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Are Western tourists being poisoned in Asia?
January 9, 2013 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Western tourists (mostly female) visiting Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali) are ending up dead, likely poisoned. Local officials have blamed the use of the insecticide DEET as an exotic ingredient in so-called "Bucket Drinks", or the use of Chlorpyrifos in hotel rooms. But Deborah Blum, an author and poison expert, doesn't buy into the insecticide theories offered by local officials. She thinks this looks like targeted murders. Since writing about the poisonings, she says she's been contacted by people who claim poisoning foreigners is common in 5-star hotels, and the police and owners cover it up.. A Facebook group was formed not only so that world travelers could share safe travel tips, but also so that notice of the unexplained, and often uninvestigated, deaths could be made public.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (75 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
What is the proposed incentive/motive for these deaths?

None of these resorts have any incentive to have deaths in their facilities.
posted by gen at 8:37 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


So Deborah Blum has some books to sell yes?
posted by awfurby at 8:41 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


The information presented here is pretty hazy. Everyone stayed at a 5-star hotel (in some cases the same 5-star hotel). But not everyone. In any case, to the reader, what is a 5-star hotel supposed to signify? That the victims were risk-adverse, and were not drinking shit mix out of buckets while taking fistfulls of drugs?

While nobody deserved to die, I think there is the tendency for Westerners traveling to other countries to think that they are safe (or not understand when they are not safe).

It would be interesting to see what each victim had been doing in Thailand before dying. Where they went, what activities, who they met up with.

The motive is pretty clear - steal cash.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Western tourists go to Thailand and act as if they are bullet proof. They do things they would never do at home - drugs, huge alcohol binges, dumb escapades on motorcycles, risky sex etc etc etc.

There is no conspiracy to poison Western women (or men) - they kill themselves in all sorts of idiotic ways without any help from anyone.

The frustration the parents are experiencing with local authorities is probably more likely to do with the authorities having a different cultural perspective and not wanting to embarrass the parents with the sordid details of their children's behavior.
posted by awfurby at 8:48 PM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


I'll be back in a while, I need to go purchase some tinfoil.
posted by HuronBob at 8:51 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The frustration the parents are experiencing with local authorities is probably more likely to do with the authorities having a different cultural perspective and not wanting to embarrass the parents with the sordid details of their children's behavior.

Or to interfere with their local money-making and/or bribe-offering hotels, rather than anonymous faces an ocean away. Or even a mixture of both. I certainly feel bad for these parents, in any case.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:56 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is the proposed incentive/motive for these deaths?

So you're saying that now people need a reason to hate other people just for being different? When did that happen?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:59 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can't see how murdering ESL teachers would present hotels with enough revenue to bribe local officials to cover up murder.

It would also be a pretty big operation, so a lot of people would have to get paid off. Unless you believe that people who don't look like you and don't talk like you are somehow governed by a different moral code.

I feel bad for the parents, but blaming the brown people seems to just a convenient way to resolve things.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:01 PM on January 9, 2013 [22 favorites]


Reminds me of this post from a few months ago about Vang Vieng in Laos.
posted by XMLicious at 9:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Years ago, during a semester abroad program to Italy, one of our students spring break plans to Istanbul with friends sort of fell through - so he went alone. He met some friendly Turks in a street cafe. He woke up a week later in the hospital - he had been found completely naked in a quarry.

They had drugged him, stolen everything he had, and left him - he was lucky to have been found, and much luckier to have been found unhurt.

The thing about being a young Westerner abroad in a place that is affordable to visit, is that you are a walking target. Your very presence advertises "money" - or you wouldn't even be there. While Westerners on the whole are safe, any individual may not be safe in a way we assume we will be safe at home. The fact is, law enforcement are ill equipped and poorly motivated do track anyone down over a single rare instance of something that is easily dismissed or blamed on simple accident. There is no CSI:Thailand tracking down serial killers in a tropical paradise.

There may be of course, other motives, some of which so convoluted and inscrutable we could never understand. Resentment. Killing for pleasure. Casual terrorism of a quiet sort. Who knows.

I am glad to see this story getting some legs. There is hope that these are solvable.
posted by Xoebe at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Somewhat related, the Australian media has recently focused on tourists getting sick and dying due to tainted batches of arak in Bali.
posted by kithrater at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Guess I'll be putting off my trip to "Asia".
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 9:15 PM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


kithrater, that's pretty awful, and I hadn't heard of that. Arak is bad enough in itself, without being tainted and killing people.

As for the targeting tourists thing, Bali-wise, I was warned, very strongly, about responding in any way to people offering to sell any kind of drug, simply because most of the people offering to sell to tourists are undercover cops. As much as I love Bali, it's also the only place where I've seen payoffs first hand, when our driver/guide had to stop at an impromtu (it hadn't been there that morning when we passed by) military check-point and pay to pass through. We were sort of astounded, the driver just shrugged it off and said it was normal.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I question the focus on OMG WHITE PEOPLE ARE DYING! I think it's more likely that native people are dying of the same thing (be it pesticides, mentally unbalanced poisoners, etc) but simply the westerners get more the press coverage.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:20 PM on January 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


The deadly conspiracy against tourists is a traveller's staple. So odds are, no.

On the other hand I did stay at a hotel in Quito that offered bulletproof rooms. That wasn't about tourists though.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Xoebe: "There may be of course, other motives, some of which so convoluted and inscrutable we could never understand."

"Inscrutable" Asian motives? Really??
posted by barnacles at 9:22 PM on January 9, 2013 [46 favorites]


more likely that native people are dying of the same thing...the westerners get more press coverage

Likely true. Good point.
posted by davebush at 9:27 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The death of a young person is such an unbearable tragedy, particularly for the family, that the need to find a reason is overwhelming. And if no reason is at hand, people will make one up, and believe it fervently.
posted by LarryC at 9:32 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


If DEET gave you any kind of buzz, my high school stoner friends would have been mixing it with Lysol and airplane glue long ago.
posted by benzenedream at 9:33 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hunh. Is it really so unbelievable to think there might be a serial killer in the region, picking young women and poisoning them when they're vulnerable? Or do I just have a terrible (in all sense of the word) imagination?
posted by offalark at 9:38 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Deborah Blum is a highly respected science writer, Pulitzer and all. She could well be completely mistaken on this (or it could be combo platter of tourist deaths getting more attention/tourists being hypersensitive to DEET because it's no longer used in their countries/some actual murders either for theft or whatever motivates people to kill strangers) but she isn't someone who's been known to go off on tinfoil hat tangents before now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [20 favorites]


According to this Phuket Wan Tourist News article, both the Thai and Canadian authorities have done autopsies on the Belanger sisters. But, both have not published them due to privacy reasons.

Radio Canada did a long video report on the "Mysterious Deaths in Thailand", it's in Quebecois French if anyone wants to give it a go. I found the link for the story and a very rough English translation on a Thai Visa forum. I'm reading the translation right now and it has a lot of further details including how they were with a couple of Brazilian guys before and how the father seems to not believe the Thai authorities.
posted by FJT at 9:54 PM on January 9, 2013


They could have died from insecticides used to kill bedbugs.

Some people get very sick from the same insecticides.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:55 PM on January 9, 2013


Radio Canada did a long video report on the "Mysterious Deaths in Thailand"

I'm pretty sure I heard this on 690 (Vancouver CBC) a while back, or it may have been The Current.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 PM on January 9, 2013



Western tourists go to Thailand and act as if they are bullet proof. They do things they would never do at home - drugs, huge alcohol binges, dumb escapades on motorcycles, risky sex etc etc etc.


The #1 killer of western tourists in Thailand is drinking + scooter accidents. Many people rent scooters that have never driven one before.
posted by thewalrus at 10:02 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Charles Sobhraj

(crazy/fascinating/scary. I hadn't heard of him till recently. he'd merit a post in his own right)
posted by jcruelty at 10:04 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hunh. Is it really so unbelievable to think there might be a serial killer in the region, picking young women and poisoning them when they're vulnerable? Or do I just have a terrible (in all sense of the word) imagination?

Do you know how far Bali is from Chiang Mai? This is like saying 'there's a serial killer in Europe which explains these deaths in Dublin and Budapest.'
posted by pompomtom at 10:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


(Or rather: there have been deaths in Dublin and Budapest, so they're probably the work of the same person).
posted by pompomtom at 10:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somewhat related, the Australian media has recently focused on tourists getting sick and dying due to tainted batches of arak in Bali.

For some unfathomable reason countless Australians go to Bali to drink and party on beaches, something which it is of course impossible to do in their teetotling, landlocked home country.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


Charlemagne, the Australian/Bali connection is most easily understood in the light of America/Tijuana or Cancun, or England/Ibiza. It's a place where young people can go on holiday and act as if their actions don't carry the same weight as the would 'back home.' Hence, rampant drunkeness, blatant disregard of social norms, and general dickishness.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:31 PM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: "Somewhat related, the Australian media has recently focused on tourists getting sick and dying due to tainted batches of arak in Bali.

For some unfathomable reason countless Australians go to Bali to drink and party on beaches, something which it is of course impossible to do in their teetotling, landlocked home country.
"

* At least from Perth, return flights to Bali are far cheaper than return flights out east.
* Alcohol costs are far cheaper in Bali than they are in Australia.
* Again, it might be more of a WA-specific thing, but sharks don't seem to be in the news quite so much with regard to Bali's beaches.
* Some people like to go on holidays to places they don't live in order to get away from it all.

But, y'know, just go ahead and snark away.
posted by barnacles at 10:34 PM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Guess I'll be putting off my trip to "Asia".

Better to stay Here.
posted by threeants at 10:35 PM on January 9, 2013


That's not, in any way an endorsement of that sort of behavior. Just as a hint, if you go to Bali, and getting trashed and being a jerk isn't your idea of the best possible time that could be had, avoid Kuta. There are some fantastic, wonderful places in the area, but they are pretty much outweighed by the permanent spring break culture.

Other places in Bali are absolutely heaven. I've never been anywhere that so quickly made me feel like I could live there forever.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:35 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is no CSI:Thailand tracking down serial killers in a tropical paradise.

Sure there is - it's a very developed country.
posted by awfurby at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2013


barnacles: You spoiled brat. Here in northern California, not only is the water too cold for sharks, also, a ranger will yell at your for having alcohol on the beach (if indeed it happens to be warm enough to be on the beach without a winter coat). I'll take any beach in WA for senseless drinking any time. Pity it's so far from here though...
posted by dlg at 10:59 PM on January 9, 2013


It's not at all inconceivable that some percentage of women traveling alone or in small groups are being dosed with date rape drugs that end up poisoning them rather than just rendering them senseless, and less so that a tourist economy might have the incentive to cover such deaths up. And as with the disappearances and deaths and rapes aboard cruise ships, it's unlikely that the families of the victims will ever receive sufficient information to be able to know what happened. There are just too many who benefit from the silence. The world is not a safe place. And cover ups in tourist towns are a real thing.
posted by Scram at 11:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


The fact is, law enforcement are ill equipped and poorly motivated do track anyone down over a single rare instance of something that is easily dismissed or blamed on simple accident. There is no CSI:Thailand tracking down serial killers in a tropical paradise.

I’m not sure why you think it’s not like that in the USA, unless you think CSI is anything like reality.
posted by bongo_x at 11:12 PM on January 9, 2013


For some unfathomable reason countless Australians go to Bali...

It's so we can say we've been overseas. "Yeah, going overseas for a couple of weeks, it's gonna be good." Bali is a fucking pedal boat ride, it's like ten minutes to get there.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 11:13 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you know how far Bali is from Chiang Mai? This is like saying 'there's a serial killer in Europe which explains these deaths in Dublin and Budapest.'

Not to say that's what going on here, but a serial killer from Alaska was captured last month after years of traveling around the US for over 10 years, killing far from home and remaining unsuspected and uncaught.

Serial Killer Israel Keyes 'Broke His Own Rule,' Lost Control

Tying murders across even large regions is a real thing that needs to take place, especially internationally. Dismissing out of hand due to geography is not, as a rule, wise.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:15 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


For some unfathomable reason countless Australians go to Bali to drink and party on beaches

fathoming?
posted by flaterik at 11:17 PM on January 9, 2013


"I question the focus on OMG WHITE PEOPLE ARE DYING! I think it's more likely that native people are dying of the same thing (be it pesticides, mentally unbalanced poisoners, etc) but simply the westerners get more the press coverage."

Yeah, given that when I was in Bangkok a week or so ago, there was a pretty big chemical fire near the waterfront (enough fumes that people on the tourist boat were coughing) and it didn't even make the news. I loved a lot about the country, but pollution and poisoning is happening to the Thai people big time, especially as they rapidly industrialize.
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


DEET isn't an insecticide, or at least not a very effective one. It's an insect repellent.

tourists being hypersensitive to DEET because it's no longer used in their countries

Lack of exposure to DEET won't make you hypersensitive to it. Besides, two of the deaths were Canadians, and it's in wide use here.

Is the DEET in the drinks like the chili P in Jesse Pinkman's meth? Does it have any effect at all? Was it added to drinks to taste terrible and mess with idiot tourists?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:02 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found the first comment I saw from the Wired article the most interesting bit.
posted by Admira at 12:13 AM on January 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


Sorry my link was b0rken: try this.
posted by awfurby at 12:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know it's only the women asking for it being killed, and the child-like locals aren't like real people, and so above suspicion, but maybe we need to take a Pulitzer winning science writer seriously... oh, wait, she's a woman, too. Let's all explain to her how we know better than she does... some of us have once vacationed in Bali, after all, and others have seen travel shows about the area.

Way too much blame-the-victim horsecrap and othering of the "brown people" in this thread.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:43 AM on January 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


I disagree - reading those articles Blum herself doesn't really have any idea what caused the deaths of the four women she mentions, but draws some fairly long bows and makes a conclusion that because no-one can explain it, well something must be going on.

I don't see it, and if we're going to get into a "brown people" slanging match, personally I find the subtext of the articles offensive - that the Thai authorities can't be trusted. If you want to stand by that, well go ahead, but don't expect me to take that seriously.
posted by awfurby at 3:00 AM on January 10, 2013


So you're saying that now people need a reason to hate other people just for being different? When did that happen?

Could you elaborate a bit on this?
posted by ominous_paws at 3:21 AM on January 10, 2013


The Ativan gang scam in Phillipines is real. I personally know at least two people who had been drugged, and their money stolen. They're *super* good; this person I know, she's usually very careful, but they got to her as well. An entire family befriended her while she was at Interramuros in Manila, she presumed she was safe with this huge, genial extended family, decided to spend the night with them after the super-genial matriarch charmed her.

They ended up drugging her, made her withdraw money at an ATM, somehow noted down her PIN, stole her card, withdrew a huge amount, and returned the card. And yeah, deleted all photos in her camera that had them. My friend didn't suspect a thing till a few days later when she was off in Cebu.

The police tried to be genuinely helpful there - she had some friends in Manila who helped her a bit - but there wasn't much she could do. The money, a four figure sum she had been saving up for university, was all gone. Of course, its sheer luck than nothing untoward happened to her, no further violent crime or anything.

Yup, shit can happen any moment anywhere when you're on the road. This even in Europe where now you just might be beaten by the local police if you're of the wrong colour.
posted by the cydonian at 3:54 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The DEET thing is odd. As Pruitt-Igoe ponts out, it's not an insecticide. It is the active ingredient in most insect repellents, and while you're not supposed to take it internally, I can't imagine it would enhance the flavor of anything.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on January 10, 2013


As for the "no Thailand: CSI investigating serial killers" bit, have a look at this:
Hotchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj (born April 6, 1944), better known as Charles Sobhraj, is a serial killer of Indian and Vietnamese origin, who preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:11 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back in the late eighties and very early nineties, apocryphal stories about Thailand greatly outweighed real life. There were two main groups of stories: the ones where the traveller found themselves with a kg of cocaine in their bag that they had never seen before and a local cop who singled them out for a shakedown. And the stories about people waking up after being drugged. They were, however, almost entirely apocryphal by then.

As full moon parties took off, local police did start to crack down on it, filling their pockets. There were also a spate of cases of young travellers getting caught while muling drugs home. Home media typically portrayed them as innocents, but the cases I was more familiar with all were ones of knowingly trafficking drugs.

At a federal level, the Thai police took crimes against tourists seriously and established new units to deal with some of the more common crimes: they stationed permanent and sympathetic police around Patpong, where shakedowns in strip joints and pick pocketing we're still rife. What tourists didn't learn was that a lot of the strip joints were owned by top brass in the armed forces and police, run at arm's length. Nonetheless, Patpong went from being somewhat shady to more tourist friendly.

But Thailand had long attracted two sorts of travellers: hippies and retires looking to stretch their cash and often acquire a young wife. Koh Samui's airport wasn't built until 1993, I think, and it was really only in the five years before then that it took off on the mainstream backpacker scene. Before then it tended to be a bit more exotic, and you needed the yellow Asia bible to get yourself about.

By the early nineties tourists were dying in high numbers to the extent that major embassies had full time consular staff just to deal with deaths. The most common causes were long distance buses (also known as orange crushes, where the driver got paid by the journey and at night would dope up on amphetamine drinks that were on the shelf with Red Bull), scooters (lots of deaths, and lots of injuries: the Thailand tattoo of a large open wound down someone's leg was not uncommon on the beaches), drink, drugs and violence. The worst of it was in Pattaya, where the patrons were a bit older, and tended to be there more for the women than the beaches). I knew 2 people who died on buses and another who was injured. US aircraft carriers docking in Pattaya for R&R used to lose one sailor each time they visited. Tourist deaths are not new in Thailand.

The Thais were, and are, extremely sensitive to criticism, partly due to cultural issues of saving face and partly due to economic dependence on tourism. They used to react very, very strongly against tourist guides that mentioned prostitution in the country, for example. Unsurprisingly, they also don't like drunk, loud people visiting their towns or bars any more than anybody else. Drunk tourists looking for the next dive to have a drink in are tolerated but not enjoyed. In the race to the bottom of who can offer young tourists the best time for their limited funds, the market for counterfeit or tainted alcohol, drugs cut with god knows what and substandard accommodation and hygiene are almost guaranteed. As with the buses: if your customers gravitate towards cheap, either you cut corners or let the next guy do it and take your business.

Even back in the day, legitimate Singha beer had variable alcohol levels due to poor bottling practices. The rice whiskies, which were much cheaper, and impurities were a given. I don't know exactly how these young people died, but if I were a betting man: some combination of adulterated alcohol added to very heavy drinking, possibly over multiple days. The apparent cover ups do not surprise me: the view among vested interests will have been that they brought it upon themselves, and there is business to protect. Thailand is well aware that, just as the trailblazers went off to Boracay, or Laos, or Vietnam or Cambodia, or Burma, so they too have gone more mainstream and compete for the tourist dollar.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:00 AM on January 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


So you're saying that now people need a reason to hate other people just for being different? When did that happen?

Could you elaborate a bit on this?

Nationalistic and/or racial prejudices, perhaps with an admixture of values-based, sexual, or economic concerns? Wolfdreams01 didn't write good reason.
posted by mr. digits at 5:12 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that now people need a reason to hate other people just for being different? When did that happen?

Could you elaborate a bit on this?


I'm simply saying that people are a bit quick to dismiss the idea of murder simply because it "doesn't make financial sense" or there is "no way from the hotel to profit from the deaths." Dismissing the idea of a serial killer who kills foreigners just because he hates them (for whatever illogical reason) is a little naive. We've seen it happen in Western countries, and it can happen in the East as well. Since when do serial killers need "a good financial motive" to kill their preferred victim type? And of course, if the serial killer happens to be well connected or influential, it is a lot easier to sweep under the rug in Eastern countries than in Western countries, since bribery and "turning a blind eye" are much more ingrained into their justice system.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:31 AM on January 10, 2013


The DEET thing is odd. As Pruitt-Igoe ponts out, it's not an insecticide. It is the active ingredient in most insect repellents, and while you're not supposed to take it internally, I can't imagine it would enhance the flavor of anything.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on January 10 [+] [!]


Apparently, DEET is hallucinogenic when ingested - according to this comment on a Wired article, linked to upthread.
posted by kcds at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2013


Hotchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj (born April 6, 1944), better known as Charles Sobhraj, is a serial killer of Indian and Vietnamese origin, who preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s.

Yes. Even though it has been over 30 years since I read it, I still remember vividly the non-fiction book by Thomas Thompson, Serpentine. A great true crime book, right up there with In Cold Blood.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:34 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those are clearly zebra hooves!
posted by yerfatma at 6:25 AM on January 10, 2013


There is no conspiracy to poison Western women

Good to know that you are omniscient.

I can't see how murdering ESL teachers would present hotels with enough revenue to bribe local officials to cover up murder.

Not being known as a place where people are being murdered is certainly incentive enough for any business or locale to cover shit up.

Unless you believe that people who don't look like you and don't talk like you are somehow governed by a different moral code.

I'm pretty sure all kinds of human beings have demonstrated plenty of ability to be selfish and shitty.

Honestly the main othering I'm seeing in this thread is people seemingly unable to believe that there could be corruption or coverups going on in Southeast Asia. As if they're immune to the foibles of the rest of the world.
posted by kmz at 8:17 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Honestly the main othering I'm seeing in this thread is people seemingly unable to believe that there could be corruption or coverups going on in Southeast Asia. As if they're immune to the foibles of the rest of the world.

I don't know where you live, but where I live hotels are not murdering off guests.

The first comment in the Wired article points out that all sorts of deadly shit gets mixed in with the buckets of drinks tourists often sip from.

And you're right - some nasty behaviours are universal. In Vancouver, it's not rare for a date rape drug to be slipped into a drink.

So you need to be careful in Thailand.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems quite possible that some workers in SE Asian hotels are motivated to steal expensive booze out of bottles and pour in some (poisonous) look-alike to replace it.

Like watering gasoline, or replacing "pork" with something else, or pumping noxious chemicals into the ground to make the valuable natural gas come up, or not telling workers that they're constantly exposed to dangerous substances - some forms of capitalism are less polite than others - worldwide.

The fact that some of the victims are rich white tourists is possibly the only reason this came to anyone's attention - it might just be everyday life in Asia these days.
posted by Twang at 8:53 AM on January 10, 2013


The DEET thing is odd. [...] I can't imagine it would enhance the flavor of anything.

I've gotten Deep Woods OFF! in my mouth before (which has a high level of DEET). It tastes extremely vile and chemical-y. It might be passable in a bucket full of sweet drink if I was already a bit in the bag, but I can assure you no one would be doing this for the flavor.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:56 AM on January 10, 2013


Apparently, DEET is hallucinogenic when ingested - according to this comment on a Wired article, linked to upthread.

A google search for DEET hallucinogen just takes me back to various articles about this single story. So I'm skeptical.

Media reporting on drugs is terrible. Witness the reefer madness style exaggeration about bath salts. And, in articles about this DEET cocktail, note that nobody mentions what kratom leaves are, or the dissociative properties of cough syrup.

One comment I read speculated that the DEET is there to keep bugs out of the wide buckets they drink these things out of.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:09 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first comment in the Wired article mentions ground up mosquito coils as a potential toxin. According to the commenter (who says s/he runs a bar in Thailand), mosquito coils *can* be used as a drug that mimics mushrooms, but the result is often temporary paralysis, or death.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on January 10, 2013



It would be good to see the toxicology report. I wonder how many people die from bad mushrooms.

Thailand is known for super good hallucinogenic mushrooms. Up until the mid 2000s two of the best P. Cubensis varieties with spores for sale in the us were Ko Samui, originally harvested next to a temple and producing really beautiful mushrooms, and Elephant Ears, originally harvested from elephant shit and which produced shrooms with lots of bluing. I know people who travelled to Thailand to harvest spores for new varieties, and to try them locally.

I once bought a bag of shrooms from a kid in a third world city that mixed 5 star hotels and backpacker 'hostels'. Took it to the hotel for identification and found among the good shrooms some unedible ones that would have sent one to the hospital with bloody diarrhea.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 9:44 AM on January 10, 2013


Apparently, DEET is hallucinogenic when ingested

Very skeptical, and Wired is hardly a credible source for toxicological information. DEET is one of the best-studied consumer products around, and if it were hallucinogenic we would have heard about it long before this. More baloney from the internet.
posted by sneebler at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tying murders across even large regions is a real thing that needs to take place, especially internationally. Dismissing out of hand due to geography is not, as a rule, wise.

Lacking some particular reason, wasting any time worrying about a serial killer is unwise. While spectacular news they are so rare they give bigfoot a run for his money
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:02 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, given that the U.S. population of 300,000,000 has 87 poison deaths every day, we would (very generously assuming each visitor stays one day) expect a minimum of 29 poisoning deaths over a year among the 100,000,000 yearly visitors to Asia.

Lesson: Asia is safer than home for tourists avoiding poisoning.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2013


Way too much blame-the-victim horsecrap and othering of the "brown people" in this thread.
You know that "truthiness" slag? This is "progressive" truthiness. Not every situation will conform to your ideology, sorry... sometimes you actually have to apply thought, rather than slogans and in-group buzzwords to analyze an issue.

Plenty of 20 something westerners go to exotic locales to get shit faced and do stupid things. Plenty of locals will take advantage of that fact in myriad, and possibly dangerous ways. And plenty of parents will never consider the fact that "their baby" was intoxicated, horny and out of control and that contributed greatly to their death.

We just had confirmation, above, that people travel to Thailand to get hallucinogenics. No real interest in the culture there, either.

So, yeah, it *is* possible to blame the victims and wonder about the motivations of some of the local people (who happen to be brownish in color in this case). This has precious little to do with whatever personal guilt people want offload to on others about gender inequalities or racism in their own locale.
posted by smidgen at 12:33 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Plenty of 20 something westerners go to exotic locales to get shit faced and do stupid things.

I'll generally take the word of a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist that the smoke is indeed indicative of fire, rather than the woolgathering of someone who supposes things about people they have not met, nor done any investigative work on.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:10 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's entirely possible that a Pulitzer prize-winning toxicologist may not know exactly what kind of casual mischief visitors to Thailand can get into.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:27 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's entirely possible that a Pulitzer prize-winning toxicologist may not know exactly what kind of casual mischief visitors to Thailand can get into.

I don't know about that - in my experience, journalist parties tend to be totally off the hook. Plus, we all know the old saying "What happens at the Pulitzer party, stays at the Pulitzer party!"
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2013


This is what Thailand has become (for a certain segment of tourists). Those are pictures from a full-moon party in Thailand.

And those happen every month.

The comparison to Cancun above is spot-on.

Now, obviously the entire country isn't like that. It's beautiful and friendly and tragic (flooding and violence in the south) and unique. The food, scenery, architecture and beaches are amazing. And again, the Thai are amazingly friendly, open and welcoming to all, including LGBT. Something we could model a bit more.

This isn't to say tourists aren't taken advantage of, robbed and occasionally drugged. And obviously the powerful tourist stakeholders in Thailand have an incentive to bury the story. But like the date-rape scare in the UK, the most likely answer is irresponsible young men and women.

This isn't about blaming the victims. More than likely the men they're partying with are pushing alcohol on them and encouraging dangerous behavior. But poison by OFF!? I doubt it.
posted by formless at 3:16 PM on January 10, 2013


a Pulitzer prize-winning toxicologist

She is neither a toxicologist or a crime reporter. She is in fact a science journalist (and a good one) but she is far from an expert in commenting on this particular matter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:25 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whoops, I don't know where I got that from. I can't even blame Wikipedia!
posted by KokuRyu at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2013


First I had ever heard of Drop Bears.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:16 PM on January 10, 2013


There is a lot of rumors going around often to scare those looking for a holiday of a life time in Thailand, while the occasional incident might take place I believe there is just as many of these incidents in Western countries but they don't get blown out of proportion by the media.

I am a 29 male and I have been living in Chon Buri for 6 months now and I am from the UK but I really here of these things happening.
posted by RBrownUK at 3:30 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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