Chiang Mai and Thailand are not the same as western countries when it comes to hygiene and the illnesses visitors might possibly contract. Nevertheless, taking a few basic precautions ensures most visitors will stay healthy and not get sick while enjoying the cuisine, nightlife and activities the city and its environs are justifiably famed for.
Medicine and treatment is generally cheaper in Thailand than developed countries. Doctors in Chiang Mai have reasonable English proficiency and tourists going to hospitals for treatment are usually kept informed about their particular problems and given suitable treatments. Chemists at city centre pharmacies also speak English and can soon sort out medication for minor ailments.
Despite the relatively low cost of medicines and treatment it is always better to prepare for the unexpected and take out a travel insurance policy with enough cover for all eventualities. Tourists who pamper their bodies and souls with a rejuvenating spa, beauty treatment or massage will probably go home feeling far healthier than when they arrived.
EATING AND DRINKING
At streetside stalls comes with a few risks. Plates, bowls and cutlery are washed in water that is not changed too often. Opting for a steaming hot kuay tiew noodle soup will kill any lingering bacteria. Tap water is a no-no too. Bottled water is everywhere and a small bottle costs as little as THB5. Those with sensitive stomachs are better off avoiding drinks with ice. Most bottled drinks and beers are stored in refrigerators anyway.
Dehydration is something to keep in mind and it is always advisable to drink lots of water when out and about in Chiang Mai or any other tropical location. Dehydration is more likely to be a problem between March and May in Chiang Mai. Temperatures are always 35°C and above and it is unknown for the thermometer to climb above the 40°C mark. Headaches and yellow urine are the main indicators your body does not have enough water in it. Oral rehydration powders such as O-Lyte are available at pharmacies.
DIARRHOEA AND STOMACH UPSETS
Diarrhoea and stomach upsets are an issue most common among non-Asian tourists. The most common cause of diarrhoea for many is the chillis and other spices which feature in most Thai and Northern Thai dishes. Asking for mai pet (not spicy) will get the hotness toned down. Chiang Mai has a wide selection of eateries and those wishing to sample traditional dishes in hygienic environments at reasonable prices could try locations such as the Galare or Anusarn food markets and food courts in shopping centres including Kad Suan Kaew and Maya.
MALARIA AND DENGUE FEVER
Mosquitoes are rife in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand. During the June to October rainy season, there are always more mosquitoes and the risk of getting dengue fever does increase accordingly. Malaria is not common across the region and there is only a minimal chance of getting it and then only when travelling to out-of-the-way jungle locations. Health professionals say the strain of malaria in the North is resistant to the current range of prophylactics.
Mosquitoes are at their most active at dusk and as dawn is breaking. Tourists can minimise the risk of contracting malaria or dengue fever by covering their arms and legs as much as possible once the sun has set. Keeping away from any standing water such as puddles and ponds is another useful precaution. Mosquito repellents and sprays including international brands Deet and Sketolene are sold at 7-Elevens, Boots and pharmacies in most resorts and cities.
There is no immunisation vaccination for dengue fever yet. Symptoms show three days or more after being bitten by an infected mosquito. These include a high fever and sweating, tiredness, rashes, splitting headaches and light-headedness. Tourists who think they have dengue fever when they are either in Thailand or have returned home should see a doctor without delay.
Rabies is not widespread in Thailand but there are occasional reported cases. Immunisations are available prior to travel and usually consist of three injections spread over four to five weeks. Doctors’ clinics and hospitals in Chiang Mai mostly carry stocks of rabies vaccines. If bitten or licked on an open wound by a dog when visiting Chiang Mai, it is better to start a course of injections as rabies is fatal.
Hepatitis comes in five different strains. Hepatitis A and B are the only ones tourists are at risk of contracting in Thailand. Hepatitis A is usually caused by food or drink contaminated by bacteria. Although not common, further reducing the risk of getting this strain is easily accomplished by taking care where you eat and drink and what. Hepatitis A symptoms are generally feeling unwell and a mild fever. Hepatitis A vaccinations are available in most developed nations.
Hepatitis B is caused by exposure to infected blood or unprotected sex with an infected person. Ill health and a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes are early indications of Hepatitis B. Once contracted, there is no cure for Hepatitis B. Vaccinations are an option before travel and can be taken as a dual injection with Hepatitis A or typhoid.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES (STD)
AKA Venereal Diseases, are a problem the world over and Chiang Mai is no different. Condoms reduce the risk of getting an STD to almost zero. Following an outbreak of AIDS in the early 1990s, Thai health authorities were proactive in advocating the use of condoms and making sure they were easily obtainable. An outcome of this is that even 7-Elevens have packets of condoms displayed prominently on their front counters.
HIV/AIDS are not the death sentence they once were. Advances in antiretroviral drugs have made a big difference in slowing down the failure of the body’s immune system. Despite this, HIV is for life and prevention the only cure at present. Like STDs and Hepatitis B, safe sex is the best preventative measure.