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How to not get food poisoning in Myanmar (Burma)

During the first portion of this trip i didn't get ill at all.  As soon as we got to Bagan we both started feeling a little bit rotten!  We still have 4 nights in Burma left, but so far have had little problems in terms of any real food poisoning (touch wood).  Reading a lot of peoples experiences with Burma online, there seems to be an awful lot of people getting severe food poisoning over here.

However that doesn't mean you will if travelling over here.  Below are some basic tips on staying alive and healthy in Burma…

  1. Avoid mostly all street food (that includes those delicious looking somosa's).  This isn't Thailand or Vietnam, instead think more like its a mix between eating on the street in India and China.  Avoid people!!
  2. Again don't even think about eating a somosa. These little devils are the easiest method travellers get sick on.
  3. Don't eat any food, unless sealed and not cooked by locals on the train, during stops.
  4. Don't ever eat food that a fly has landed on, even if you just paid for it.
  5. Avoid eating in establishments that have a high concentration of fly's.
  6. Don't drink the tap water. Brushing your teeth is fine.
  7. Don't drink water from ceramic jars in public spaces.
  8. Avoid seafood, unless you are at a restaurant nearby to the sea, and has glass tanks with fresh seafood in them.
  9. If you start eating a prawn and find the shell doesn't come off easily and isn't piping hot in the centre, avoid it.
  10. Don't eat raw salad or vegetables.  Pickled and fermented vegetables are usually fine.
  11. When travelling by bus, during the lunch break, only eat at the roadside diner if many locals on the bus are eating there.  Example Bagan > Mandalay avoid, Mawlyamine > Yangon is clean.
  12. If a beer station is empty at 6pm, avoid it.
  13. If a restaurant advertises “we serve Italian / western food” avoid it.
  14. If a place has more foreigners than locals, avoid it.
  15. Avoid eating at ice cream bars. Not because of cholera, more because the milks they use are not the same as the west.
  16. Always carry hand sanitizer with you, and use it properly before meals when you are out and about in the day.

Your best bet for staying safe is eat at only restaurants, busy beer stations, tea shops open in the day.  Any tea they provide on the table is fine to drink.

At the end of the day, use common sense.  Eat where locals with a little bit of cash go.  If a place has a regular set of patrons, its hardly going to be hazardous to eat there.  Don't think because you are backpacking, you must eat on the streets and live with constant diarrhoea to save a few bucks.  You wont gain anything valuable and will likely just end up with shitty pants!

If you use common sense and do at least a few of the above, it will hopefully save you from getting very ill here, when quality hospitals are a border away in Thailand.

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of escapingthedesk.com, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

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