Living in Bangkok: How to stay healthy

My stay in Bangkok is sure to put a strain on my lungs and mental capacities. It’s a large, overwhelming city with too much concrete and too little nature. The air pollution level is quite high. And the busy-ness of the city can push stress onto even the most easy-going expatriate or traveler. That’s why I go out of my way to preserve my health as much as possible by being chemical-free and more!

bangkok thailand soi alley coconut juice rehydrate
Coconut hydration pit stop on the side of a Bangkok soi.

Food & water

Especially in areas such as Vietnam where the produce is renowned for harmful pesticides, buy organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible. Buy organic produce or grow your own if possible. Follow the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen rule to save money.

When cooking, wash produce with tap water (if safe when boiled).

When no boilable water is available or when preparing vegetables/fruit to be served raw, always use bottled water to prepare food. In Bangkok, osmosis filtration water dispensers are readily available in many areas. If you find the right machine, water is only 1 baht per liter!

Cleanse yourself every 6 months or so, to prevent the buildup of harmful gut parasites. Fugucar, available at pharmacies in Bangkok, is one medicine that can accomplish this, since it kills both parasites and their eggs.

Grapefruit Seed Extract, commonly known as GSE, is a great natural and short-term solution to fight parasites and prevent food-related illness. Just add a few drops to your drink or a bite of food.

Drink your electrolytes and saltdon’t get dehydrated! Hyponatremia is no fun to have. 

What’s more, my emergency pack includes an eyedrop bottle of bleach and printed directions for how to safely disinfect contaminated water.

Cleaning supplies

You may be sensitive or allergic to certain chemical substances–and aren’t even aware of it! Interestingly, I found this to be true in my case, and found my skin clearing exponentially fast due to ditching bismuth and sodium lauryl sulfate.

Currently, the only chemicals I expose myself to come in the form of glass cleaner, nail polish, and nail polish remover. (I have yet to find food-grade replacements for those….I probably never will!) Otherwise, I only allow food-grade substances to touch my skin or the things that TOUCH my skin.

Laundry: Whether I find a liquid product or standards basic kitchen items, I always reject suspicious chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate or any of its derivatives. If all else fails, I can usually find baking soda and plain vinegar. (In Ho Chi Minh, try An Phu Market in Thao Dien, District Two or Phuong Ha Western Grocery on Ham Nghi in District One.) In Bangkok, head to Villa Market for a large bag of baking soda, while smaller bags and vinegar can be found at Tops, Tops Market, and the like. When backpacking, I keep a bar of castille soap with me for emergency laundry situations.

Glass cleaner: While I prefer the standard Windex-like, undoubtedly harmful blue spray liquids, I am careful to wear gloves when cleaning glass or other appropriate surfaces. And, when I am done, I rinse the used rags in water before letting them dry and washing them with the rest of my rags when it’s laundry day.

Kitchen cleaner: I dilute a small (unmeasured) amount of natural dish soap and plain vinegar in water, and keep the solution in a handy spray bottle.

Dusting: For almost any surface, all you need is a lightly damp microfiber cloth. (Can be found at Tesco Lotus.) Just use water!

Dishes: This is the kicker, because it can be very difficult to locate a sulfate-free dish cleaner in some areas. In Bangkok, Villa Market may tempt you with Meyer’s–but read the ingredients! SLS is included. That’s why, every once in a while, I commute to Sunshine Market at Sukhumvit.

Floor cleaner: See kitchen cleaner. This food-grade solution can also be used for hard floors. You can use a rag or Swiffer with the spray easily enough.

Everything else: I have found baking soda to be the best bathtub/sink cleaner I have ever used.

Air filtration

You have two choices: between a pricey air filtration system or the poor man’s alternative.

I consider potted plants to be my pets, so I chose the latter. I find that having some greenery around the house puts me in a better mood! (Sometimes I even talk to them.)

Quite a few ideal air-cleaning plants that are relatively easy-to-find in Bangkok. Go to Chatuchak Market on a Wednesday or Thursday and look for the following:

  • Snake plant
  • Spider plant
  • Succulents
  • Peace lily
  • Aloe vera

I have also seen cheap versions of charcoal filter masks at 7-11, but I am unsure of their realistic value when it comes to possible health benefits.

Mental health

Well, besides talking to your “plant pets”, there are other things you can do to maintain mental health while living abroad:

Get out of the city. You heard me. Read about my experience in Ben Tre to find out why you won’t regret escaping Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok every once in a while.

If you have the time, get a pet. Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand has so many dogs and cats in want of a loving home!

Keep in touch with friends and family back home.

Don’t stay culturally isolated. Not only is it important to reach out to fellow foreigners to support each other, but don’t hold back from getting to know the local people! The easier you can communicate in your new location, the easier life will become.

Music has healing properties, as is commonly known. Bangkok is a great place for free live music events almost every night of the week. But I also highly recommend picking up a musical hobby, such as playing guitar or ukulele. You can readily find these instruments in Bangkok.

Physical well-being

The good news is that you may not need to invest in a gym membership, as long as you opt for local transportation. I find that I get plenty of walking in between buses and songthaews.

Thailand has a reputation of offering fantastic healthcare, and I’m happy to say I’ve experienced the benefits already!

I have a fantastic chiropractor in Khlong Toei at the ChiroVedic office. In fact, it’s thanks to her that my pain from my car accidents (years ago) has finally dissipated.

While therapeutic massages are available and relatively inexpensive, you can always find one for a fraction of the price at malls or on the street. At the very least, a 30-minute Thai massage will reduce your stress and shoulder tension!

Pilates and other classes (Yoga, K-pop fitness, Zumba, etc…) are available in many locations! In fact, that’s why my pain has gone. I followed my chiropractor’s suggestion to stretch and do pilates every day.

Physical therapy is not usually too far away, as well! Not to mention dentists, gyms, eye doctors…I could go on!

I am grateful to have found natural deodorant at Sunshine Market and cheap, natural bug spray at the organic grocery store inside of Or Tor Kor market.

Personal hygiene

I mention a few of these items in my Asia backpacking packing guide. Click to find out what bismuth-free makeup I use!

Body soap and shampoo: I brought African Black Soap and pine tar soap bars from the states. Both can be used as either body soap or shampoo. And in the case of the African Black Soap, it is very moisturizing, so there is no need for a conditioner!

Deodorant: I also brought my zinc oxide deodorant by the Doctor Clark Store with me from the states. Sunshine Market does carry Kiss My Face stick deodorant, however. Also apparently natural, salt-based roll-on deodorants are also available at Tesco, etc.

Jojoba oil: I use this to keep my lips moist, remove my makeup, and occasionally treat my dry scalp.

Sanitary items: Tampons are for swimming-related emergencies only. Instead, I use THINX panties and homemade reusable pads from Etsy. Yes–I brought these with me from the States, though I originally ordered them online.

Homemade toothpaste: I had to start making my own toothpaste because the most natural toothpaste I could find in stores still had SLES, which messes up my hormones. Coconut oil, cacao powder, baking soda, boom–clean teeth without SLS or fluoride. I plan to add xylitol for a better taste! As an added protection (for my teeth and against toxins), I also do oil-pulling with coconut oil for 20 minutes every morning.

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