Justin in Thailand, June 18-30, 2007

June 18, Arrival – After over 20 hours of flying I finally arrived in Thailand. Luckily I did manage to stay awake most of the trip, so I was appropriately exhausted for a 11 pm arrival time. Derek met me at the Airport for the trip back to the Hotel Richmond, a very fancy and less that $40 dollars a night...few tourists come to the Nonthaburi province (just North of Bangkok).

June 19 – The breakfast (included in the price of the room!) at the hotel Richmond is astounding. A full range of options in the American, Thai, and Chinese styles. I eat WAY to much, and sample almost everything. In the late morning Derek and I head off to the Ministry of Public Health where we meet with Sopon and Pongtorn and discuss plans for the coming two weeks. After work we are taking to the park and dinner by the Thai director of the FETP (Field Epidemiology Training Program). The park is next to an excellent temple and is quite beautiful.

Apparently there is a Thai proverb that if you follow the most senior person in the group you will not get bitten by stray dogs. Good thing we were following the most senior person, because a stray dog adopted us and trailed us all around the park.

June 20-21 – These were the days we came here for, where Derek and I lectured to the FETP training class. Derek gave his talk on the first day, while I was rushing to finish mine up. Unfortunately the morning was lost to getting photos for my Visa to Vietnam, so I was behind on my presentation. On the first night we were taken out to a German beer garden (that had a giant stage for Thai pop stars and Chinese acrobats), and did not get home until 11pm. The result was that I was up until 4am preparing for my presentation. Luckily I was able to sleep late, so I was relatively coherent when I presented. I even stood up to the aggressive questioning from the Indian students. Afterwards we took a river boat to central Bangkok with the trainees, where we did a little sight seeing and then had yet another delicious Thai dinner.

Most of the Thais seem convinced that Americans cannot eat spicy food, which is probably true for the nuclear stuff, but certainly not the case for the moderately spicy stuff that most people eat. The Thais I have been with are fascinated by my ability to eat spicy food, at every meal they ask if I can, give horrified warnings after my sauce selections, and then indicate pleasant surprise when I eat the food with no ill effect.

June 22-24 – Derek left for the US after our presentations were done, leaving me to fend for myself and attempt to find a way to be productive. Downgrading from invited speaker to visiting student meant a change in accommodations from the very upscale Hotel Richmond to the very utilitarian Nontharat Mansion. While this is definitely a step down in the world Nontharat Mansion has the advantage of being walking distance from the Ministry of Public Health, a large supermarket, and various smaller shops, substantially curtailing my dependence on Taxis, which are the bane of my existence.

After spending the weekend playing the tourist, on Sunday night I was picked up in the Luxury Outbreak Investigation Mobile to go out to the field, where we will do case finding to see if there are any human cases associated with a recent outbreak of H5N1 in domestic poultry in one of the provinces.

June 25-26 – Out in the province the investigation team dropped by and visited all of the relevant local authorities then it was off to the field. The investigation consisted of visiting rural households where there had been H5N1 related poultry die offs, administering interviews and taking blood samples. Functionally this amounts to driving down country roads half lost, and sitting on people sitting platforms and chatting with them for thirty minutes to an hour. It did provide a nice glimpse of Thai rural like in addition to its epidemiologic interest. I even managed to be useful, teaching the investigators a few new tricks with their GPS sets.

June 27-28 – On the morning of the 27th the lead investigator and I caught a plane back to Bangkok, and it was back to the less exciting work of trying to be useful at the Ministry of Public Health. Fortunately it seems there are plenty of opportunities to do so.

At this point I have gotten pretty used to walking around Bangkok and Nonthaburi and have made the key discovery that in general in food you buy off the street is 5 to 10 times better and 10 to 20 times cheaper than anything you buy in an air conditioned store or restaurant. The exception is coffee, which is instant unless you get it from a coffee house. Of course, the high heat and humidity makes the air conditioning worth it a significant portion of the time.

On Thursday I picked up my visa for Vietnam, and on the 30th I will be off to meet Dave for a truly remote trip in the mountains of North Vietnam...

More Pictures: Week 1, Week 2.