Let’s get one thing very clear right off the bat: Imodium is and forever will be your most trusted friend and loyal companion on the road.
For those of you who have never have heard of Imodium, it’s an anti-embarrassment medication created for the sole purpose of alleviating signs and symptoms of diarrhea by restricting and slowing down movements within the gut.
In other words, it stops you from having the shits.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of never bringing it along with me on my trips to Southeast Asia and I’ve made it my mission to inform people not to make the very same mistake.
Below is an account of just how humiliating it can be to not have anything to stem the inevitable and oftentimes painful bowel movements commonplace in a visit to a tropical country.
When I was the ripe old age of 23, I challenged myself to a three-week travel experience to Cambodia, a country well-known for providing visitors with a nice healthy dose of tropical bacteria and less than sanitary conditions.
I was young, dumb, and full of unending aspirations to leave my normal post-university life behind in favour of a hot country full of cheap beer and a chance to immerse myself in some rich and vibrant culture, I guess.
Before this, I’d already done a whole trip around a large portion of Indonesia, where I learned first-hand the uncomfortable feeling tropical bacteria and unsanitary food outlets had on the gut.
Unfortunately, this time around, I totally ignored every past bellyache I endured in Indonesia and still – without hesitation – substituted hindsight with the blind ignorance and stupidity reserved only for 23-year-olds with a penchant for winging it harder than George Best in his former booze-fuelled glory days.
To this day, I still can’t tell whether Cambodia’s bacteria was worse than Indonesia’s, but between getting off the plane and eating a ham and cheese sandwich at a $5 per night hostel in the center of Phnom Penh an hour later, I’d hedge my bets on Cambodia’s being the most militant.
One of the most memorable stories I have in my arsenal of Cambodia hilarity comes fully-loaded with a facepalm and a horrifying close-call in public.
I met two friends of mine from my hometown who, by chance, were travelling the whole of Southeast Asia at the same time I was in Siem Reap, a northwestern Cambodian town home to the majestic Angkor Wat made even more famous by Angelina Jolie depicting Lara Croft in nothing more than a pair of combat-ready short-shorts.
After a night of heavy drinking and some food, we each decided to head back to Phnom Penh to visit the infamous Killing Fields and S21 museum via a seven-hour bus journey across barren dirt roads with no air conditioning and a group of men carrying unceremoniously noisy caged chickens.
The air in that bus was unimaginably putrid. I still remember the concoction of sweat, dust and chicken feces swirling around the bus’ small frame, untamed and wild in its movement, headstrong in its ability to stick around despite the mass opening of windows every mile we went.
As we entered into Phnom Penh after what felt like an eternity, I couldn’t shake off a feeling of unease in my stomach. The swirls of wind trapped inside me danced to a slow beat I barely recognised, cramping my gut periodically with a dull ache going from the abdomen right the way down to my left leg.
We crashed for the night in a hotel just outside the main city center with my gut still swaying in and out of pain and relief. I ignored it, went to bed, and hoped the next morning my body would expel whatever was lurking within me.
By the crack of dawn, all three of us rolled out of bed and hailed down a tuk-tuk to take us first to the Killing Fields and then on to the S21 museum, both of which are about 20 minutes apart from each other.
In the interest of context, both of these historical locations chronicle the atrocities conducted by Pol Pot and his tyrannical and downright sickening Khmer Rouge regime that maimed and killed over a quarter of Cambodia’s population in the space of four years. And as a side note, the story I’m about to tell does not in any way minimise what happened in those four years, nor do I want to trivialise it with my bowl-centered misfortune.
Anyway, despite the tuk-tuk ride being abnormally bumpy, especially along the busier streets as we weaved in and out of traffic, I noticed my stomach cramps didn’t increase in frequency – in fact, they were barely noticeable.
We disembarked our trusty motorised steed and made our way into the Killing Fields. We were instantly greeted by a tower filled with skulls of the victims killed here. It was a sobering introduction to what lay ahead: a mass grave site of 9,000 people who became victims of Pol Pot’s genocide.
As we ventured further into the complex, we were met with horrifying scenes. The brutal killings you heard of now became a reality. It was gruesome, unfathomable, and disgusting. The idea that one man’s vision of the future of Cambodia centered on mass killings, torture, and inhumane acts chilled us to the core.
Nothing can prepare you for it. It was an emotional rollercoaster. If you’re uneasy with confronting historical events like this, I implore you to think twice about visiting here. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Emotionally exhausted, we left the Killing Fields and made our way to the S21 museum. We sat there on our tuk-tuk, silenced by what we’d just experienced; not a word was spoken between the three of us.
Halfway into the journey, I felt a sharp pain shoot through my stomach. I couldn’t hide it. My face, apparently, turned a shade of green and I writhed in pain in the backseat of the tuk-tuk.
My friends managed to grab the attention of the driver who couldn’t speak a lick of English and signalled him to pull over by pointing at me as I grabbed my stomach tight in fear of exploding.
We pulled over at a small local restaurant on the side of the road. I slowly got off the seat hunched over, shimmying towards the restaurant with my friends either side of me, butt cheeks clenched harder than a vice grip, much to the amusement of local onlookers.
As they did with the tuk-tuk driver, my friends signalled the bewildered restaurant owners who took heed of my hunched-over frame and instantly pointed to the toilet door to the left of the counter.
As I got to the toilet, I was immediately met with a hole in the ground. I didn’t care. I pulled everything down to my ankles, squatted over the hole and let loose. It was like I beckoned the apocalypse with one full push, whereupon the four horseman giddy-upped their valiant steeds and scorched the bottom of the hole with fire and brimstone.
The relief was instant.
I looked around for some toilet roll or any sort of paper. Nothing.
Still squatting, I was desperate to find something to clean up what I unleashed. All I could see was the toilet door, the dirty walls either side of me, and the end of a hosepipe in my peripheral vision.
I grabbed the hosepipe with one hand and looked diagonally behind me to find a tap. It was a makeshift bidet.
With no other option but to use it, I positioned the end of the hose in what I thought was the right place, pressed my coccyx against it and turned the tap handle.
Without a moment to blink, the water shot out from between my legs, narrowly tickling the edge of my scrotum and straight down into my boxer shorts below, leaving a shallow puddle of Cambodian water to lay triumphantly upon the crotch area.
Embarrassed, defeated, and annoyed, I re-positioned, hit the target, and cleaned up the best I could. I pulled up my wet boxer shorts and left the toilet stall ready for the inevitable mocking.
As I got out, some of the locals that saw me earlier at my most vulnerable let out a few laughs; my friends did the same. I took it on the chin the best I could. What was weird to me, however, was as we got back to the tuk-tuk, the laughs continued and got increasingly louder – it wasn’t until one of my friends pointed at my shorts that I knew exactly what they were laughing at.
I looked down to where he was pointing and realised I was wearing cream-coloured shorts and you could see where the pool(s) of water had soaked through my boxer shorts – it was like I was wearing a pair of black y-fronts.
I could feel the red on my face grow brighter and more intense and I fleed the scene of the crime without any hesitation.
In the end, we made the wise decision to preserve whatever dignity I had left and made our way back to the hotel for me to shower off my humiliation and change into a fresh pair of boxer shorts.
I, to this day, have never lived it down.
So, take my advice: Please, don’t forget to pack your Imodium and certainly don’t leave your hotel without it.
You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.