Bad luck in Burma

On the final leg of my Sweden to Myanmar (Burma) haul, a 28 hour ordeal with lengthy stops in both London and Hong Kong, I was alternately passing out on the tray table and squirming in my seat. When we finally touched down in Yangon at about one in the morning I managed to clear customs and make it to my hostel with relative ease.

The next morning I woke up to discover why I was squirming in my airline seat: red welts all over my torso. Oh the irony – after ten months in Asia it was on the two week trip home to Sweden that I had collected bed bugs! So I did what any normal 29 year old would do: took a bunch of grotesque selfies of the damage and sent them to my mom for some trans-Pacific pity. Thanks (+sorry), mom.

And then I settled into Yangon with a week to kill before the real travel was to start when my friend Oskar arrived.

The welts subsided after a few days, just as I swapped hostels to a cheaper one down the street. Turns out that the $6 a night I was saving wouldn’t be worth it: the next morning I woke up to find that in the night time downpour my room had flooded, and of course it all pooled in the corner where I had neatly tucked away my “moving to New Zealand” bag. The one that had my books, my nice leather shoes, my computer and a whole bunch of my good clothes in it. Happily sitting there. In ankle-deep standing water that I could only pray came from the roof, not from a broken sewage pipe.

Ho hum. The reception staff didn’t understand my problem (“No water in the shower?!”), but after chatting with another backpacker who was staying upstairs, it turns out the staff were well aware of the flooding. At 3 am they had been up on the third floor moving people and bags out of the way of the deluge. And then like magic all the water was gone and everyone went happily to bed. No one thought that the water maybe went somewhere. Like following some poorly-known laws of gravity down to the second floor. Where I was sleeping.

I couldn’t even bring myself to open the bag. I asked for a private room but they didn’t have one – although I was offered the staff room, which was about the size of a toilet, reeked of cigarettes and had foul dishcloths hung all around. I declined.

So I checked into a stupidly stupid expensive hotel for two nights, hung up everything in the bag (smelly, but largely salvageable) and enjoyed having a room to myself.

Finally Oskar arrived and it was time to get going. Right?


After a couple of days sightseeing in Yangon (since the first week and a half wasn’t enough…) we were due to take the train up to Bagan – the veritable pagoda theme park, without the rides. Just batrillions of pagodas.

That morning I woke up, headed over to brush my teeth and then passed out in the bathroom. I came to in a pool of sweat with four Burmese girls standing over me giggling.

And this is when I was pretty sure I was going to die of dengue.

Another guy staying at the hostel walked by the spectacle and looked at me sprawled on the floor with the girls tittering at the other side of the room. “Are you ok?”

My vision was coming and going, I was sweating, then shivering, and above all concerned I would soon loose consciousness again and no one would do anything to help me. “No. NO! Not ok!” I pleaded with him, “I just passed out. I need water. Call a doctor.”

He ran to grab me some water and find someone who might know something about doctors in the area, which immediately made me feel better. At least someone knew I needed help.

I managed to crawl back into bed where I slept for the next 24 hours (and this was after a full night’s sleep). Oskar booked me a doctor appointment that afternoon but I was too exhausted to get into a taxi to go to it… which in hindsight was obviously a sign I should have gone, not cancelled the appointment.

Two days later Oskar had braved the train to Bagan, while I stayed behind in Yangon and finally made it to the hospital. The doctor at the International SOS Clinic (Yangon, Myanmar) was excellent. She ran a battery of tests, asked me all sorts of questions and really gave me a full check – not just following up on the symptoms that I reported.

After hours of waiting my results finally came back. Much to my relief I did not have dengue – I had become pretty convinced that I was in the “lull” period where the disease breifly disappears between going from bad to worse.

However, I was a few pills shy of healthy. Between the physical exam and the tests she diagnosed me with:

  • Tonsillitis
  • An ear infection
  • Gastro-enteritis
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Anaemia
  • Crystals in my urine
Rice for dinner
Finally on the mend with my big bowl of plain rice.

To be honest I have no idea how I was even walking at this point, and neither did the doctor. Luckily everything on the list was pretty easily treated, so she sent me home with a round of antibiotics, some pain killers and firm directions to eat more beef (which I of course had no intention of doing, at least till I got to New Zealand a month later). But I did follow her orders to stay on a bland diet of little more than white rice for a few days.

I spent one more night in Yangon before overnight bussing up to Bagan. As I checked out of the hostel, where I had been for over a week now with daily extensions, the girl at the desk smiled at me and said “I hope we don’t see you again tonight!”




Where in the world is Allison? Still in Yangon, Myanmar. Still.


Spoiler alert: I survived Myanmar, recovered from my ailments, freed myself of bed bugs and am happily in New Zealand now, looking for a steak. The “good part” of Myanmar posts will follow in due time (“shortly” just seems overly optimistic…)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Surfdog says:

    Sorry to hear – err – read that! Hope you will be good enough to enjoy bicycling in Bagan!!


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