Samui Wining & Dining

realise just how much and what for?


16It was quite a few years ago now that I had a chance to tour around Egypt. And the best part was that the first week was free. My friend had married an Egyptian girl, and her folks insisted that I stayed with them in Cairo. Well, I wasn’t going to refuse! That was most certainly the best bit. But the worst part came hard on its heels. Long before I ever went, I had to suffer endless streams of advice. Keep your money in a belt hidden under your clothes. Never give money to beggars or they’ll swamp you. Get injections for malaria, dysentery, TB and half-a-dozen things ending in ‘itis’. Keep away from local food. Don’t eat any local meat; you don’t know what it is. Don’t drink the local water – or eat anything that’s been washed in it, and never drink anything with ice in it.

      To cut a long story short, the family met me at the airport in the evening and took me straight to their house. Then prepared me a meal of meat, lots of freshly washed vegetables and salad, and topped it off with a nice glass of tap water filled with ice. That was a pivotal moment in my emotional development. (And, incidentally, I came to no harm from it at all.) But, remarkably, even today I still see that some of these folk tales have lingered on. Many people who come here are wary of the local food, the markets and the streets stalls. And the water is a story all by itself!

      We all need water. But, as the title above suggests, there are some kinds of water we definitely don’t want, and there are many reasons that, in Thailand, we really do need to drink a lot of the fresh stuff. One of the big international Bangkok schools recruits staff from England every year. And, at the induction meeting, probably a full fifteen minutes is taken up by the topic of water. It’s pointed out that there are chilled water dispensers in all the major rooms and on every corridor. New staff are told that they won’t realise that they are rapidly dehydrating, even though they are not hot or sweating. They’ll usually think that, after a week, their fatigue is due to the workload or even culture shock or the lingering effects of jet lag. And that’s just on a normal day of getting up and going to work. But if you then add that to the alcohol that goes hand-in-hand with a party, or a Saturday night around the bars, then watch out. The school really doesn’t want staff illness just because nobody’s aware that, over here, you need something like half a litre of water every waking hour, just to retain your body’s natural fluid level.

      Our body is composed of about 60% water, varying with our age and constitution. And even in cool and temperate climates when we’re not running a sweat, already we’re losing a half of any fluid loss just from our skin and breathing processes alone. At 20°C, the average inactive adult loses between two and three litres of water a day. Consider a sweaty T-shirt (academically, of course!). Well, you know that feeling as you step out of your aircon into a normal, humid Samui day at around 30°C – the feeling of all your pores immediately flooding-out perspiration? Well that sweaty T-shirt is holding more than half a litre of lost water, just by itself.

       I wasn’t kidding about that ‘half a litre of water every waking hour’. We’re fortunate in a way, as our climate here is humid: in an arid desert environment it’s usual for our body to lose around three litres every hour! The best way by far is to be preventative. Bottled water is cheap. Keep one with you and keep sipping. Get another bottle when it becomes tepid. And be moderate with your alcohol intake. Those daytime beers or cocktails might seem to match the holiday mood, but alcohol is a diuretic and causes you to dehydrate even more rapidly. And of course, if you happen to have picked up a touch of diarrhoea, then skip quickly ahead to the ‘shade and electrolytes’ stage!

         So how do we know? What signs are there to tell us that we’re dehydrating? Well a sure sign is if you’re feeling a thirst. The first thing that the body does at 2% dehydration is to adjust the balance of where it stores its water, and this causes thirst and means you’re already becoming dehydrated. Pulse rate and breathing will be more rapid than normal. And if you’re feeling tired and energy-less along with this, then you better check for these signs, too: dark urine; dark hollows under the eyes; loss of skin elasticity (pinch your wrist – the skin should spring back immediately); a trench line down the centre of your tongue. If several of these symptoms are present, then stay in the shade for a day or so, cut out the alcohol, constantly drink water and look for something with electrolytes in it –you can buy it in powdered form from any pharmacy, and all the 7-11s and convenience stores stock a wide range of sports drinks.

         Plus 20 different sorts of bottled water, too. Tap water here? Best not too. It’s untreated. And even resorts with water filtration systems can’t guarantee that the bacteria, protozoa and microorganisms are being removed. Then there are herbicides, insecticides and nitrates leached from the soil: as it happens, there really isn’t any widespread cultivation on Samui for this to be of significance. Clean rainwater is usually fine but it lacks essential minerals – and in any case why bother when bottled water is so readily available

         It seems a simple thing, doesn’t it? Drink water or you’ll have problems. Almost too simple. The lunatics on the roads are certainly more dramatic. The mosquitoes are more immediate. Sunburn is a daily niggle. These are all things you can see. But, with an informed guess, there are far more dehydrated visitors on our island than there are those with sunburn or grazed knees from tumbles. So be warned. And keep yourself ‘wet wet wet’ – both inside and out!


Rob De Wet


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