Getting Food Poisoning in Pai

Warning: This post contains description of gastrointestinal, um . . . situations.

Please enjoy the above sunset photo as a preemptive apology.

I will just say this upfront, we were not fans of Pai, Thailand. In 6 months of travel, we have spent 2 months in Northern Thailand and we love it there, except for Pai.

Pai is set in a beautiful valley, but the main area of town has been over run by travelers. Tattoo parlors, bars, and souvenir shops line the streets for two full blocks of the tiny town. Travelers in this area out number locals 2 to 1. It reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok. Some people like this type of place, but our family is not into that kind of vibe.

Before arriving, we declared, “No Rest Day Pai”. We had just spent the last week in Chiang Kong and Chiang Rai not doing much. So we vowed to do activities every day in this town. But then we discovered that besides riding elephants at Thom’s Elephant Camp, there wasn’t much else we wanted to do in the area. This turned out to be a good thing because Pai had other plans for us . . .

It all started at the night market on our second night in Pai. We were eating delicious foods from street carts. We saw a stand selling grilled chicken and pork and we bought some. As I bit into the warm, juicy meat I declared:

“You can’t go wrong with street meat!”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized my mistake. You definitely could go wrong with street meat and 24 hours later, we would learn just how wrong.

We were standing on the same street, eating more street foods, when Arwen said, “I don’t feel well. My stomach hurts.”

“I feel dizzy and I want to sit down,” she continued.

We had pretty much finished our grazing street food meal, so we hurried back to our guesthouse. We were staying up on the hill at Romance Time Mountain Resort, so we had to go to a restaurant at the bottom of the hill to get a shuttle. (For some reason Pai doesn’t have tuk tuks or songtheow trucks for local public transportation).

Back at our guesthouse, Arwen tried to rest, but tears welled up in her eyes as she complained of stomach pains.

As I tried to comfort her, I realized that my stomach wasn’t feeling so great either, but I tried to deny it.

When I finally admitted it out loud, Rand and Kali confessed that they were also feeling bad, but had been trying to convince themselves it was just sympathy pains.

Within the next hour, we were all sick, except for Sierra.

We were staying all together in a family sized room, which meant that there was only one bathroom for the five of us.

At first, as we each succumb to what we later decided was salmonella, we managed to stagger our need for the toilet. But as the night wore on, we sometimes couldn’t help but double up.

I was puking in the toilet when Arwen ran in and threw up in the sink. Rand had to upchuck off the side of the porch because Kali was sitting on the toilet with diarrhea.

All night long we were in and out of the bathroom emptying the contents of our stomachs one way or the other. It was not a pretty sight, or smell.

We had started the night with a full one and half liter bottle of water in our room, Usually this is plenty for teeth brushing or if anyone gets thirsty in the night. Remember, tap water is not potable in Thailand.

This amount of water, however, was not enough to get us through the Night of 1000 Vomits. In most of the places we stayed during our first five months travels, this would not have been a problem. I would have just walked down the street to a 7-11 and gotten more water.

But in Pai, we were staying more than a kilometer up a steep hill from the nearest 7-11. And it was after 10 pm when we began to fall ill, so I couldn’t even ask someone from the guesthouse to drive me down to town. Also, I might have hurled all over their car.

So, in the middle of the night, desperate for water, I made my way from our bungalow through the dark field with Orion watching over me to the front office. No one was there. The lights were all off. Like most places in Thailand, the office and breakfast area were covered with a roof, but open to the elements.

By the light of the moon, I searched the area for potable water. I found a hot water kettle that was miraculously on and full of water. Now I needed something to put the water in to bring it back to our room.

I remembered that the guesthouse had provided water in glass bottles when we arrived and we still had the empty bottles in our room. I went and got two of them and filled them with water from the kettle. The water was really hot, so I found a dish towel to wrap around them so I didn’t burn myself carrying them back to the room.

Back and forth, I went, throughout the night, pumping water from the kettle, wondering if there would be enough water to last the night. Never before have I told my kids to try not to drink too much water when they were having stomach issues.

Eventually we all fell asleep, occasionally waking up to run to the bathroom. Sierra slept through it all.

The next morning I asked the guesthouse for a ride to 7-11 where I got lots of water and gentle snacks. We spent the day holed up in our room recovering. Later that night Sierra finally succumb to the food poisoning. I think she held off so she didn’t have to share the bathroom.

“No Rest Day Pai” became “All Rest Day Pai.” And a town that we didn’t really like in the first place did not gain any favor by giving us salmonella. This day ranked #1 in our worst experiences in southeast Asia. And Pai became our least favorite place we have visited so far.

Pai, Thailand

The food stall that got us sick. Yes, you can go wrong with street meat. Very wrong.

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