19th Century Travel Advisory

Tourists exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya

I thought we would have a bit of fun today and let you read what it was like to be preparing for a trip to Thailand in the late 19th Century. The following is advice which was first published in a guidebook of the time. I have paraphrased it a bit and changed the language to make it easier to read for a modern audience.

When to Visit

April is the unhealthiest month of the year as well as the hottest, and February is the healthiest. The line of sickness closely corresponds with the range of highest mean temperature and the period of the rains. If possible, then, no arrival should be made during any of these hot, wet, and most unhealthy months. Not only is it very hot during March and April, but the sanitary conditions of Bangkok are then at their worst. The level of the river is at its lowest, cholera is often epidemic, and experience has proven that typhoid fever takes on its severest aspects at this time of the year. The nights, too, are hot, and the combination of mosquitoes and sleepless nights leaves you weakened and open to sickness.

Fevers in general are more common during May, June and July, while typhoid fever is most prevalent during May and June when the rains are setting in, and again in December, when they have ceased. Owing to the sudden changes of temperature during these months, chills on the liver and digestive organs are frequent, and more so in the persons of new arrivals who do not yet thoroughly understand how to guard against such accidents.

Local trams – forerunner of the sky train

It is better, then, not to arrive before the end of August, preferably not until the beginning of October. The mean temperature for the latter month is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and the nights are already beginning to cool. During November, December, and January there are frequent spells of delightful weather, when the minimum may fall as low as 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Arriving therefore in October, one gets accustomed to the heat and so undergoes somewhat of an acclimatization before the hot weather sets in.

What to Wear

During the day, clothing should be light and loose fitting. The material should be light thin flannel or one of the light Indian silks. For underwear, perhaps the best material is Indian gauze. It is a good old rule to dress with the sun – i.e. to wear light, thin clothing during the day, but to change into somewhat warmer clothing at sundown. The cholera belt should always be worn when asleep in order to protect the abdominal organs from chill.

What to Eat

This is one thing which one should never exert false economy. At its best, the beef is not of the same nutritive value as meat killed in Western countries, owing to the habit of bleeding the cattle in the slaughter-house. The fowls, too, are poor in quality, and generally very tough, owing to the careless methods of preparation adopted by the Chinese cooks. Above all, things for the table must be of the freshest. There is no more fruitful source of bowel complaints than tainted meat or fish eaten in the tropics. No meat or fish should be eaten which is the least soft, and such things as crab, unless the animal can do at least one march across the kitchen floor, should be avoided.

In the 19th Century, most houses in Bangkok were built over the river and canals

Fresh salad, unless made of potato, cucumber, beetroot, or the like, are to be guarded against. Owing to the filthy methods of fertilization employed by the Chinese market gardeners, lettuce and other green salads are harbourers of all sorts of disease-bringing germs. Tin foods are to be avoided, and as a rule are not required in Bangkok, where fresh food can so easily be obtained. A few Europeans have adopted a Siamese diet entirely, and seem to thrive upon it. As an experiment this may be interesting, but the majority of Europeans would soon find it a mistake.

What to Drink

One of the best and least dangerous beverages in this country is hot Chinese tea. In other countries, water is the best beverage. In Bangkok, however, one is greatly handicapped by the absence of a pure water supply. Until the government has taken in hand a municipal water scheme, it is necessary for all Bangkok residents to personally superintend their own water supply. This naturally entails the collection of rain water from the roofs of houses and its subsequent storage in tanks.

In all cases, it is best to filter the water before use. The best form of filter is the Pasteur-Chamberland system, of which the filtering medium consists of candles made of compressed infusorial earth, through which even the typhoid germ fails to grow. Extra careful people boil the water as well after filtering.

Source: “Twentieth Century Impressions of Siam” by Arnold Wright and Oliver T. Breakspear. Published by White Lotus. First edition printed in 1908.

2 responses to “19th Century Travel Advisory

  1. Richard Smith

    “…no crab unless the animal can do at least one march across the kitchen floor”….. I love that and your old time pieces…great pictures once again…thanks

  2. I have this vision of “Pukkah Sahbs” up from Malaya, dressed in Solar topies and shorts that reach to the knee, sporting magnificent moustaches and monocles, desperately consulting the guide to see where they can find a decent Gin and Tonic.
    Hope they have not forgot to pack their “cholera belts” !
    Wonderful stuff, Richard, more please.