A tale of travel and tragedy in Thailand

This story of travel and tragedy is so sad I had to share it with you, and add my support for the traumatised women involved.  Three young New Zealanders went to northern Thailand for an idyllic holiday. All three got very sick and one died. Her death remains unexplained.

The family of the dead young woman have set up a website to ask tourists and visitors list all occurrences of fatalities or serious illness contracted while visiting Thailand. Emma Langlands, Amanda Eliason and Sarah Carter, all 23, fell ill on February 3 while staying at the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai ( the city pictured below).

The trio were admitted to hospital where Sarah died of heart inflammation a day later. This is the story in Emma and Amanda’s own words:

“We arrived in Chiang Mai around 5pm and took a taxi straight to the Downtown Inn. Our impression of the room was that it was clean and comfortable. Before we headed out for an evening at the Night Bazaar, we had a look at the pool, and all tested the water temperature with our feet.

“At the Night Bazaar, we ate at an indoor food court. Amanda ate a chicken pita kebab, and Emma and Sarah ate red pork curry. Both Amanda and Sarah drank a passionfruit shake. Later at the hotel, we drank the bottled drinking water provided for us.

“We woke up early on 3 February, and within half an hour of each other, we all fell ill. We called a doctor to our room mid-morning. We began to feel better in the afternoon and ate a little food provided by the hotel. By evening our symptoms had deteriorated, and we were admitted to hospital around midnight.”

The manager of the hotel  visited the trio in hospital. They had been aware there was something wrong with a guest in an adjoining room.

“On one of his visits to hospital, the manager told us that the person had passed away.”

The Dominion Post newspaper reports that Sarah was one of seven people to die in similar circumstances in the northern Thai city, including a guest in the room next to theirs. Early reports suggested her death was caused by toxic seaweed, but food-poisoning tests were inconclusive. An elderly British couple, a Thai tourist guide and a Canadian man died after staying at the same hotel or using its facilities, while two other women died in similar circumstances within one month.

Thai authorities have denied the deaths were linked.

On the website, www.thailandtraveltragedies.com Emma and Amanda say: “The intention of this site is to alert all travellers to any potential dangers they face in a country perceived as a tropical paradise on the surface but which in fact has health & safety standards substantially below those of developed nations. The frequently heard stories of corruption and cover-up, of an undercurrent of sex, drug and child trafficking, and an environment of political instability may indeed not affect the average traveller, but leave potential travellers wondering if Thailand is indeed the destination of their dreams, able to provide an enjoyable and safe holiday.

“This site will present unaltered and directly reported stories of travellers to Thailand, and allow all potential travellers an opportunity to judge for themselves whether or not the risks and potential pitfalls outweigh the surface charm and beauty of Thailand’s beaches, rainforests and markets.”

UPDATE: Pesticides are now being blamed for the deaths, but there’s still confusion over how all people affected were exposed to the chemicals.

3 thoughts on “A tale of travel and tragedy in Thailand

  1. i’m surprised this hasn’t been taken up more seriously in the travel world, but it goes to show that when you have made up your mind where you want to travel, nothing will stop you – you will think that this kind of thing happens to other people and not yourself; but if you were to think otherwise (ie that this kind of thing will most likely happen to you and not to others) then you will be branded as ignorant due to your generalised beliefs, and possibly racist given your presuppositions – greece is a recent victim of both


  2. This story of the young women getting sick and one dying evoked memories of a very bad travel experience my husband and I had in Chang Mai in the mid 1980’s. As young backpack travellers we were semi intrepid – never fearing what we ate or where we went, using our senses and instincts to keep safe. We are both chefs and had a friend here in NYC who was also a chef and a native of Thailand,. He encouraged us to eat with our eyes first – and said, just look around when you are in Thailand and see – see if the food in the vendors street cart looks fresh, if the food is swarming with flies, if there are many others (especially locals eating there). And thus began our journey over the past 29 years of eating and traveliing on our stomach and with our eyes….

    So sorry to hear about this tragedy – and although life is always a risk and travel more so – what disturbs us as westerners I think it the lack of concern for really finding out what the problem is so it can be corrected instead of covering it up so that “face is saved”


    1. Hi Lisa, I had to edit your post as it was too long for a comments section, but thank you for writing and sharing your experiences. There should be accountability, as you say, rather than just trying to save face. All the best for future happy travels.


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