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backpacking goes wrong injury

When Backpacking Goes Wrong…!


Backpacking isn’t all shits and giggles, well most of the time it’s amazing fun and you drift along in a glorious backpacker bubble, care free and enjoying life.

However there are some perils on the road and stuff does go wrong sometimes! Take for instance the time where I took a surfboard to the face or when I stood on a stingray in Ecuador, in fact over prolonged travel you can even get to the point where you can put together a list of your 10 worst backpacking experiences!

Even so I would never change my backpacking lifestyle and I love it to bits – but in the fairness of showing both sides of the coin here’s an interview with one of my travel buddies, who got into some issues after her trip to Laos…


First off who the hell are you and where are you from?! 

backpacker laos
Steph in Laos

Ayye!! Stephanie Woodruff here–currently completely my junior year of college in Boulder Colorado! I was born in England but grew up in Vail, CO…not a bad place to grow up!
Before we go into all the horrible details care to run us through where your trip took you?

So when I was a junior in high school I did an exchange program and lived in Bangkok for 10 months.

I had become really good friends with a few of the other exchange students—a group of thirty 16 year old exchange students from all over the world in Bangkok—you could say we got into some shit! We had always talked about a three year reunion at the end of our exchange…three years roll by and it actually happened!

4 of us met in Bangkok and went to the South East Islands in Thailand,  from there to Siem Riep, Cambodia before back to Bangkok  and Khao San Road with a few of our friends that remained in Bangkok, as you would say…shit got loose!

From Bangkok, after narrowly missing our bus to Chang Mai, and by nearly I mean we were basically yelling at them as they pulled away, we made it to the North – one of my favourite places. Slightly less touristy, much cooler, and overall just more laid back.

From Chang Mai it was the slow boat over the border to Laos…where I met some batshit crazy Englishmen! Gotta admit, getting drunk on the slow boat with everyone, hearing everyones life stories and travel adventures was awesome!

The onwards to Luang Prabang, amazing. Who would have thought late-night drunk bowling even existed! The torquise pools and waterfall here are one of the most beautiful spectacles I’ve seen thus far…simply stunning. And this is where the trip leads us to Vang Viang…duh duh duh


vang vieng tube partying shutdown
Enjoying the Chaos of Vang Vieng

Obviously  what we’re about to head towards would be your lowlight, but what was the best bit? 

All of the travelling and beautiful places you go to are always amazing, but my favorite part of trip, and travelling in general, is the relationships you create with people.

In my case, it was meeting up with some of my best friends from around the world that I hadn’t seen since I was 16, and sharing our lives and seeing how each other had changed. Like I said earlier, living in Bangkok at 16 we did some crazy shit, and had experiences that no one else could ever imagine and will never understand, except for those who were a part of it.

Not seeing each other for 3 years and then taking this trip was awesome. Also seeing my host family and friends from my Thai high school was crazy—so much had changed and yet nothing had in the three years that had passed. 

Right…..I’m on an empty stomach so lets do this…what the hell happened to your leg?! 

So, basically Vang Vieng happened to my leg!

Vang Vieng is known as the “Mecca” of the backpacker party scene in SE Asia, and it is truly disgusting. Im not going to lie, the day I spent on the river I had a load of fun, but just the whole concept is sickening.

Its some truly beautiful landscape but what is has turned into with the tourism, bars, drugs, a complete butcher of Laotian culture. [Chris – something I completly agree with and have chatted about in a post about Vang Vieng]
So that’s my rant about Vang Viang, but here’s what happened to me.

backpacker injury asia
How it All Started…

On the second night we stayed there I felt fine going to sleep, hadn’t really drunk anything but when I woke up my leg was in incredible pain.

It looked like a had a swollen bug bite about halfway down my left shin, it didn’t look that bad but it hurt like HELL.

I hobbled to a Laotian pharmacy where I had been a day early for cream for my eczema and between my broken Thai (Thai and Laotian are very similar languages) and the pharmacists broken English he establishes the point that its just a swollen mos-qee-toooo bite, has his wife wrap it up and soak it with alcohol as his children watch with amazement, and sends me on my way.

I figured it couldn’t be that bad if it was only a bug bite. So fast forward 12 hours on the night bus to Bangkok, leg is continually getting more swollen still cant walk etc. As soon as we get to Bangkok I immediately go to find a hosptital, legs very swollen at this point, the alcohol hadn’t done anything clearly worse than a simple bug bite. 

The taxi drops me off and as I get out of the car im immediately put into a wheelchair and swept around this grungy looking hospital no idea what was wrong. There’s a group of about 10 what appear to be medical students looking at my leg, careful not to get too close!

So the doctor comes up and the first words of English anyone speaks to me since my admittance…”OKAY! No incision needed”.

WTF??…that’s good I guess? They give me some antibiotic and painkiller and send me on my way, telling me to come back tomorrow if it’s not better. Tomorrow strikes- it’s not better. Even more swelling and I’m supposed to get on an airplane and fly across the world tomorrow??

SO I go back to the hospital, they tell me the same thing and I just think to myself…well it is what it is! Hopefully my leg doesn’t explode on the plane…

On board they give me a whole row to myself an these old Chinese people in the row ahead of me look at me dumbfounded and ask what I did, I try to explain…you’d be surprised at how universal hand motions for a mosquito bite are.!
When I land in Denver my moms there to pick me up, I had told her in an email that my leg was kinda swollen and hurt… not that it was three times the size and looked like it was about to pop at any moment…She look at me and I believe her actual words were…

”What the Fuck Stephanie!! We’re going straight to the hospital!”
What was the reaction from the docs when you returned home? 

Everyone was a little, surprised to hear my story. We had driven home and gone to the Vail Hospital- they’re used to sprained ankles from hikers in the summer and broken bones from skiers in the winter….not strange leg infections from SE Asia.

So basically the doctor told me it wasn’t from a mosquito bite but a microscopic break in my skin – are you kidding me? – and bacteria had gotten into it and did their thing. Before I know it he’s slicing his scalpel through my enormous leg…and THEN he gives me a morphine drip, that was nice though!

The doctors report the next day when I had to go back said “a copious amount of puss was removed”… They couldn’t stitch it up as to not stitch the bacteria into the wound, so I had an open wound on my leg for about 4 weeks, until it closed, and then my dog ripped it open with her paw…that was a fun one!

backpacker injury travel bug bite
The Leg Vag – A Photo Story!

Your friend nicknamed it the leg vag – how nice of them – what does everyone else think? Did you parents freak out?! 

Well after sending him the pictures, one of my brothers called it eye of sauron, which was actually pretty damn accurate.

Some of my friends who saw it in person the day after “It’s just so…real”. Of course this was right after the girl in Georgia got flesh eating disease and lost her leg both arms, etc. so all of my family and parents friends were bugging out. But the general consensus, was yes, the leg vagina!
Any tips for backpackers heading Lao way to avoid this mess?! 

Well I just read that Vang Vieng is basically shut down after August 30, 2012 so that’s a bit of interesting news.

I wouldn’t say skip Vang Viang, well I might, but it is an interesting place to see to say the least. Just be extremely cautious when travelling around less developed parts of the world. I remember after we got off the river I was very cautious to clean out every tiny scratch I had because I had heard it was so dirty, and clearly even tat wasn’t enough…
Has the experience put you off travelling, if not where next?

Hell no!

As bad as the leg vagina was, everything went as good as it could have – everything healed fine so no need to get a medical negligence solicitor or anything like that involved!  I still had almost all of my summer plans work out, although I was much more cautious. The next trip is either South Korea to see my brother who lives there and see that side of Asia, and I’m planning on study abroad with my university starting in February! Oz here I come…you got any suggetions??


So yeah guys and girls, backpacking can be a dangerous business! Cheers to Steph for providing me with possible my most graphic and disgusting blog post – much appreciated!

Don’t let her story put you off Asia, backpacking or anything like that – just go prepared, arm yourself with some good travel insurance and be sensible!

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