Update 2017

Where am I? "Fin del mundo" or literally "the end of the world"
You may have noticed that my last post was a while back. No I haven't forgotten this website but yes I've been lazy. In 2017 I took a year off to do some further studies, some voluntary work and backpacking, mostly around Central and South America. I'm almost at the end of my year, and realising I've neglected this site, I'm committed to writing more posts and making this site more informative. I have discovered that my passion is not to blog about my travels (well maybe a little of that), or to give readers information about the best way to see a country or a city. What I really want is to do is to write about travel health topics, to explore common questions regarding travel health and to dispel any myths that may be floating around.

I know that while I've been travelling, I've often wondered about certain things and tried to google the answer. Eg is the tap water safe to drink here? There are only old cars/taxis on the road, if I take one, is it safer to sit in the front with a seatbelt or at the backseat which doesn't have a seatbelt? Is it more effective if I take the medicine for altitude sickness 2 days before I go to high altitude, or can I wait to see whether I get symptoms? If I want to try street food, what do I have to look for to reduce the chance of me getting sick? These may be things that you've wondered about too during your travels. I'm hoping that the future posts of this blog will attempt to answer some of these questions, as well as to explore other travel health topics. I'm happy to take suggestions too!

I will be back soon with more posts. But in the meantime, happy travels!

Breaking all rules within 1 hour of landing - does "boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it" really prevent traveller's diarrhoea?

As a travel doctor, I'm always teaching patients the golden rules to avoid traveller's diarrhoea and the old adage "boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it". Unfortunately these rules can be difficult to follow, especially when you're in a new place keen to try the local cuisine. In fact, studies have shown that 95-99% of all travellers (Shlim 2005; Cabada 2006) make at least one dietary mistake during their trips.

I, being an adventurous eater, am no exception to the statistics. In my case it was within an hour of landing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My friend and I were hungry and after dropping off our luggage we made our way on foot to Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City's largest market.

Ben Thanh Market

Abu Simbel - giving new meaning to moving mountains

Many go to Egypt to see the pyramids, or the Valley of the Kings. Don't get me wrong, they're definitely worthwhile, but for me the most impressive thing I saw in Egypt was Abu Simbel, a spectacular temple by itself, but even more amazing when you hear the story of the massive feat of relocating the entire temple complex while precisely maintaining its orientation.

I still remember the first time I saw a whole house being moved by a truck not long after coming to Australia. I think I spent 5 minutes staring in awe - well traffic did stand still for 5 minutes while the truck passed with its oversized cargo. But moving Abu Simbel, is just another league above. And yes, you heard correctly, they moved the ENTIRE temple complex, mountain and all!

Abu Simbel main temple with 4 colossal statues of Ramses II at the front

Scratched by a monkey, how to prevent rabies and herpes B

Monkeys may be cute but I came to know first hand how greedy and nasty they can be. While visiting one of the Hindu temples at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the priest blessed me with white/red powder on my forehead and a flower behind my ear. Filled with serenity, I proceeded to walk up the stairs to explore the temple/cave.

Unfortunately this feeling was short lived. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my ear. My flower gone and my ear bleeding, a monkey had come out of nowhere and stolen my flower, and proceeded to eat it in front of me, a face full of defiance, challenging me to come get him, if I dared.

The monkey that stole and ate my flower

Climbing Table Mountain India Venster route


Table Mountain is a flat topped mountain that forms the backdrop of Capetown, South Africa. Most people take the cable car up but wanting a unique adventure, we decided to hike instead. India Venster route is a challenging route that leads up directly under the cables of the cable car before skirting around to the back of the mountain. With 6 fatalities in 5 years on this route alone, we read that it was not well marked and many had veered offpath with devastating consequences. We joined guide Riaan Vorster along with another 2 couples to tackle this.

The scams & dangers of Paris and the ATM machine that ate my card


Paris, the romantic city, or so everybody says. Perhaps because it was the last stop on my European trip (my second solo trip abroad) that I was growing complacent and careless, or be it just luck, that I experienced most of the scams that I have since read about. Most happened in broad daylight near popular tourist attractions. I have learnt some valuable lessons and will be smarter in my future travels.

Challenging "Patagonian flat" at Torres del Paine and EcoCamp


After a long bus ride from El Calafate we arrived at EcoCamp inside Torres del Paine National Park, our home for the next few nights. It was very unexpected luxury in the middle of wilderness. We were fed 3 course gourmet meals with unlimited wine, and put up in very cozy domes. It was the perfect base to explore this park, the highlight of which was the 22 kilometre hike to the base of the magnificent Paine towers that the park was named after.

Playing maiko dress-up and tea ceremony in Gion


To experience traditional Japan, you can't go past historic Gion in Kyoto with its cobblestone streets and traditional tea houses. It is one of the few remaining geisha districts in Japan. Geishas are professional entertainers skilled in the arts of conversation, dance and musical instruments who are hired to perform and interact with guests during dinners and special occasions. A maiko is a young apprentice geisha learning the craft, whose kimono is often more colourful and their headpieces more vibrant and intricate. In Gion, many studios offer tourists the opportunity to transform into a maiko, and of course I could not pass up the opportunity.

Namibia's living desert and the survival skills of the "little five"



Most people travel to Africa to see the "big five", but there are many interesting and unique little creatures found only in the Namib Desert known as the "little five". The Namib Desert stretches 2000 kilometres along the coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It is one of the driest places in the world, seemingly lifeless at first glance, but is actually full of flora and fauna adapted to survive in its harsh conditions.

Beating jet lag, our journey to Swakopmund

It took over 32 hours to get to our destination, Swakopmund in Namibia. First an 8 hour overnight flight from Brisbane to Singapore (after working a whole day); a 5½ hours layover; an 11 hour flight to Johannesburg; another 5 hours layover; then a 2 hour flight to Walvis Bay on a small plane; and finally a 1 hour car journey to Swakopmund. We met the tour group for dinner that night but I remembered trying desperately to keep my eyelids open and feeling like a zombie. That amount of time without sleep plus a 9 hour time difference played havoc with my body clock.


La Boca, Buenos Aires, how speaking Japanese saved me


Well I may have exaggerated a little. It was not exactly a life and death situation, but to me at the time, it did feel a little like one. Imagine my first day in South America, on a bus to a suburb with a dangerous reputation, only knowing a few basic words in Spanish, and realising the bus didn't take cash after the bus driver started driving off. I may be the one to blame for the lack of research I had done for this trip, but still, I was thinking, "Oh crap!"

Anyway, lets start at the beginning of the story.


Flying with a cold, do EarPlanes ear plugs work?

Everybody (especially parents with young children) can tell you, flying with a cold is torture to your ears. Air is thinner at higher altitudes. Whilst the plane cabin is pressurised, air pressure inside the cabin is about equivalent to outside air pressure at 6000-8000 feet (1800-2400 metres). When the plane descends, the outside pressure starts increasing, pushing the ear drum inwards, causing pain and muffled hearing. In severe cases it can lead to ear drum perforation. The Eustachian tube (a tube that goes from behind the ear drum to the back of the nose) opens, causing air to rush into the middle ear behind the ear drum, thus equalising the pressure. A "pop" sound is often heard when this happens. 

Image courtesy Health writings

Boiled sheep head (svid) or rotten shark (hákarl)? Weird and wacky Icelandic food

I have always been an adventurous eater. From deep fried tarantulas in Cambodia, to silk worm skewers in China, to dangerous puffer fish (fugu) in Japan, I love trying them all. When I was trying to decide where to go to see the northern lights, I saw an article about weird and wacky food in Iceland. It sealed the deal for me.

Svid (Boiled sheep head)

I didn't waste any time - my first meal in Iceland was svid (boiled sheep head). After flying in from London, I caught the Flybus to BSI, the main bus station. There, in a diner called Fljótt og Gott inside the bus station, is the only place in Reykjavik that this delicacy is served. The sheep head is singed to remove the fur, cut in half to remove the brain, then boiled and served whole. It actually wasn't bad, other than the feeling that the food I was eating was eye-balling me the whole time, the cheek and the tongue were the best parts. 

You may say it looks gross or cruel, but I truly believe in the nose to tail philosophy of eating. If an animal is killed, every part should be used.


Climbing Mt Kinabalu 4095m


Not long after I came back from Malaysia, I was chatting with a friend, saying that I loved the country and would return soon, perhaps to climb Mt Kinabalu. He proceeded to tell me that his friend was organising to climb this very mountain, and if I wanted to join, I would have to decide that day. Always the opportunist, I said yes immediately and committed myself to the trip.

Did Rose kill Jack in Titanic? Cold Water Immersion


I attended the Extreme Medicine Conference in London and one of the most interesting topics was cold water immersion by Dr Gordon Giesbrecht. At the start of the lecture we were asked to vote, how long does it take for a person to die of hypothermia if he/she falls into an icy lake? Most thought perhaps a few minutes to half an hour. The answer? It does depend on the person's gender and body mass, but it's at least 90-120 minutes. Interestingly, short and overweight females with >30% body fat can survive twice as long as tall and lean males. Instead of hypothermia, one is more likely to die from drowning. 

She wees standing up in the African bush


Our African overland tour involved long drives between destinations with limited toileting facilities. Even when a toilet was available, the hygiene was sub par - think dirty/ blocked/ overflowing toilet with its distinct odour. Eww! On top of that you often had to pay money to enjoy such facilities, no thank you!

Hiking the Great Wall Jinshanling to Simatai - Never ending towers


No trip to China is complete without visiting the Great Wall, the ancient construction built to defend the country from Northern invaders. Most people opt for a day tour from Beijing but standing shoulder to shoulder and jostling for good photo spots with hoards of Chinese tourists on a group tour did not particularly appeal to me.

Snail fever (Schistosomiasis) - parasites that can penetrate intact skin

Riding in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta
Before my African trip I had been trying to research whether schistosomiasis is present in the places we were to visit. We had a three day camping trip within the Okavango Delta in Botswana with activities including swimming and riding in mokoro (dug out canoes). We also planned to visit Victoria Falls and had a free day for perhaps a white water rafting trip on the Zambezi River or a visit to the Devil's pool on the edge of Victoria Falls.

Diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai


As a kid when people ask what you're most fearful of, diving with great white sharks always seems to get included on the list. I guess we have the movie Jaws to thank for this. I have always been fascinated with this powerful creature, and when I found out I can go cage diving with great white sharks in South Africa, I signed up without much thought. Talking to locals when I arrived and getting the reaction of “ohhh so you're going shark diving are you???” along with pursed lips and a look of uncertainty made me realise the controversies and divided opinions about this activity.

Batu Caves and my de-flowering by a defiant monkey

Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Normally you'd think that you'll be fairly safe from wildlife while travelling in a capital city of a South East Asian country, but that's not always the case. My innocence was taken by a defiant monkey at Batu Caves, located merely 13 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur.

It was 2012, I was in KL and decided to visit the Batu Caves, limestone caves that contain Hindu shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan whose huge statue proudly stood guard. The unexpected reward atop the 272 steps was a massive cathedral cave housing several Hindu shrines. The shrines were almost overshadowed by the sheer height of the cave ceiling – I spent my first minute inside the cave looking up in awe.