Bedbugs: A Travel Nightmare Realized
I had two fears when I set out for Southeast Asia: Beadbugs, and Dengue Fever.
One is decidedly worse than the other — Dengue means potential hospitalization, spending days in bed that could be spent exploring or relaxing on the beach, and (worst case) DEATH.
In contrast, bedbugs don’t carry any communicable disease, and for many people their bites don’t even cause a reaction. But the idea of sleeping blissfully while tick-like creatures dine on your flesh gives me the heebie-jeebs like nothing else.
So imagine my dismay when, on the ferry from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi, my arms and legs started itching like crazy. I thought perhaps my mosquito repellent was having the opposite effect, but it was Bushman’s. Bushman’s is an Australia icon, like Vegemite, and it’s skin-melting chemical cocktail meant nothing was getting it’s sucker-feeder-thing into my pristine skin.
Then there was the volume of bites – these things were in clumps, and in those clumps, they were everywhere. Lines and lines of big, fat welts were raising.
Suddenly, I remembered the strange bug I had seen crawling in my bed as I lay awake at the hostel (Ai Phuket, if you’re curious) we had stayed in overnight while we waited for our ferry. I hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, I just smushed it and was a little grossed out when a big red drop of blood oozed out. I had seen three, and smushed them all before I finally dropped off to sleep.
I whipped out my phone and Googled, and sure enough, the bites and the bugs I had seen were consistent with everything bedbug.
Throughout the rest of the day, new bites kept popping up in rows on my shoulders, back and side, rounding out the masterpiece that had started on my limbs. I learned that bedbug bites can take up to 24 hours to fully develop, and up to a week to disappear. Excellent.
Can I also pause for a moment to describe the sheer and utter joy of being covered in huge, itchy bug bites in 95-degree heat and 90% humidity? I’m pretty sure it resides somewhere in the fourth circle of hell, right after going to the DMV without an appointment. Needless to say, my first day in Railay Beach was a hot and seriously bothered one, and not in a good way.
The next day wasn’t necessarily better, but I gave those bites the sun-and-sea treatment, dipping into the Andaman Sea and laying out in the hot sun to try both numb my nerve endings and hopefully heal the bites. On the second day, they were nearly gone, and by the third, only a few stragglers remained.
But it impressed on me an important lesson: inspect your mattress before you book anything! At each place I stayed in Thailand after, I’d lift up the sheets and dig into the seams of the mattresses, looking for bedbugs, bedbug eggs, or bedbug poo (yeah), since those little shits sleep during the day and only come out at night.
After visiting all the islands, we were back in Phuket Town (at a different hostel, of course, Phuket Backpacker), and I was up in my bed getting ready to go to sleep when I saw something crawling next to my pillow. In a flash, I had reached out and smashed it, and a telltale drop of blood oozed out.
Oh HELL no, I thought to myself, and I stomped downstairs and immediately told the man on the night desk that he needed to move me, LIKE NOW, to a new bed or a new room that wasn’t covered in flesh-eating vermin. Unfortunately for them, our entire room then evacuated thanks to the ruckus I caused, but anything would’ve been better than another few days dealing with bedbug agony.