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:
- Info about food and insulin in Thailand
- Advice for buying diabetes supplies in Thailand
- Tips for traveling around Thailand with diabetes supplies
- Keeping insulin cool and safe in the hot Thai weather
- Links to detailed travelogues from a Type 1 traveler to Thailand
The main thing to remember about traveling in Thailand with diabetes is that you need a little preparation and a lot of good attitude!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here are some of my unplanned experiences looking for diabetes stuff around Thailand; your own experiences may resemble these:
- In Bangkok, I checked a few pharmacies to ask if they had Humalog. Finally one did, but not pens. They had small pen refills, so I bought a refillable pen from them just for Thailand. That made it easy when I had to stock up yet again in the future.
- In Chumphon, I had to see a doctor at the provincial hospital to get a prescription for insulin. She spoke English and said that while Humalog was unavailable – I’d have to go to an expensive private hospital – they could see me ActRapid. I’d never heard of it, but I bought it and tried it. It worked fine, though it was syringes and vials, and was ultra cheap.
- In Surin, the local pharmacy didn’t have OneTouch Ultra strips and couldn’t get them. They stocked something called OneTouch Horizon instead. I bought the machine for very cheap, and the strips from them.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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!
Read more about my travels in Thailand
Come along on the adventure! Follow detailed travelogues about the wondrous sights, fascinating people, and varied diabetes experiences I encountered as a traveling T1D in Thailand:
Day 94: Sleeping Between Bombs: An Accidental Night In Hat Yai
Day 96: Out Of Harm's Way And Into Trang
Day 99: Ladyboy Show At Kae's Guesthouse, Chumphon
Day 100: Soaked With Water And Chalk: Day 100 On Songkran!
Day 102: Buying Cheap Insulin In Chumphon, Thailand
Day 113: The MacBook Breaks And Threatens To End My Trip Early
Day 121: Just Visiting Chumphon, Thailand – Or Do We Live Here Now?
Day 127: Forget The Big Cities – Go To The Provinces
Day 179: A Reunion And A Romp Through Bangkok
Day 180: Over The River And Through The Woods To Vientiane We Go
Day 192: Emergency Ambulance Across An International Border
Day 201: Recuperating By The Mekong River: After The Hospital
Day 206: Somewhere Over The Rainbow Is Udorn Thani
Day 211: Sukhothai's Split But Happy Personality
Day 218: Why Nobody Stays Overnight In Poipet
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.”