How to accidentally improve your marriage

27 11 2011

By Whitney

I’ve spent a lot of time on this trip thinking “Wow, Phil and I have spent 24 hours a day side by side for months, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about, and we haven’t wanted to kill one another!”. In the world of relationships, long term travel can be a real make or break situation – you are constantly bombarded with foreign, challenging experiences. For us, it’s been an amazing, positive journey. The last few weeks have been extremely challenging – i’m sure you guys have noticed that our posts came to a grinding standstill! What happened?


Phil fell very, very ill on our first day in Siem Reap, Cambodia (the home of Angkor Wat and the other many, many temples built by the Khmer people). Our initial impression of Siem Reap on our way to the guesthouse from the airport was “Wow, this is so touristy, it almost feels ruined for us”. As Phil’s fever climbed to 104 degrees, that turned to “Thank goodness we are in one of the only places in Cambodia with English-speaking doctors and halfway-decent facilities”. I mean, check out these perks:

They may not have IV trees with functioning wheels, and their eye chart may be a cardboard handout from the WHO, but *by god* they have free Wifi!

Phil and I spent a long, scary night in the hospital side-by-side. It turns out that he had an amoebic parasite that had turned into a raging infection. After a lot of fluids and meds, they released Phil into my care. If you think it is hard to watch the person you depend on most in the world writhing in agony in the US, add in a totally foreign country, the unavailability of familiar food and supplies, and nobody else to turn to within 12 time zones. Over the course of 3 days, he appeared to be getting better, and so out of the 7 days we spent in Cambodia, he did get to see the temples on one day. We went on to Laos, thinking things were going to be free and clear….

And then he relapsed. We believe that the doctors in Cambodia did not give him the appropriate treatment for his parasite, either out of ignorance, or because they didn’t have the appropriate medications. Either way, we were in Laos, where there is no hospital or clinic appropriate to deal with any sort of real medical problem. As our hotel put it “Get on the next flight to Bangkok. There are no medical facilities for this in Laos, even if you are rich. Everyone just goes to Bangkok.” I emailed some travel doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, and they told me the same thing: “Get to Bangkok”.

So, we went to Bangkok, abandoning an $800 deposit on an 8-day motorcycle tour through rural Vietnam, the part of our trip we were most excited about to date.

Have you guys been following the news about flooding in Southeast Asia? Because Thailand has had it’s worst flooding in half a century. Central Bangkok is completely surrounded by horrific floodwaters. Supply chains for food and medicine are broken. The domestic airport is underwater. The whole country is in a state of emergency. And…this is where we had to turn??

Yes. Luckily, Bangkok has some of the top international hospitals in the world – and they could see Phil. The doctor quickly saw that the previous hospital had not prescribed follow-up meds to kill remaining amoebas in Phil’s system, and got him on antibiotics for a lingering systemic infection as well. Once on the right meds, Phil was on the mend in 24 hours. He looked better than he had in weeks. I could exhale and relax for the first time since we were in Vietnam…finally!

We decided, since we had 9 days to kill before our flight to New Zealand out of Vietnam, that we should head south and get some relaxing beach time in. So, off to Koh Lanta it was! With a lovely hotel room across from the beach, a stunning national park to explore, and close proximity to other amazing islands, we were finally going to get to do some adventuring.

And then I got food poisoning on our first day there. Which I am still getting over.

And round and round we go.

So, here’s some data to put all this in perspective: I’ve been to 28 different countries. Phil has been to over 30. Neither of us have ever gotten “travel” bugs before. Somehow, we stumbled into the holy grail of travel interruptions, the only saving grace being that we were never sick at the same time. I can’t even imagine how we’d have gotten by if we’d been traveling solo or if we’d both been taken down at once. So, both of us want to say: Don’t let our experience deter you from travel to the world’s amazing, remote and developing places. Be prepared, and have an exit strategy in place for medical emergencies (we have travel health insurance that paid for all this, and got all of our immunizations, in addition to having a supply of antibiotics and other meds). But most of all, enjoy the world. It’s an amazing place!

What do these experiences give us, though? For Phil and I, it means that we were able to get through a really scary and threatening experience together. It means that we know, even in the toughest situations, that the other one knows how to navigate the situation and have our back. It’s one thing to stand up in a pretty dress and promise to take care of your husband. It’s another to be in rural Cambodia on the back of a motorbike tracking down fish porridge because it’s the only food the doctor will let him have. This trip, first and foremost, was about having an adventure together. Taking on the world together. It’s about the journey and strengthening our bond more than it is about a list of places we’ve seen. Our crazy Vietnam adventure will still be waiting for us on another trip!

Coming next – beautiful photos of the Siem Reap temples, stunning Laos, and temples around Bangkok!




3 responses

27 11 2011
Gabriel L. Epstein

Dear Whitney,
I am so glad that you and Philip have been there for each other on this trip of exploration. Exploration of many fantastic sights and sounds of the world,; but also exploring and developing your relationship with each other. May you always have each other’s back and have wonderful times during the rest of your trip. Love, Gabriel (Dad-in-law)

27 11 2011
Jo Goodman

I am glad to hear Phil is on the mend, and that you are getting over your food poisoning. I am amazed at your stories and photos as well. I wish for the rest of your trip to be uneventful health-wise, and very eventful fun-wise. I hope to travel the world someday, and I am grateful for your advice. I hope New Zealand turns out to be more amazing than it looks in pictures for you both. Oh, and happy holidays!


7 01 2012
Ming Yin

Hope both of you are OK by now. Anyway, you are in New Zealand!
Very nice essay, Whitney. I’ll remember your advice.

Thank you for sharing,

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