Myanmar Statues

A Brush With Death in Burma

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I suspected I was going to get food poisoning in Burma from the moment I sat down for my first meal. The noodles tasted as filthy as the streets outside the restaurant looked; the plate gave off the same stench, albeit a fainter variant of it.

But I was still on my feet after a week of successively more toxic-seeming food, so I assumed I was out of the woods.

“I’ll have the fish,” I announced to the woman who’d invited me into her home to eat, after I spent the day exploring the nearby village of Inwa. I was practically defiant.

And totally premature –  the all-too-familiar fatigue, chills and headache began to set in just a few hours later.

“I’ll be fine,” I insisted to my travel companion, a nerdy fellow from Tennessee I’d met at the airport in Bangkok a few days earlier. “I’ve had food poisoning enough times to know what to expect. I’ll be well enough to get on the boat tomorrow to Bagan morning.”

“Tomorrow” is an operative term when you spend the entire night in transit between your bed and the toilet, crawling on your hands and knees because you literally can’t stand up. Needless to say, I didn’t board a boat that day.

But I definitely took a trip! It’s fucking trapped in there, I thought, and began clawing the point on my belly where I had determined the demon was located. Why won’t it leave? Why can’t it leave?

I did everything I could to expel the pathogen, save for finding a sharp object and performing surgery on myself. But as the morning light grew brighter, I was still seated on the toilet, empty of literally every solid, liquid and gas that wasn’t part of my body. And I was still full of food poisoning.

“Is something wrong, sir?” The receptionist asked, as I slithered down the stairs like a snake and into the lobby.

“I need to go to a doctor,” I whimpered, and hoisted myself off the bottom step and onto the floor. “Now.”

The silver lining of the pickup ride to the doctor’s office is that I realized it was indeed possible to feel worse than I did. Things about Burma that had initially charmed me – roads that clearly hadn’t been paved since the British left; cars made for leaded gasoline running on unleaded – were now the bane of my existence.

Although the drugs the doctor prescribed me – seven unique medications, from antibiotics, to activated charcoal, to narcotic pain pills – did little to actually make me feel better, stepping into the sun had provided me with the energy to stand up.

And, eventually, to walk. “I need to fly back to Bangkok tomorrow,” I whimpered to the travel agent who’d booked me on the boat trip I never took.

She looked upon me with concern “Why you no go to Bagan?”

“I feel like I am going to die!”

“Ah,” she nodded, as if this was something she heard every day.

Of course, I don’t know how near-death I actually was; in spite of the fact that he sold me enough medicine to fill a small carry-on, the doctor hadn’t seemed particularly alarmed by my condition.

But I felt bad enough to do something I’d never done before and have never done since – cut a trip short, travel suicide of sorts – so I’m going to assume I was pretty close.

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Myanmar

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is the author of 1088 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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Beth December 19, 2013 at 7:06 am

yep. I’m still here in Inle Lake, but felt just like that 2 nights ago. I have been thinking about bailing out to Bangkok ever since. Booked a trip to Hsipaw, and after that, south…
It is strange, the food here. I keep trying to like it, but no, not happening.

Robert Schrader December 19, 2013 at 7:47 am

I’m sorry you’re feeling ill, Beth! The ironic part about your having found this page, while still in Burma, is that when I was sick in Burma, there was not Internet anywhere!

Marta Kulesza August 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Sorry to hear that you missed seeing Bagan! It is supposed to be really beautiful. The first time I seriously got sick on my travels was in Guatape, Colombia and instead of discovering the place I was stranded to what I now recall the most uncomfortable bed ever with malaria-like symptoms. After a week of ridiculously high fever, exhaustion and dehydration I finally made my way to the hospital (with the help of the hostel owner). I was put on a drip and prescribed with antibiotics. As soon as I was back on my feet I left that place without looking back. As much as I wished to explore Guatape, I could not stand the thought of sleeping one more night in that hostel!

Adrian La Borde August 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

That sounds horrible. I got food poisoning my first week in India while staying on the beach in Goa. Took me 3 days to recover from but luckily wasn’t so severe that a doctor was needed.
I had a medical emergency in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had gone on a 3 day trek through the jungles that resulted in an elephant trek gone awry on the 2nd day. My girl friend and I were on the lead elephant (the only one without a mahout sitting with us to control)… while treking up along the hill and mountainside a mother elephant and her baby met us on the trail returning from a previous trek. What happened next was a blur or terror. The baby elephant left its mother and started following our elephant which was cute for 2 seconds until momma elephant got pissed and charged our elephant. Our elephant reared, then turned, almost fell to knees then took off running down the hillside/mountainside… which had to be a 30 degree incline that wound down into a ravine. TERRIFYING. I was flung off the side of our elephant at one point but to this day have no idea how I managed to hold onto the little rope that secured the bench seat strapped around the elephant… sheer will and adrenaline I suppose. After what felt like an eternity of the mother elephant charging ours, the elephant’s trainer had caught up with us and stopped the elephant. At that point we assessed our wounds and because I had ridden barefoot I had the enormity of injuries. The jungle brush and thorns had ripped my feet to shreds and I needed a doctor. My girl friend also needed a stitch or two.
Our group had to detour to a village where it took an hour to locate a truck then a 3 hour drive out of the jungle back to the city where I got 10 stitches. 6 in the right foot and 4 in the left. Doctor gave crappy pain pills and my next couple weeks heading to Laos and Vietnam were quite sucky. You def don’t want a foot injury while traveling! I tried to locate an English speaking doctor in Vietnam to remove the stitches but ended up in a clinic on a rainy morning watching wreck after motorcycle wreck come in. The doctor thought I wanted medicine when I finally saw him, since we were working off mimes and pointing to my feet. Ultimately I just took my stitches out myself.

Robert Schrader August 7, 2014 at 7:55 am

I didn’t make it to Guatape either, but for me that was out of laziness! May we both get to Guatape and Bagan in our lifetimes!

Robert Schrader August 7, 2014 at 7:55 am

Your “medical emergency” sounds CRAZY! Are you totally fine now?!

Miles of Happiness February 11, 2016 at 1:53 am

How terrible! I had the same kind of experience during my solo trip in Indonesia. There was a small clinic -but very scary- in the village. The nearest hospital was 8 hours drive from there. I decided it was nothing, just food poisoning -it happens all the time in Asia, no worries.
After three days, I wanted to take a selfie on the rice fields, then I saw my face and simply didn’t recognize myself. At that point, I had lost 5 kilos. In 3 days. But I didn’t know that yet. I didn’t change my travel plans, just thought that eating rice and drinking Coke would help.
After 5 days, I was back in Jakarta, my husband didn’t recognize me and took me straight to the hospital. Typhoide, I had lost total 6.5kg, was completely dehydrated and my life would have been in danger if I would have wait one or two more days. What a trip!! Hum…

yogafantica September 27, 2016 at 8:00 pm

I am headed to Myanmar and Thailand in January but am nervous about potential food poisoning. Any tips you could provide as to what you suggest I avoid, what is most likely safe to eat, should I bring a handful of powerbars?

Thank you,


Robert Schrader October 6, 2016 at 5:03 am

Avoid fresh foods! As sad as that sounds, those are most likely to contain pathogens.

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