My 6 Cardinal Rules for Living in the Tropics and Having to Coexist with Bugs

I started this post while I was living on Koh Tao last year. Today I dug it out of my computer and finished it. I left the intro alone even though I no longer live on Koh Tao.

I don’t like spiders. I know they are the good guys for the most part, but they are creepy. In my defense, I do have a somewhat legitimate reason to be wary of them, my house growing up was filled with spiders that used to bite me in my sleep. I guess it’s not just the bed bugs you’ve got to worry about. So this morning, when I was tying the bikini string around my neck and noticed a spider crawling on my top, I naturally freaked. I let out a pitiful squeal, hit my chest and sent the spider flying to the ground. I used to be a spider killer, but Dave has taught me otherwise, so in his honor I gently swept it outside to live with its spider friends in the outside world on Koh Tao in Thailand, where it belongs.

This entire scenario could have been avoided had I not broken Rule #1 of my six cardinal rules for living in the tropics and having to coexist with creepy crawlers.

Rule #1: Always shake out your clothes and shoes before wearing.

I say shoes because I’ve found spiders in there and have friends that have found centipedes in their shoes as well. Centipedes are one bug I don’t ever want to mess with. They are the epitome of creepiness (I wouldn’t trust anything with that many legs) and worst of all they can be poisonous. Yuck. I take this rule to the extreme by stuffing my shoes with socks so nothing can make its way in. Yeah, I know I’m a bit paranoid, but I don’t like having to personally deal with the bugs once they are found, so it’s easier to figure out ways to avoid contact altogether.

When I first moved to my bungalow on Koh Tao, I had a bit of a red ant problem…in my bed. I nearly lost my mind trying to figure out where they were coming from. After a week of process of elimination, I determined that they were coming from between the board my bed rests on top of and the concrete platform on which the board sits. I was sleeping directly above their nest. While in the process of solving my ant problem, I got into the habit of doing a bed check by shaking out my pillows and sheets before settling in for the night, which is Rule #2 for having to coexist with the bugs. Even though the ants are no longer an issue, I fall asleep easier knowing that nothing else is in the bed with me.

Rule #3: Never use the bathroom in the dark or while you are half asleep in tropical countries.

I learned this the hard way. I was staying on Koh Chang in Thailand last year and was woken up in the wee hours of the morning by a very drunk dude outside my bungalow. After a not so peaceful awakening from my slumber, I decided I needed a pee break. I sleepily went into the bathroom, peed, and poured water down the toilet to flush. As I was flushing, I noticed some king sized cockroaches chilling around the toilet. I went back to bed and wisely warned the girl I was sharing the room with to watch out for the nasty cockroaches during her bathroom trip. Upon entering the bathroom she immediately made a snide remark about my observation skills. Apparently I’d managed to walk over a big snake on my way in and on my way out of the bathroom completely oblivious to its existence. I noticed the cockroaches but I failed miserably to notice the potentially dangerous snake. Way to go Danielle.

In a different bungalow on Koh Chang, I had a bathroom encounter with a spider the size of my palm and an attitude the size of Texas. The first night I saw this spider it was on the wall next to the toilet. Because of its enormous size, I decided it was picture worthy. As I was bracing my hand against the wall to photograph it’s intimidating size, it lunged at me. A jumping spider or at least that’s what it seemed like. I leaped back, slipped on the tile floor and nearly hit my head on the wall behind me. I was pissed off at the spider for its homicide attempt, so I grabbed the showerhead to send it back over the wall from where it came.

The next night the spider came back, only this time it took up residence on my toilet seat. I had to pee and this spider knew it. He was taunting me so I took the showerhead and tried to send him fleeing like the previous night. Instead, the spider just took cover under the toilet seat. I conceded defeat and held the showerhead in one hand as I peed over the drain in the floor. Definitely not a high moment for me, but it had never before occurred to me that a spider, especially a spider that large, could be lurking under a toilet seat. So Rule #4 is that if you aren’t going to hover over the toilet, it might be wise to double-check that there aren’t any surprises under there before you sit. I know this sounds a little freakish and I’ll have you know I don’t check always, but it’s comforting to know there isn’t a spider waiting to jump at your nether regions.

Rule #5 is a bit obvious, be prepared.

Have deet on hand for those nights when the mosquitoes won’t leave you alone or you are stuck without a mosquito net. I also never travel to buggy places without Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent. I didn’t have evidence that it really worked until one very sketchy hotel stay in Cambodia. I had taken a bus from Laos to Siem Reap. The sketchballs running the bus operation made sure we took enough pit stops on the way there that the journey took as long as possible. Knowing that the entire bus of backpackers would be exhausted and cranky upon arrival at midnight, they dropped us off right in front of a hotel they got a commission at. It was so dark and my travel buddy and I had no idea where we were or where else to stay that we gave in and got a room there. The room didn’t look too bad until I noticed that both beds were covered in what we believed to be fleas. This is where the spray comes in. I sprayed both beds and my silk sleep sack. The next morning we both woke up bite free and we could see where the spray stopped because we were both surrounded by a ring of dead bugs.

Rule #6: Bag it up!

Ziploc bag anything that might smell or attract bugs. Food and dirty clothes are key items to bag up. I had an opened bag of mini Reeses in my backpack and was very bummed to find a few days into Laos that there were fire ants in my pack devouring my precious candy. I had gotten it delivered in Beijing from a friend and had been using all the self control I had to make them last. My travel buddy and I found the ones at the bottom of the bag and brushed the ants off in a last attempt to make sure they didn’t go to waste. Ants can’t appreciate chocolate like we can. They wouldn’t know the difference between that and dirty underwear…which they also devoured in my apartment in Khon Kaen. A horrifying discovery.

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4 thoughts on “My 6 Cardinal Rules for Living in the Tropics and Having to Coexist with Bugs

  1. Gaaaah! Spiders and Centipedes and Snakes Oh My!

    Spiders used to bite you at home? I can’t believe I slept on that floor. [shudders]

    Good advice in this post.

  2. It’s funny you say that. Spiders and Centipedes and Snakes Oh My was my tentative title many months ago when I first wrote this! Mind reader!

    I thought you guys knew about the spiders…oopsies! Good thing there were no attacks while you were visiting! I had one that was so bad in high school. I got about 50 bites on my stomach and 50 bites on my back one night. It was miserable! Spiders are out to get me.

    Glad you like the post 🙂

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