What would a travel blog be without a piece about Bali Belly, otherwise known as Travellers Diarrhoea? Well this is that piece, so buckle up on an empty stomach and read on.
This bout of Bali Belly has nothing to do with Bali, but instead, Malaysia. I couldn’t wait to visit Malaysia; glossy travel brochures showing tropical forests, lush foliage, and the smiling faces of local peasants. It promised to be the holiday of a lifetime! I had pre-booked a long bus ride through the Cameron Highlands, over 700-square-kilometres of stunning green land with tea plantations, lavender farms, English Tudor-style hotels, and strawberry farms. Sir William Cameron, a British colonialist founded the highlands and he modelled them after an English village, and they are a must-see for every tourist.
I had booked a week in Kuala Lumpur and had a packed itinerary of sight-seeing, shopping, and the piece-de-resistance, a bus trip through the Cameron Highlands. I imagined myself having high-tea in a fancy English hotel whilst looking down at the workers in the tea plantation, smiling and waving up at me. Now for the reality.
The first couple of days in Kuala Lumpur were fabulous. I’d been warned not to drink the water, nor to brush my teeth in it, so I was fastidious about only drinking bottled water and eating cooked foods. From day one I was loving the curry flavour that the savoury dishes had, as I love curry. Day 2 was okay too; even though the curry flavour had started to wear on me by evening, I knew I’d get used to it. Day 3 arrived and I woke up with a rumbly tummy; best to skip breakfast I thought. Despite skipping breakfast the stomach cramps hit me and I made a few trips to the toilet. It’s okay, I told myself, I’ll adjust. I had been told about the shopping in Chinatown so after a bit of a stomach cleanse, I headed out with a map and my credit card.
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is an array of colour; clothes, accessories, fresh produce, arts and crafts. Not the cleanest place on earth, but beautiful fashions and the heady aroma of street food being cooked before your eyes. I shopped hard; Italian leather shoes for a few dollars each and a variety of gorgeous dresses, jackets and souvenirs. My hands were full when my stomach started the uncomfortable rumbling. It’s okay, just find a bathroom. Easier said than done.
Let me tell you about public bathrooms in Malaysia. Firstly, you have to pay to use them. Secondly, they are ‘cleaned’ by being sprayed down with water, and nothing else Thirdly, they are holes in the ground you have to squat over and you use a hose to clean yourself. But I was desperate so off I ran, carrying masses of plastic bags filled with my lovely purchases. When I arrived at the restrooms there was a long queue as the toilets were being cleaned. I waited uncomfortably for ten minutes, paid the old lady and headed to a free cubicle. Problem one; it had just been ‘cleaned’ so everything was soaked. Muddy water had pooled on the ground so I couldn’t put my bags down and unlike Australia, there were no convenient handbag hooks behind the door. I also had a heavy backpack on and a smaller bag strapped to the front of me with my passport, credit cards and cash. I was busting by this stage, so I had no choice but to use the hole in the ground despite being loaded like a pack-horse. With some jiggling and astounding acrobatics I was able to undress and use the ‘toilet’, but of course, no toilet paper. The hose was lying to my side, crusted in fresh excrement, and I was gagging whilst trying to hold the cleanest part of it so I could clean myself. If you need humbling, I suggest a trip to the bathrooms in Chinatown in Malaysia. I was so nauseated by the experience that I hurried back to my hotel and showered immediately.
The diarrhoea continued and I was nervous. I was struggling to leave my hotel room but I needed food (no fancy room service in my hotel), and I had the upcoming trip to the Cameron Highlands. I had to somehow manage my sick stomach. I decided to stick to basic non-curry flavoured foods, like McDonalds. In between bathroom bouts I walked to McDonalds and ordered a cheeseburger and apple pie. I was weak and hungry, desperate for a taste of home, but I knew better than to stay away from my hotel bathroom for too long. I took my prize back to my hotel room and bit into the cheeseburger. Ugh, it was curry flavoured, so I spat it out and threw the remains in the bin. Ah, but I still had an apple pie; it would have to do. It only took the smallest of bites for me to recoil in horror; even the apple pie had a strong curry flavour. I was traumatised, hungry, weak, and sick. I didn’t know what I would do.
There was a small pharmacy down the street from my hotel, so I went in search of medication. The kindly pharmacist took pity on my tears and descriptions of foul diarrhoea, so he gave me a packet of diarrhoea relief pills. I was so grateful; the Cameron Highlands trip was the next morning and I was determined not to miss it. I stopped at a general store on the way back to my hotel room, and picked up a couple of packets of Cheeto cheese snacks. Yes, you guessed it; even they had a strong curry flavour.
I slept remarkably well that night and my stomach was a lot better; not entirely relieved, but manageable. Although I felt unnaturally tired I boarded that old bus and headed out to the Cameron Highlands. The journey was amazing; lush landscapes in the richest green imagineable; those travel brochures did not lie! After thirty minutes I couldn’t stay awake, so I thought I’d have a quick nap. I awoke two hours later when the bus stopped for morning tea, having missed so much of the scenery. I couldn’t understand why I was so exhausted, and my stomach was starting to rumble again. I queued up at the toilets of the strawberry farm, waiting for my turn while the other tourists bought fresh strawberries and chatted with the workers. My stomach was still queasy so I took another couple of pills and boarded the bus again. This time I woke only by being rocked and poked by the tour guide. I had slept through the entire day, missing high tea, lunch, and incredible scenery. I showed the tour guide the tablets I was taking and in broken English he informed me that they were sedatives as well as antidiarrheal medication. I had no choice, I had to keep taking them so that I could eat something, curry flavoured of course, and eventually hop on a plane and fly back home. So what’s the moral to the story? If you don’t like curry flavoured apple-pies, don’t go to Malaysia. If you don’t want to clean your backside with a hose dirtier than the toilet, don’t go to Malaysia. But most of all, take some non-drowsy stomach medication with you and do that trip through the Cameron Highlands. I can’t wait to go back!