by Female Abroad

Traveling SE Asia with your Period

Great. As I was getting ready to head out the door to catch my first flight, my period hit. While traveling, I always pack supplies in my carry-on just in case, but I was at home, so I had some time to prep. I had never been to Southeast Asia, and my first stop was Vietnam, but I had to get through 20 hours of flying first. While I had travelled with my period before, every country is slightly different, and since it was my first time in Asia, I had no first-hand experience; I just knew what friends, travel books, and Google told me, which, when it came to my period, was nothing. So how did I handle this surprise? Like a champ. Did it work? Well, there were some hiccups, but that is why I'm writing this article, so you don't have the same ones I do!

I will probably go TMI in this article, but you knew what you were getting into when you clicked on the article! If not, and you are squeamish, then turn back now.

At home, I usually use menstrual cups like Diva or Tampax but there was no way that I was going to be trying to empty one of those in an airplane bathroom, let alone rinse it in the sink, so using a cup was not an option; at least not on a flight. The only option at that time was to slap on a pad, pack a few others in my carry-on bag with Midol, pack the cup with the cleaner, and figure things out as I went.

Once at the airport, it dawned on me that Southeast Asia is humid, so there was no way I'd be rocking a pad while sweating / melting, so I popped into the convenience store and grabbed some tampons just in case I ran into any issues with the cup as well as an array of snacks because I am always starving while I wait for Aunt Flo to leave. I also took a pre-emptive Midol because I know that my cramps can get bad and bad cramps can actually get you kicked off a plane (see my article on that here). It was then the longest wait for a plane that I think I ever experienced. As Midol can make me just pass out, I feel like it was more about struggling to keep my wits about me then the length of time.

On the plane, there was a gentleman in the seat next to me (it was a 2-4-2 configuration), so this was going to be a long flight. Luckily, the steward was able to find him a seat to upgrade to, so he left and I had the row to myself. The flight was uncomfortable but uneventful, which I was happy about. When I landed in Hong Kong, I was becoming super crampy, so I could not wait to get some walking in as well as some warm liquids drank to try to help as I had about another two hours until I could take another Midol.

After walking the airport for an hour, I settled in for some Ramen and spoke with a family that had just flown in from the Philippines to go to Hong Kong Disney. The little kid had a great time but wished they had seen the fireworks, which turned out to be currently banned. It was a nice break from reality, then back to walking for another couple hours until my next flight. The bathrooms in the airport were spotless so when I had to spend time in them feeling like a human ketchup bottle (gotta love period poops), I did not worry about if there would be toilet paper or that someone had been standing on the seat before me.

With another Midol in me, I joined the line up to get on my connecting flight to find that this place was 4 - 4 and I was in a window so I wouldn't be moving for the next two hours. I did my best to try to sleep, but my cramps were not allowing the Midol to knock me out, so it was wrapping things around my gut to keep it warm, then using all of my mental focus to concentrate on a word puzzle until we landed.

Off the plane, I rushed to be able to get through customs. I was super happy that I had done my Visa before I left, as the line for that was 3 hours, and it was currently 1 am, so I just wanted to go to bed. Customs was quick, but then I spent another hour trying to find a ride to my hotel without being scammed, especially since the hotel was a 5-minute walk, but the military guard at the door laughed at me when I asked about walking. I ended up taking that as a sign to not make the trek as a female, alone, with a suitcase, to the hotel.

I was super happy to finally make it to my room at the hotel, even if I had to leave my passport at the front desk and was greeted by a hooker who was trying to get change for the middle-aged man standing in the elevator. It was quite the welcome, but all I wanted to do was clean up and sleep. I showered and then had my first encounter with a "bidet." Well, what I came to learn was that it was a Southeast Asian bidet—a hose with a spray nozzle on the end. I didn't feel like trying to learn how to use that at this moment as I felt like I would end up getting a bloody kickback on the wall or toilet, so that was something to deal with in the morning. I got my cup in and went to bed.

The morning came sooner than I was expecting, I got everything cleaned up and emptied, checked out, ordered a Grab, and then waited to go to my next hotel. At the next hotel, they had a fancy Japanese toilet with no instruction manual. It is very surprising when you shoot yourself in the crotch with warm air when you think you hit flush! That day was pretty relaxing, but I started to feel off. I just thought it was the jetlag and lack of food, but it continued into the next day and the day after.

I've had jetlag before, I hadn't eaten anything questionable, got a better night's sleep, and only drank bottled water, so I was starting to wonder what it might be, and that was when I decided to test the only thing I could think of: keeping the cup out and using a tampon. A couple hours later, I was feeling like my normal self. I had heard that my Western stomach would be sensitive to the water, so I shouldn't drink it, but I did not think that washing my cup in it would affect me, and I guess I was wrong. Even with the Diva Cup soap, it had not been enough to kill everything in the water, I guess, and as I put it back in wet, I guess it was enough to affect me. I did not want to worry about getting it clean enough when I got home, so I just threw it out. Down to the corner store to get supplies!

It was there that I was speaking with someone who recommended period panties. You free bleed into them and then just wash them; seemed a bit too simple as I worried about leaks. Once in the corner store, I completely understood why she mentioned the panties, there was a few local brands of pads but no tampons at all. I mean I prefer pads over tampons but not the ones that feel like diapers however it looked like I was SOL. I started thinking about the period panties and the more I thought about it, I was backpacking and rooming with random strangers when I show up at the hotels so trying to wash and then hang dry the panties was not an option. Plus, if I had the issue with the water on my cup, wouldn't I have the same issue with the panties?

I pushed the thought out of my mind and continued on with the trip. My next stop was Cambodia so before I left Vietnam I inquired about what I could expect in Cambodia in regards to period products. What I learned had me load up on pads before I left the country. Cambodia does sell pads in the larger cities but they can be hard to find, expensive, and they are a really low quality so if my cup made me sick from the water I would probably get sick from the low quality materials. Tampons are even rarer and menstrual cups are unheard of. It turns out that Tampons are not a bit thing in Southeast Asia due to religious reasonings so I should stop hoping to find them and just pickup pads where I could or I could do what the locals do and just use a rag. I did not bring any rags with me and I'm wearing the same two pairs of pants for the 10-day trip so the "when in Rome" idea was out the window.

Stacked up on pads, it was into Cambodia we went. Phenom Penh was our first stop and there was a little corner store on the end of our hotel which did not sell any feminine products so I was lucky I grabbed what I did. With a few days done in Phenom Penh, it was up to Siem Reap for a few days to see Angkor Wat and a few of the surrounding temples. Luckily the evening before I was to go to Angkor Wat for the sunrise, my period stopped. Guess the jetlag, stress, lack of sleep, and food change had adjusted my cycle, not that I was complaining.

While headed into Thailand, our bus stopped at a truck stop for a bathroom break and it turned out there was a 7/11 so I popped in to take a look and there were pads as well as tampons, both with North American options. I was quite surprised but it turns out that 7/11 is actually quite popular in Thailand just like sanitary items so if I needed them, it wouldn't have been a problem to find them.

Eventually the trip ended and I returned home but there were a few things that I did learn along the way and I'll include some Amazon links for your convenience / research / purchase.

Menstrual cups I use:

  1. Diva Cup:
  2. Tampax cup:

While experimenting through my travels, I have learned that you can get plug in steam cleaners for your cups so depending on my trip I will pack it and use it instead of just the soap. I'll still use the soap but then I'll steam it before putting it back in.

  1. Diva Cup Soap:
  2. Menstrual Cup Steamer:

I have also been experimenting with the period underwear to see if it is something that I might use for a trip and if I had my own room or even a washer, I would pack these underwear. They hold up to four tampon's worth of blood. These come in packs of three so I ended up ordering two. On my heavy days I end up going through two in the day, one at night and on my light days I'll do one at night, one during the day, one to wash. I have yet to bleed all the way through them. The gusset is black so you don't know how much blood there actually is but you can see the crotch get shiny, they'll be cold against your crotch when you pull them back up, or the stitches on the side of the gusset will have blood on it. If any of these occur then I will change them. You then wash them in cold water and hang to dry.

  1. the panties:
  2. laundry soap I use: