Tips for traveling to Thailand with diabetes

From the category Destination Guides for Diabetic Travelers

Guides
Travelogues

My adventures around the globe as a diabetic. This is my favorite section!

Inspiration

Everyone needs some motivation every now and then

Diabetes

Posts about diabetes not related to travel

Gear

Reviews, packing tips, and thoughts on traveling with diabetes supplies

More

Behind the scenes at 70-130.com

Want to be on the right side of history?

Diabetes is getting cured. JDRF, the leading global T1D research organization, is getting closer... but they need donations to continue.

Give to JDRF and help 70-130 reach its fundraising goal of $2,500. So far, readers have given $690. Click to increase that number!

28%

Donate To JDRF Now

Traveling to Thailand with diabetes? You should have no problem at all there with insulin, food, blood sugar checks, and facilities. But before you go, check out these tips for staying safe and traveling smart with diabetes in the accommodating so-called Land of Smiles.

In this guide to traveling to Thailand with diabetes, you’ll find a few common-sense tips and learned advice, including:

The main thing to remember about traveling in Thailand with diabetes is that you need a little preparation and a lot of good attitude!

long-live-the-king-banner-kanchanaburi-thailand

How to prepare for Thailand with diabetes

If you’re going to be in Thailand a short time (less than a month or so) then try to take all your supplies you’ll need with you. The best formula for this is to calculate how much insulin, testing strips, pills, and/or other medication you’ll need for the length of time you plan to stay there, then double it.

Why double it? Because it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and if something goes missing or spoils, you’ll have plenty of backup. But really, the main reason is for your own peace of mind. No sense in exploring the many wondrous sights of Thailand while preoccupied with medical supply matters.

humalog-cartridge-boxes-thailand

Humalog purchased in Bangkok.

After you’ve doubled up on everything, perhaps stocking up over the preceding weeks when you make your regular pharmacy runs, divide it all into halves. Keep one half in a big bag (suitcase or backpack) and the other half in your day pack. Then always take your day pack everywhere – even when stepping out for a couple minutes.

If something happens to your stuff in one bag, you’ll still have everything you need in the other. Note, however, that anything bad happening to you is very unlikely. I’ve been to Thailand several times, traveling all over and staying at all kinds of different places, and I’ve never had anything bad happen to my supplies. Dodgy guesthouses, long treks in the sun, rough bus rides – nothing has hurt my insulin and blood sugar supplies in Thailand.

So, be prepared, and then relax.

Tourism is viewing things; traveling is getting a personal hands-on experience.

Keeping insulin cool in Thailand

There are ways to keep your insulin cool, the most obvious being a refrigerator at your hotel or guesthouse (almost all will have one somewhere they’ll let you use), and a cool pack like Frio for the stuff you’re carrying around with you all day. Frio packs are nice because all you do is dunk the waterproof bag in water in the morning and it cools itself all day long. Plus, they’re made specifically for insulin and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

But again, in all honesty there isn’t much to worry about. Even in the hot Thai sun, if you keep insulin a few layers away from direct sunlight (like I do, in a pen case wrapped in a shirt inside your day pack, for example) it will stay cool enough. And in a hotel room, even without refrigeration, again a supply of insulin should stay cool enough if it’s buried in your bag out of direct sunlight or warm places.

jeremy-bicycle-kanchanaburi-thailand-road

If you do use a refrigerator, be sure to label your stuff (like with your room number) and try to make sure all the staff people know about it, just to make sure they don’t throw it away. And when you check out, don’t forget it! You’ll be retracing your steps just to get your medicine which is pretty annoying.

women-cooking-at-street-food-stall-hat-yai-thailand

Food in Thailand

Thai food for diabetic travelers is often made of rice and noodles. And hot dogs from 7-11, if you have the same unfortunate culinary tendencies that I do. Roadside food stalls are everywhere and reliable. If many people are eating from a stall it’s almost certainly very safe, and even quiet ones on small dark streets can be fine. (I’ve never gotten sick in Thailand from road food.)

noodles-thonburi-thailand

Markets also abound in Thailand, and while it can be hard to identify everything, it’s fun to just stroll through and purchase a hodge-podge of things based on sight to try later. You’ll probably find some things are sweet that you weren’t expecting, or aren’t sweet even though they look like it, but it’s all worth trying. You can even try big insects from certain markets. I can’t help you with insulin doses for a snack of giant flying cockroaches, but if you try it by all means let me know how it goes!

Famous Thai dishes like pad thai are cheap, and fairly easy to dose for. Especially if you eat them regularly, you can quickly figure out how much it takes. Noodles in Thailand can be pretty dense, and higher in carbs than they look, but then again in many versions of pad thai or noodle soup, there aren’t really that many noodles.

7-11-snack-food-kanchanaburi-thailand

International stores like McDonald’s are in Thailand too, although it’s a shame to eat there really. You can also find things like sandwiches and pizza across Thailand, especially in bigger places.

Breakfasts in Thailand for travelers usually consist of Western foods: many hotels offer a cheap in-room breakfast consisting of thin slices of toast, eggs, sausages, juices, coffees, etc. The toast in these meals should be the same carb count as regular bread back home (no more than 15 grams per slice), and yogurt will have carb info on the package that’s easy to figure out. Failing a hotel breakfast, modern coffee shops like Starbucks are not too hard to find in Thailand as well, and offer the usual carb-heavy muffins and doughnuts.

Low blood sugar snacks in Thailand

Many Thai people make money by keeping up a teeny-tiny little grocery market; you see them on almost every street. There is a usual core group of items available at these places – drinks in the cooler, chips and cookies and kitchen noodles on display.

jeremy-fudo-ellse-snacks-thailand-blood-sugar

Stock up on low blood sugar snacks whenever you can in Thailand, and treat it like your medical supplies: possess more than you’ll need. You can choose whatever you like best – I tend to buy Dewberry cookies in Thailand, which are cheap, common, tasty, and come in various flavors, plus a bottle of orange juice. I keep a couple bottles of juice plus a couple packs of Dewberry on me at all times, and keep another supply back in my room just in case I eat everything and can’t find a store or kiosk.

market-street-dinner-hat-yai-thailand

If you’re going out walking or kayaking or biking or something for the day, take even more low blood sugar snacks. Hopefully you won’t need that many, but there are likely no places to buy anything outside of towns. (Then again you may be surprised to see a 7-11 in the middle of nowhere.)

If you do travel to Thailand with diabetes, let me know what low blood sugar snacks you carried with you. Try the Dewberry!

older-couple-on-thai-train

Getting around Thailand

Train and bus travel is common in Thailand; the rail network is extensive and reliable, and buses go pretty much everywhere else. Note that on trains people will walk up and down the aisles selling drinks and sometimes snacks; while the timing is unreliable, you won’t go hungry on a Thai train. At stations people wait on the platforms to sell homemade foods to stopping passengers through the windows. Rice balls and various fried things are common, and highly recommended for the low price and for the fun experience.

woman-selling-food-thailand-train-platform

Eating on Thai trains in public is no problem – you’ll see other passengers doing it so go ahead. (Just don’t toss the styrofoam and plastic bags out the window like some of the locals do!)

Buses in Thailand are different – if you’re going to be on a bus for a long while, try to buy food beforehand because there will probably not be anything to buy on board. You’ll make stops, but it’s hard to know when. Don’t get caught without lunch or dinner; buy it beforehand.

On both buses and trains in Thailand, buy low blood sugar snacks before you get on. Set aside a few minutes for it and don’t forget.

tuk-tuk-driver-sukhothai-thailand

Buying diabetes supplies in Thailand

Rules and regulations change, but in all of my own experiences buying insulin, BG testing supplies, or other medical supplies in Thailand, it has been fairly easy and even somewhat cost-effective. Pharmacies even in small towns either have what you need or can order it with a few days’ notice; you can also try provincial hospitals because they’ll have pharmacies attached.

novolog-injection-stomach-thai-restaurant-kanchanaburi

Here are some of my unplanned experiences looking for diabetes stuff around Thailand; your own experiences may resemble these:

As you can see, a little open-mindedness and some flexibility is key. I of course don’t recommend switching to unknown insulins without a doctor’s blessing, but I did do it and found there was no problem. The more I visit Thailand the more I notice that the selection in pharmacies is growing. (OneTouch Ultra strips are easier to find, as is Humalog pens, etc.)

onetouch-ultra-chinese-box-bottles-in-thailand

If you run out or for some reason need to restock on diabetes stuff in Thailand, it’s ok. Just set aside some time to do it, check with a few pharmacies if you need to, and be patient and friendly. They’re there to help, and they will do everything they can to understand your English and to give you what you need.

You’ll be fine!

Thai heat and blood sugar

Many diabetics have extra trouble in the scorching heat of Thailand. Blood sugars can drop in the heat, or in other cases they can rise through dehydration or some other mysterious reason. That, plus the tasty and cheap and common alcohol and physical exertion that are a part of so many trips to Thailand, can make blood sugar especially volatile.

jeremy-thai-students-bridge-river-kwai

In the boiling heat on the “bridge over River Kwai”.

The trick to a smooth time in Thailand with diabetes is check your blood sugar often. Check it before a meal, just after a meal, and a couple hours after that. Check it in the mid-afternoon. Check it before bed. Get lots of data and see what you can learn from it, adjusting your insulin for next time.

Don’t expect your diabetes to behave “normally” (as if anyone’s does that!) in Thailand, but don’t expect it to be absolutely crazy all the time. The stress of time zones and travel and changes in weather and food all threaten blood sugar. Absorb the blows, check your BG often, and work with diabetes to make it as smooth as possible.

jeremy-vn-guesthouse-staff-kanchanaburi-thailand

And remember: a day of bad BG in Thailand is better than a day of good BG back home!

Your trip to Thailand with diabetes

If you have visited the Kingdom of Thailand with diabetes yourself, or with someone who is diabetic, let me know your experiences there. How were your own BGs? What did you eat?

And even if you don’t have diabetes I’d still like to hear about your trip. Where have you been in Thailand? What did you do?

jeremy-walking-sukhothai-ruins

If you are planning a trip to Thailand – first of all, good for you! It can be a really life-changing experience. And if you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

You can go anywhere with diabetes!

Share your travel stories, give advice, or ask a question in the comments section.

Next page: Tips for traveling to Cambodia with diabetes

“Tips on staying safe and healthy when visiting the mighty Kingdom of Cambodia with diabetes. Keep insulin cool and your blood sugars in range.”

About the author

Jeremy has traveled to over 40 countries, taken several road trips across the United States (and Canada), and lived on and off in Japan for several years. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1982 but doesn't let a little thing like that stop him from exploring the world.

Jeremy writes about his travels with diabetes on 70-130.com as a way of logging his excursions and of inspiring others who might be feeling hesitant to take their own big bite out of life.

Travel. Diabetes. Emails.

Get the internet's best T1D travel newsletter — free!

Want exciting diabetes travel news and stories from 70-130.com sent directly to you?
It's like little bursts of fun and inspiration in your otherwise dreadfully dull inbox.

I'll also send you a "Doctor's Travel Note" template for your physician to fill out before you travel.
Use it to get through security checkpoints with medical supplies more easily.

Enter your info and click the link in the confirmation email. Welcome to the T1D travel community!

Free, easy, and spamless. Details and privacy information.

8 comments
Tips for traveling to Thailand with diabetes

  1. How about the long trip from the states (St Louis, Mo) to Thailand. What do you use to pack medicine in to keep cool and any problems going through TSA and what paperwork do you need, if any? Thanks

    • I usually pack my insulin in a foil bag, with an ice pack on the outside of it. Oddly, the TSA has never seemed interested in this big weird blob on their scanners. You can take a note from a doctor explaining that this traveler has diabetes and needs X insulin and Y supplies; I’ve never been asked to show this but it can’t hurt.

      Once they understand you’re diabetic they seem cool. They must see it a lot. But you should be fine. Going to Thailand…? :)

  2. I have been extremely nervous about going to meet my Fiancé parents in Thailand due to my diabetes. I can not thank you enough for writing this article. This is the first time in 6 months I am breathing a sigh of relief. Now all I worry about is her parents :D . North Carolina resident. Thanks again

    • Derek,

      Thanks, I’m glad the article helped you! Have a good time in Thailand. I hope you can remember to come back and leave a comment after you’re there; I’d like to hear how it’s going. Good luck with the in-laws!

  3. This is the most helpful article i have come across so far after weeks of researching about type 1 diabetics travelling to Thailand! Very helpful :)

      • How is travel through security on connecting flights then Thailand with syringes or insulin pumps?

        • I’m sure it would be smooth. The worst that might happen would probably be the pump, not the syringes. They might want an explanation but they see things like that every day so it shouldn’t be a big deal.

          I would suggest traveling with a doctor’s note explaining that you need a pump for diabetes; you can download a free template here and have your doctor fill it out and sign it: http://www.70-130.com/subscribe/

          Let me know how it all goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Watch the world's most awesome diabetes videos

They're funny because they're true
A presentation of 70-130.com

Tweet Share Pin +1 Email Comments Donate to JDRF