
Have you ever gotten food poisoning? Tell me about it in the comments below and we can compare notes.
Here are some pictures of our first trip to Thailand together, from almost a decade ago.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with a happy tummy.