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Many people, myself included, travel for the love of food.
My culinary adventures include eating yak eyeballs in Tibet, bamboo grubs in Thailand, fried crickets in Myanmar, and Rocky Mountain oysters (cow balls) in Wyoming.
Eating is a huge part of the discovery and pleasure of travel, but if it makes you sick, it can also cause some of your worst memories. Here’s how to avoid the potentially detrimental consequences of eating on the road.
1. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Water in developing countries may not be treated and can contain bacteria that could harm your digestion. So the key to staying healthy is to drink bottled water, or boiled water, because boiling it essentially cooks the bacteria out. Pro tip: If the screw top of the bottle served to you is already open, ask for another. Restaurants sometimes refill bottles from the tap.
Related: Related: Best Meat in Hong Kong
2. Size up your stall. Many seasoned travelers say they wouldn’t pass up the mouthwatering local specialties available at food stalls at very reasonable prices. Others, however, won’t even touch street food, for fear of getting sick. As for me, I take it case by case. I size up the cleanliness of the food stall, the clientele, the vendor, the freshness of the food offered, and how it’s cooked. If there are flies swarming around the stall, it’s best to shy away. If it looks OK but you’re still doubtful, always go for hot food rather than cold food. The fact that it’s been cooked means that there is a bigger chance the bacteria will have been boiled away.
3. Get what the locals order. When I eat at a hole-in-the-wall place where English is neither written nor spoken, I let my fellow diners do the deciding for me. Chances are, the locals know what’s good and what’s questionable, so follow their lead, and order what they’re having. And if all else fails, befriend your waiter. I’ve gestured and cajoled my waiter into letting me into the kitchen to point at this and that, and really see how dishes are made. I ham it up! The staff loves it, and I usually end up with a great meal, plus new friends for the feast.
4. Avoid unpeeled fruit. In developing countries, the rule of thumb is: peel it, or forget it. Avoid buying fruit from the lady on the corner in Bangkok selling slices of fresh pineapple, mango and papaya. You don’t know how clean her knife is, or when she last washed her hands before going in. Stick to bananas and oranges and other other fruits that you can peel yourself. That way, you know that the skin has been protecting the goods inside.
5. Examine your eats. It’s tempting to dig right in and go for it, because the food looks and smells so delicious and interesting. But take a minute and scope your plate before you indulge. True stories: I found a floating fly in my soup in New York, mosquitoes in my beer in India, and raw meat in my curry in Bali. Yikes.
6. Be sure your meat and fish are cooked. In developing countries, eating raw or undercooked meat can make you sick, because there’s a higher chance that it will be filled with bacteria. Raw shellfish can be particularly dangerous to people who have liver disease or compromised immune systems.
If this sounds, well, unappetizing to you, there’s always Napa. And Paris. And Italy. And in places like Europe, all the rules are different.
Phuket Food Guide: 10 Must-Try Restaurants & Street Food Stalls
NOTICE: Some of the information on this website may have changed due to the current global situation. It's important to check with the proper authorities for the latest travel guidelines and anything else that could affect your plans.
You know what&rsquos great to eat in Phuket? The seafood.
This isn&rsquot surprising considering Phuket is surrounded on all sides by the Andaman Sea. In fact, stay in any of its beautiful beach towns and you&rsquoll be a fishing line away from many seafood restaurants, not to mention Italian pizzerias and sushi bars! Yes, Phuket can be touristy.
I love seafood so I didn&rsquot mind getting my fill, but I was happy to find that there&rsquos so much more to Phuket cuisine than just fresh seafood. Interestingly, traditional Phuket food is characterized by a blend of foreign influences, much of shaped during its time as a destination port in the China-India trade route. You just have to get off the beach and go to the Old Town to find it.
I stayed in three different areas during our visit to Phuket and got to experience a range of the island&rsquos cuisine. If you&rsquore interested in doing the same, then here are eleven Phuket restaurants to try in Kata, Karon, and the Old Town.
Sommer Collier | A Spicy Perspective
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Sommer Collier’s mantra is “will work-out for food,” which makes her a blogger we’re proud to follow. Her blog, A Spicy Perspective, features an eclectic trove of recipes, travel tips, DIY projects and more.
We love the mix of recipes she has to offer. You can find things like supreme pizza baked ziti, as well as seared scallops on watermelon salad with sparkling mint vinaigrette. Her recipes are sinful and healthy, and fancy and casual. You can also find some pretty sweet travel guides on her blog (we’re still all googly-eyed over her recent Paris guide).
Sommer and her family been in Asheville for 11 years, and they love the lush green natural surroundings and the amazing food culture! Craving more foodie intel on Asheville? Sommer has her own, in-depth restaurant guide.
Photo: Hole Doughnuts
Hole Doughnuts honestly has the best doughnuts I’ve ever eaten, anywhere in the world. They’re ultra light and airy, and made to order. There are only four flavors available each week, but they are noteworthy. I’m especially fond of the cinnamon sesame seed doughnut.
Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville is a local favorite with a comforting menu and great outdoor seating. It’s very popular so there is usually a line out the door. We love the Huevos Rancheros and the Cornmeal Hot Cakes.
Tip: If you don’t want to wait, show up mid-week around 10 am .
Photo: Corner Kitchen
Corner Kitchen is another local hot spot located in Biltmore Village, right outside of the Biltmore Estate. We always sit out on the sun porch and order the Cream Cheese Scrambler and the Homemade Corned Beef Hash.
Photo: Chai Pani
If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, Chai Pani is the place. It’s an Indian Street Food restaurant in downtown Asheville, and their menu is loaded with fresh fragrant casual dishes with exotic ingredients.
Tip: Make sure to order the Kale Pakoras, the Green Mango Chaat and the Parsi Chicken Burgers.
Buxton Hall Barbecue is a new addition to the local line up. They’ve got real Carolina whole-hog barbecue with fabulous southern sides. Make sure to save room for dessert!
Photo: Nine Mile
Nine Mile serves up Caribbean comfort food with special gluten free and grain free options. I like to order my dishes with raw zucchini noodles and am particularly fond of the Negril Nights and The Meshach.
Photo: MG Road Bar & Lounge
MG Road Bar & Lounge is our favorite place for pre dinner or after dinner cocktails. They have a cozy environment and fantastic craft cocktails. We love the ever-changing menu for snacks and/or dinner!
5 Walnut Wine Bar is a cute little wine bar with great service. 5 Walnut has live music most nights, and a wonderful wine list.
Tip: If you’re hungry, order the trout dip!
Photo: Wedge Brewing Company
Wedge Brewing Company is Asheville’s favorite place to grab a beer. It’s located in the River Arts district and is a great place to hang with friends before or after dinner.
Tip: Try the Iron Rail IPA.
Limones has been our go-to date night spots for years. They serve up elegant latin cuisine and amazing cocktails.
Tip: Make a reservation, and be sure to order the lobster nachos and the caliente margarita!
Cúrate offers rustic Spanish tapas with a touch of modern flair and fabulous service. Chef Katie Button has been wowing Asheville ever since she opened Curate’s doors.
Tip: This is another place to make a reservation, and be sure to order Tabla de Jamon and the Fried Eggplant.
Cucina 24 is a great place to sit at the bar and watch the magic happen in the open kitchen. The menu changes often, but the pizzas and pastas are always amazing.
Photo: Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe
Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe serves the best chocolate cake I’ve had in years, plus luxurious swedish cream and espresso roulade. We love to pop in for a light lunch and finish with a big piece of cake or a mountain eclair.
High Five Coffee has great freakin’ coffee. And some fun people watching as well!
15 tips for eating street food in India
1. Don’t be afraid of the street food. It’s just like any other hot country with street food. In northern India, the street momo’s are the best I’ve had in any restaurant in the world. Don’t miss out on this!
2. This is one that always works- go where the locals are. If there’s a long ass line with local’s chowing down on samosas then obviously they are good AND they are making them fresh.
3. I usually stay veg only when I eat street food. You just don’t know how long the meat has been sitting out before it was stuffed inside whatever they’re frying in it. Exception: the beef cutlet guy at the Arpora/ Anjuna roundabout in Goa… give me those beef burgers all day! Obviously shwarma and other stands that are known for meat are okay. I’m talking more like small stands that have one meat option.. it’s probably been sitting there all day.
4. Judge on cleanliness. Are they using a dirty old knife and a cutting board covered in mold? Probably skip eating at that place. It’s really just using your judgment here and deciding if they place looks clean enough to eat at.
5. Beware of the street drinks which are not hot. Because the water didn’t come to a boil it could be bad, and most likely the ice was NOT made from clean water like you’d automatically assume in an Indian restaurant. Just because the locals are drinking it doesn’t make it okay as they can handle the water better than a foreigners body.
6. Beware of the Sauce.If you get a samosa and sauce is offered, just know the sauce and chutneys are made with tap water most times and could have been sitting out in the sun a while. I always eat it anyways, but I’m a streetfood risk-taker. They also water it down to make it last longer.
7. Any grilled or deep fried veg, fruit, and nuts should be snatched up and eaten! It is so good. The corn on the cob grilled with lime and salt is the best I’ve ever had. The fresh potato chips are almost as good as the pan roasted nuts. Maybe the veg and fruit wasn’t washed, but it’s been cooked and should be fine. Don’t be alarmed if they re-fry something. It’s kind of like re-heating it and it might not have been cooked fully at first. It’s to speed things up when you order. Definitely try a potato patty (aloo tikki) and dosas in the south.
photo of snacks flickr / oranges from flickr
8. This is a no brainer, but if you buy fresh fruit and veg from a stall, you need to wash with clean water before eating.
9. Puffs and samosas are common but if you don’t know the Hindi words for specific veg, don’t except much explanation. They will just say it’s a “veg puff”. You can guess which one! In Goa it’s usually aloo (potato), while in Kerala you get a scrumptious egg puff or a mutta(r) puff (peas)
10. Avoid ice basically all the time on the street.
11. Chai is totally fine to drink even when the place looks a bit dirty and grimy. Sometimes you can stop in Bombay at 4 am and buy chai from a guy who’s also selling cigarettes to drunk people. The people who walk up and down trains also sell a mean chai!
12. The GOOD street meat you should eat every chance you get is a shwarma! Usually it’s goat or chicken, or some kind of mix. Doesn’t matter it tastes like a little lamb. They layer lots of mayo on local bread and some fresh veg (which may or may not be clean, but like I said… I’m not really the best person to be telling you what to eat since I eat everything). Usually shwarmas are so popular that you don’t need to worry about freshness and the whole slab of meat will be gone in two hours, but if you see them re-light the meat and heat it back up that’s a sign it’s old and might get you sick.
13. When you get fresh juice, have them juice it in front of you, don’t take a cup of pre-made juice. It could be very old or watered down with bad water.
14. If you are buying food from a vendor during a bus stop and can’t tell if the food is fresh, ask in Hindi: yay taja hay? They will be too impressed/confused with your Hindi to lie to you.
15. Lastly, don’t blame your illness on the street vendor if you do get sick. Who knows, maybe you hadn’t washed your hands! It’s a common mistake while backpacking but in India you really need to at least rinse them with bottled water if you don’t have sanitizer or hand wipes.
Are you ready for your big trip to India?
Check out my other article on eating here: how to make sure you don’t get Delhi Belly. You can also check out my tips on vaccinations and what to pack in your medical kit. Want more tips for traveling India or better yet to have me plan your trip? Buy my India Guide ebook and even if you ONLY read that, you’ll be 1000% prepared for your trip. It’s 6 years of India travel experience all wrapped up in an organized easy to read manner.
Beware of Traveler's Belly: What Not to Eat Around the World if You Want to Stay Healthy
We’ve all heard the saying “Cook it, boil it, peel it, or forget it.” When traveling overseas, we know that we should not drink the water, eat any undercooked meat or other proteins (especially shellfish), or imbibe unpasteurized dairy to avoid traveler’s diarrhea, Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, etc. And generally, it’s safer to go vegetarian (beans, rice, potatoes, and the like) because meat is a favorite environment for bacteria to thrive in. But there are some sneaky things you might not have thought of when it comes to eating to stay healthy abroad. Here are some under-the-radar foods you should skip overseas.
Avoid: Lettuce and strawberries
Delicious, but they can be trouble. (Photo: Thinkstock)
“You want to keep away from eating anything raw that grows at ground level and is hard to clean,” explains Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth, a physician and author of The Essential Guide to Travel Health. There can be nasty bacteria and microorganisms in the soil that don’t always come off with water. “Especially if you’re in a country with a lot of pollution, stick to things like bananas, lychees, mangoes, rambutan, and other local tropical fruits — they’re all incredibly delicious and have an outer skin to peel away,” says Jodi Ettenberg, author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook: How to Eat Cheap, Safe, and Delicious Food Anywhere in the World and creator of LegalNomads.com.
Ice cream abroad? Just say no. (Photo: Thinkstock)
It seems like happiness in a scoop, but, says Wilson-Howarth, “it can be quite high risk.” If it’s frozen, melts some, and then is refrozen, which often happens, she says, bacteria can reproduce like crazy. (Food that has been frozen and then thawed develops harmful bacteria more quickly than fresh.) A much better choice is fruit sorbet, says the doctor: “It’s quite acidic, and so bacteria can’t survive.”
What’s lurking in your fried rice? (Photo: Thinkstock)
“Fried rice is made with bits of meat, which can be left hanging around and then flash fried,” says Wilson-Howarth. “In that case, the meat might not be cooked through, even though it looks OK.” A better staple is hot broth. “It’s very refreshing and it’s safer. It gives you energy and it hydrates,” she says.
Eat when the locals eat. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Always eat food that is cooked to order, so that you know it’s fresh and hot. Just because something was once cooked through doesn’t mean it will stay safe, says Wilson-Howarth. If food goes out on the buffet at 11:30 a.m., any bacteria that get in — from someone’s dirty hands or a fly, for example — multiplies as it sits there until who knows what time. Another tip: Pay attention to local mealtimes, says Ettenberg. Especially with street food, you want to eat when turnover is high so that the food is piping hot. So if the country does lunch at 11 a.m. (earlier than American stomachs are used to), think about eating then. If you wait until 1 p.m., the food may have been sitting out for hours, gathering bacteria.
Avoid: Craft brews and liquors
Making rum from sugarcane at a backyard distillery, called a “guildive,” in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. (Video: Leah Ginsberg)
In some places, homemade hooch is more moonshine than microbrew. Local alcoholic beverages could be made or kept in unsanitary conditions, and questionable alcohol levels can make you seriously ill if they are higher than you’re used to.
If the sauce is homemade, you don’t know what’s in it. (Photo: Thinkstock)
The problem is, you really don’t know what’s in sauce. It could have been made with questionable water or with uncooked foods such as fresh herbs or raw eggs — both of which can be very bad news. If you must eat sauce, make sure that it’s been thoroughly cooked and it’s still hot.
Avoid: Fountain soft drinks
Stick with the bottled stuff. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Restaurants and vendors often make fountain soft drinks from tap water, so if that’s iffy, your soft drink may be, too. Not to mention the ice.
Avoid: Restaurant food
Sometimes piping-hot street food may be safer. (Photo: Thinkstock)
If you’re in a country that has an active street-food culture, such as Thailand or Mexico, go for the street meat and avoid the empty restaurants, explains Ettenberg. As a traveling foodie, she’s heard story after story of travelers in these kinds of locations getting sick, even at high-end restaurants and hotels. Just be smart about the street eats: “At food stalls, you have the benefit of seeing for yourself,” explains Ettenberg. “How clean is the stall? Is the raw meat kept out or covered? And I try to choose stalls with men, women, and children in line.”
WATCH: The 2 Dives Every Foodie Is Obsessed With in Miami (Video)
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Jiu Jian - whose full name is Jiu Jian Takizawa, as his late stepfather is Japanese - had also considered working at a Japanese restaurant in Orchard Road. However, he was rejected by the chef, who was his stepfather's friend.
"The chef apologised to my father, but said that he couldn't take me in because I was wearing spectacles and didn't have perfect eyesight.
"Maybe things would be different now if I had good eyesight.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
"And I might have had a different perspective of cooking if I had started in a Western or Japanese kitchen, or perhaps I didn't get to see the sophisticated part of Chinese cooking," says the bachelor, who cooks occasionally.
Jiu Jian, who has written songs for Hong Kong singers Jacky Cheung, Ronald Cheng and Andy Hui, also has a three-year-old lifestyle platform (www.jiujianexperience.com), which contains food and hotel reviews. He is also active on social media.
When The Sunday Times meets him at his favourite Chinese restaurant, Gu Ma Jia in Tai Thong Crescent, his face lights up when an array of soups arrive at the table. He quickly whips out his phone to take photographs and record an Instagram Story (@jiujiankenn).
He says of his fondness for soup: "I can just have corn soup with rice. I can drink the whole pot."
He adds: "I yearn for simple, home-cooked food and that's what Gu Ma Jia serves. "
How did your love of cooking grow?
I started cooking at the age of seven and I cooked every day as my mother was working.
When I was 14 years old, I was the only boy who joined a baking competition in River Valley High School. I won second place with my chocolate cake.
The earlier rounds of the competition also required me to cook other dishes and so I learnt to cook Hainanese chicken rice and laksa from the coffee shop owners near my home.
I've always found cooking to be fun and therapeutic.
What do you cook at home now?
I make watercress soup with sweet dates, sweet and bitter almonds, and add pork ribs for flavour. I also like to stir-fry watercress with garlic and shallots - it's a simple but tasty dish.
My signature dish is omelette, which my stepfather taught me to cook. It takes skill to beat the egg until it is fluffy and make sure it has a golden exterior while the inside is half-cooked. I like to add honey- baked ham to my omelette.
What's always in your kitchen?
Red dates, oyster sauce and sea salt. Due to my stepfather's influence, we don't use MSG for flavouring, but use "fish powder" instead, which is supposed to be healthier.
Besides Gu Ma Jia, do you have other favourite restaurants?
CreatureS in Desker Road, where the menu is a fusion of Western and Nonya dishes. I like the babi pongteh, ngoh hiang and durian cake.
What are your favourite desserts?
Traditional Chinese ones such as almond or walnut paste, as well as anything with sesame.
What are your favourite hawker dishes?
I've always liked Malaysian hawker food, especially that in Penang.
Eating along the roadside or in old coffee shops reminds me of when I used to live in Alexandra Road and we went to the kopitiam every weekend.
I saved 20 cents every week to eat wonton mee there - it's one of my favourite hawker dishes.
I also like anything soup-based such as prawn bee hoon soup.
Whenever I'm at Changi Airport, I must have mee siam, laksa or mee rebus at the Killiney Kopitiam there.
What do you not eat?
Ladies fingers, because my first encounter with it was during art class where it was used as a stamp because of its star-like cross-section. So, I didn't know it was edible.
When my late mother first put it in front of me to eat, I was very confused and asked why was it on a plate when it was for art? I couldn't eat it.
Before I turned 40, I never really ate spicy food because I would sweat a lot and my scalp would itch. But now it's okay, and I've come to like spicy food. Maybe I just need to spice up my life.
Do you have any food quirks?
I used to eat only "basic fruit" such as apple, orange, watermelon and banana. Fruit such as starfruit, rambutan, durian, dragonfruit are oddly shaped, so I couldn't eat them. I started eating them only after I turned 35.
So, you're not very adventurous with food?
I'm polite, so if someone offers me something to eat, I won't say no. Those who know me won't tell me what the food is until after I've eaten it.
In Malaysia, I've tried wild boar and bat in the kampung area. I draw the line at eating dog meat, though.
In your line of work, do you have to be careful with what you eat?
Yes, I need to maintain a good singing voice. When I was a radio presenter, I had a very sensitive throat so I tried not to eat deep-fried or oily food.
What would you indulge in?
I do indulge in potato chips when I have fewer performances. I'll have organic purple potato chips with sea salt.
I also like to eat nuts, especially walnuts, as well as French fries. Sometimes, my indulgences are based on my mood. If I'm going to watch a no-brainer or scary movie, I'll have popcorn and Coca-Cola.
If you could pick someone to have a meal with, who would you choose?
My Japanese half-brother Hisahide Takizawa, 36, who does logistics in the pharmaceutical industry. He's my only family member left and we love to dine together.
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Monday, December 7, 2015
Too Much Processed Everything Is Bad For My Health
You would think that I would think twice about some of the things I've been buying and eating lately, but I haven't been. Between not being able to work out like I would like to because of my plantar fasciitis and the recurring hamstring problems, I've not been giving too many *&%@ lately. I've been wanting comfort food and seasonal treats, and boy have I been eating them. The problem is, I didn't realize just how not comforting they have been. I have always had eczema, but these last couple of months it has been unbearable. I will do anything and everything to stop the itching, and it isn't pretty: anti-itch spray, cortisone creams, spraying with Biofreeze, you name it. I even found out the hard way that BenGay cream contains lanolin, which I am allergic to. I don't know if it always did and I didn't know, but boy, I was surprised.
The problem with eczema is that they really don't know what causes it. Long term cortisone use isn't the best thing, and truthfully, it doesn't really work all that well. Something made me think today that there might be a connection between all of the sugar and white foods I've been eating lately and how bad my itching has gotten lately. I stumbled upon an article in Natural News that indicated that there is a link between eczema and Candida overgrowth.
Eczema affects people on a wide spectrum of frequency and intensity. Some people have a mild itch and rash for a few hours, which doesn't return for weeks or months. Other people experience intense itching for long periods of time that causes them to tear their skin open resulting in blisters and oozing lesions that then crust over and create scarring.
There have been a couple of recent studies showing the link of Candida overgrowth with eczema . Some of the causes of Candida overgrowth include diets high in processed and refined diets (white sugar, white rice, white flour) along with frequent use of antibiotics. These issues create a perfect environment for Candida to flourish within our bodies. This can develop into dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome explaining the overachieving immune responses resulting in skin inflammation, allergies and asthma.
White sugar - check (damn, and those mint chocolate cookies I got at TJs yesterday were so good)
White rice - check - had some with the curry I made this weekend
White flour - check, check, and check - dressing and rolls at Thanksgiving, bread pudding, noodles, fettuccine several times this week, Ritz crackers (don't judge), toasted bagel thin, etc.
Fermented foods - check - wine, kombucha, vinegar, pickles
I have been eating way too much of this lately, and this is part of the result:
All of those circles are areas where it is really awful. Trust me, it actually looks worse in person. So basically, my whole hand itches, my forearms underside itch, my face itches. I know I need to get my eating back on track. What is really frustrating is that I have been trying to not eat as much meat as I used to, which is one of the reason so many carb-y things have snuck back in to my diet.
I can't wait until the New Year to resolve to eat better, I need to do it now just to save my sanity and my skin. Whole foods, lots of greens and cruciferous veggies, lots of water, eating what is healthy for my whole body. I'm off to menu plan.
Almond Joy Energy Bites
Nutrition: 61 calories, 3.2 g fat, .9 g sat fat, 8.2 g carbs, 1.6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 1.4 g protein
These bites come with all of the coconutty, chocolatey goodness of your favorite candy bar—but none of the belly fat-inducing consequences. Pack a few in a Ziploc bag and you won't even think of the vending machine in the break room.
Get the recipe from Gimme Some Oven.
10 things you need to know before your trip to Madagascar
Madagascar is a country that isn’t very touristic. It makes it a great country to visit for more experienced and/or adventurous travellers. I’ve visited over 60 countries and I’m always looking for new countries to explore. To me it didn’t feel like a big deal to travel to Madagascar, but now that I’ve been there I wish I prepared myself a bit better to this trip. So to help you out I’ve made this list with 10 things you need to know before your trip to Madagascar. With these tips you’re better prepared than I was and I’m sure you’ll have a great time on this beautiful African island.
A Visa is required for all travelers visiting Madagascar, even if it’s only for a short period of time. You can buy your visa at the airport or arrange it beforehand in your home country. Arranging it beforehand at the embassy is quite expensive, but it’ll give you peace of mind to know that you’re allowed in to the country. Buying your visa to Madagascar at the airport is also possible. You’ll have to cue and officially you could be denied entry but I don’t think that’s very likely for tourists.
For both options you’ll need a return ticket, a passport that’s valid for at least another 6 months and a passport picture.
The entire island of Madagascar is a high risk area for Malaria. In the pharmacies in the bigger cities in Madagascar you can buy Malaria pills called Malaron. Unfortunately the side effects of Malaron are severe. It helps to take them in the evening rather than the morning because the heat of the sun will increase the side effects. But even if you take them at night you might get noxious or get diarrhea from the Malaron. For us the side effects were that severe, that we decided to stop taking the Malaria pills. Now I don’t want to bring you into any danger, so I’m not saying this was the wisest choice to make. We did however always covered up in anti-mosqito repellant. Make sure you use the ones with DEET, it might be smart to buy them at home before you leave.
It’s recommended that you have the standard vaccins before your trip to Madagascar, but Hepatitis A especially.
As you might suspect, personal hygiene can be a problem in Madagascar. The biggest health problem, for the locals as well as the tourists is diarrhea. You’ll most likely get it from unclean water. You can use the following precautions:
* always wash your hands with soap, water alone is not enough
* never drink tap-water, not even from high-end hotels.
* dry your hands with paper, not with a towel that’s been used by many people
* avoid ice cubes
* only eat fruit that can be pealed
* watch out with meat, especially from street vendors
You can buy Imonium at most of the pharmacies in the bigger cities in Madagascar that might help a bit with your stool. Take one pil after each loose stool.
The local currency in Madagascar is Ariary. When I was there the exchange rate was 4000 Airiary for 1 Euro. Important to know is that you can’t pay with your bankcard/debitcard anywhere in Madagascar. Some bigger hotels and restaurants accept credit card payments but there are no ATMs where you can get money with your bankcard. A credit card is a must in Madagascar! Most banks only accept Visa but the IBN bank (white with green logo) accepts Mastercard as well. You can find an IBN bank in the bigger cities. Always make sure you have enough cash on you as you’d be surprised at how few places you can pay with card.
Some big hotels or rental car agencies might accept euros as well.
At the airport there are 2 ATM’s in the arrival hall, one where you can get money with Visa and one for Mastercard.
The roads in Madagascar are very bad. There’s one main highway the RN7 that goes from the capital city Antananarivo to Tulear in the South-West. But even that one is often in bad shape. If you’re short on time (say 10 to 16 days), I’d advise you to just this RN7 highway. It’ll give you a chance to see quite a lot from what the country has to offer in a reasonable amount of time.
The best way to do it is to rent a car, we did this as well. Most car-rental agencies will only rent a car including a driver. Although it felt weird for me in the beginning, in retrospect I’m very happy that we did this. We rented our car with Europcar and paid for it in cash Euros. We arranged it online beforehand so we knew we had to bring enough. The advantages of a driver is that he knows the way, he knows the good hotels, he knows local guides that he can call beforehand to guide you in National Parks, it’s less tiring if you don’t have to drive yourself and it gives you a save feeling.
Are you more adventurous? You can also take the local busses ‘bouse bouse’. Don’t expect too much from them though they’re small vans made to seat about 10 people but often used by 20 at the same time. You’ll often see them on the road, packed with people inside and hanging out and packed with luggage, food and even live animals on the roof. The busses break down frequently and as you can imagine are not very comfortable.
Keep in mind that Madagascar is a very big island (it’s the size of France and Belgium combined), so calculate enough time for driving from one place to another. Also add about 25% to the time that Google maps will tell you and don’t plan your schedule to tight. There are always things that can happen like car trouble, animals on the road or not being able to bypass a slow truck.
The official language of Madagascar is French, as it was once its colony. But the majority of the inhabitants speak Malagay. This language originated in South-East Asia rather than Africa. It rewards to learn some basic words like ‘Salama’ for hello.
Only the educated people speak French. In the tourist industry and hotels everyone will speak good French, but the people in the villages will have difficulties speaking and understanding it. Only very few people speak English. Only the ones who studied either English or tourism. Most of the guides for the national parks do speak good English, although you’ll notice sometimes that they only studied their lines and find it difficult to differ from their text.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. As a matter of fact it’s listed number 11 in the world poverty ranking. 92% of the population lives below the poverty border. In Antananarivo you might not notice it, but you’ll definitely see it when you’re travelling outside the capital cities.
It’s really helpful to see if there’s anything you can bring with you for them. Maybe some clothes that you’re not wearing anymore or toys for the children. They often don’t even have a simple ball to play with.
The plants and animals on Madagascar are very unique. Most of them can be found nowhere else in the world. It’s worth finding out a bit more about the unique wildlife in Madagascar before you go, so you’ll know what to look out for. The most famous animals of Madagascar are the lemurs that also played a big role in the animation film Madagascar. There are several kinds of lemurs, they’re all primates (so related to monkeys and humans) but they have different colors, sizes and characteristics.
You’re practically guaranteed to see lemurs if you visit 2 or 3 national parks during your trip.
9 Electricity and internet
The majority of the population of Madagascar, especially those who don’t live in cities, don’t have access to electricity. The hotels do, so you probably won’t have a problem charging your elektronical devices. Although it could be that there’s only one power outlet in your room. In remote areas the power is often only switched on from 6pm to midnight. So recharge your phone and cameras whenever you can. It’s also wise to bring an adapter so you can charge your phone from the cigarette lighter in the car.
Most hotels offer WIFI, but often only in the reception area. If the WIFI is working, you’ll have a very fast connection, especially in the cities. We however have experienced quite a few times that the WIFI wasn’t working, or only worked for a little while. Try not to be too depended from it.
Although Madagascar is a relatively safe country to travel around in, there are some safety measures that you should take.
- Never drive after dark. Drivers will refuse to drive in the evenings and if you’re driving yourself, make sure you arrive at your destination before 7pm. There are violent attacks on cars at night sometimes.
- It’s also best not to walk on your own after dark. Use a taxi or pousse-pousse to take you to your restaurant or back to your hotel.
There have been some violent times in Madagascar, during political unstable periods. But tourists are never the target of this.
We’ve were in Madagascar for 10 days we never felt unsafe.
I’ve created a 2 minute video with the highlights of our trip to Madagascar.
You can watch it here.
7 Tips to Eat Street Food Safely in Thailand
But that in no way, shape or form means you need to stick to well paved roads. A lickety-split detour, dusty dirt road or bounce-you-outta-your-seat pothole might just turn into your most memorable life adventure.
Like my 4-hour solo motorbike ride from Chiang Mai to Pai. A combination of self-doubt conquering + confidence boosting + “I am woman hear me roar!” and “holy smokes, I really did this!?” kind of adventure. It’s now one for the story books.
A healthy lifestyle is about much more than food. So. Much. More. But still, food safety can’t be underscored. Especially if you have celiac disease like me.
So after calling Chiang Mai “home sweet home” for nearly 6 weeks, I’d like to share 7 tips to eat street food safely in Thailand.
1. Bring food allergy dining cards
Food allergy dining cards are always handy to have. Think of them as food safety insurance. They translate what you can and can’t eat and why. Dining cards from Select Wisely highlight specific allergies (gluten, dairy, etc) and preferences (like no sugar).
And let me remind you – sugar is added to virtually everything in Thailand.
But I’ll be honest. I find these cards more appropriate for sit-down restaurants versus street food. For those times when your waiter can “borrow” your card for a conversation with the chef.
In the case of Thai street food, where your cook, waiter, hostess and server are one and the same…it can be information overload. They’re juggling multiple hats and don’t typically have time to wade through the nuances of your dietary restrictions.
But as prior planning is the friend of someone with food allergies…I’d still keep them in your back pocket. At all times.
3. Write down and learn to say your food allergies – in Thai!
Getting straight to the point is preferred in a street food environment. So stick to the basics – the non-negotiable ingredients you can’t have. For me, I can’t have any meals with soy sauce or oyster sauce, which both contain gluten. Sugar won’t kill me.
Of course, there are other gluten-containing sauces and deep fried “crispies” added to numerous meals in Thailand, but those are easier to visually spot and avoid. Soy sauce and oyster sauce have a way of sneaking in.
To make things easy, I had my hotel receptionist write down these two phrases in Thai. Then, I practiced the phonetic pronunciation with her until I sounded like a local. Or more accurately, where I didn’t completely sound like a farang!
No soy sauce – Mai ow see eeou khow
No oyster sauce – Mai ow sot hoi
When used with street vendors, I would also say “allergy,” or “get sick” (while holding my stomach). Universal communication is a beautiful thing.
4. Ask what the ingredients are BEFORE you mention your allergies
This may not seem like a big deal, but it is, particularly in Thailand. The reason? Cultural tendencies. Thai’s are incredibly friendly, warm and accommodating. It’s the land of smiles!
But when it comes to your food, that translates into a bit of a problem. Namely, they’ll want to please you.
If you say something like “I can’t have soy sauce…does this have soy sauce?” They’re more likely to say no, thinking that’s what you want to hear. Or, the dish may have a small amount soy sauce, which they’ll assume is close enough to none.
Ask what the ingredients are first. You’ll thank me later.
True story: while I was en-route to my Thai Cooking School I was chatting with our instructor in the van. Given her solid English, I mentioned my avoidance of wheat, soy sauce and oyster sauce as I would get “very sick.” We had a good discussion about it and she understood I had a medical condition. But then a few minutes later she said, “I think the reason you have problem is because you eat too much wheat in the US. But a little is probably still fine. You should just try today.”
To which I just smiled back. :)
5. Stick to single ingredients as much as possible
When it comes to street food, steer clear of prepared meals, glazes and sauces. Food with the least number of ingredients are your best (and safest!) options.
Some of my favorites include:
- fruit on a stick (or in a cup)
- smoothies and juices
- quail eggs
- egg boats/mini omelets
- bacon-wrapped mushrooms
- mangos and sticky rice (yes, I’m Paleo and eat white rice!)
- grilled prawns, squid and other seafood
- pork or fish meat balls (*note: a starch is sometimes used – cassava, potato, or arrowroot. If ordering, double check there’s no wheat flour, by using your dining card).
- chicken and pork skewers
Street food that has a higher probability of getting you sick includes stir frys (due to cross contamination), certain soups (where it’s hard to know all ingredients) and BBQ-style meat with glazes or sauces (like the red-glazed chickens you’ll see hanging).
6. Watch vendors prepare food for several patrons before ordering
I can’t emphasize this enough – take your time when eating from street vendors. Stand back and watch them for 5-10 minutes. Take a look at their ingredients, how they prepare food (especially if someone just ordered what you want) and the cleanliness of their grill or pans.
The reality is that street vendors are trying to serve the masses…for a buck or two per meal. They’re simply not going to wash pans between orders or be extra careful based on your requests. It’s up to you to do your due diligence.
Video from the Sunday Night Market. I had my eyes on pork balls from a few different vendors, with different preparation methods. This vendor boiled the pork balls. She also added a sauce right before serving. Because I saw her do this for other patrons, I requested no sauce . Oh, and by the way – they were delish and worth the added effort!
7. Avoid food that’s been sitting or not cooked over high heat
This is the number one way to get sick. Period. When it comes to meat skewers and grilled pork balls, you want those babies grilled over flames! A slightly warm grill isn’t going win the war against bacteria nasties.
So when placing your order, make sure your food is cooked fresh. And avoid all food that looks like it’s been sitting for 30 minutes or longer.
Then again, if you’ve followed tip #6, you’ll know as you’ve already been watching the vendor for a while.
And for those wondering…after 6 weeks in Thailand (eating out A LOT), I never did get sick from street food. It just goes to show that a little preparation, time and effort can make an adventurous foreign travel experience one of your best!
How do you feel about eating in a foreign country? Have any tips or tricks to add? I’d love to hear!