Stay Healthy in Vietnam
Your behaviors are important for staying healthy while you are visiting Vietnam...
Getting sick while traveling isn't very glamorous to talk about, but it is very important to consider how to stay in optimal health in your destination.
The best of us have experienced it! Whether you’re a first time traveler or a seasoned traveling vet, basic travelers sicknesses can strike at any time! Of course it is one of the worst obstacles for a vacation- as being bed-ridden consumes your time, when you should be out exploring and enjoying the new place, and it can get to a traveler's emotions! It makes even the strongest backpacker want to cry home to mom.
Once you feel better again, you remember how the benefits of traveling still WAY outweigh the potential costs, but it can feel hard to remember this in the depths and woes of being sick.
As a traveler in a new country, it can be confusing to know what to eat and drink, and how to go about your activities while staying as healthy as possible. That is why our local experts have put together this list of insight and advice for how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam.
FOOD AND WATER
When you’re on the road travelling, the subject of drinking water is a serious one for every traveler. You’re not at home where you can fill up your Nalgene and save money and the environment by protesting plastic, unfortunately. Vietnam, like many other countries around the world, has an underdeveloped water treatment infrastructure in place. Contaminated water is a chief source and contributor to illness, so it’s very important to understand what you are getting into.
- First of all: you should drink a LOT of water! Heat exhaustion can occur for those not used to the hot climate.
- Drink coconut water or sports drinks to replenish electrolyes and stay hydrated.
- Bottom line: avoid tap water and only drink bottled water. Even the locals avoid tap water and drink boiled or filtered water at home.
- Bottled water is almost always available at restaurants, and unlike some places, restaurants in Vietnam generally don’t try to mark them up at a premium, so drink with ease ☺
- Restaurants often serve iced tea (“tra da”, pronounced “cha da”), which is cold green tea with ice. The water used to make it has been boiled and then cooled, so this makes it safe to drink, as any potentially harmful bacteria is killed in this process. Be wary to drink this at street vendors though.
- Regarding ICE: Well, it is usually purchased from companies which you may notice toting around huge bags of it to all of the restaurants in the morning, and this stuff is safely made with filtered water. However, it’s hard to say if you will be able to communicate to verify this (if you suspect you may need to) at every restaurant, so you may need to use with caution or just skip the ice and stick to bottled water to be extra safe!
Using Tap Water for the necessary activities:
It may sound over-precautious, but it is a common confusion and concern for travelers: how to brush their teeth and is tap water safe for brushing? Tap water may be contaminated and unsafe to ingest, but will you get sick if you accidentally swallow a little bit?
The general recommendation: In the bigger cities in Vietnam, the water is put through a filtration system made for treating the water to make it okay for the public to use for daily activities. However, if you are in Vietnam for only a short time, (and especially if you are staying in a rural area), you may just want to use bottled water for this daily activity. You likely will not get sick from using the tap, but since your body won’t have long to adjust to the new bacteria of a foreign country, it is not worth chancing getting sick.
If you will be in the neighborhood for a while, brushing your teeth with tap water is said to be a good way to get used to the local bacterial fauna. Many tourists (do as the locals and expats do) and brush their teeth with tap water successfully and never get sick, (again, with the exception of rural/remote areas).
Food and Street Food:
Be careful of the food hygiene, just like water, food-borne illness is one of the major concerns for a traveler. There are not necessarily the same FDA-style quality and safety procedures with food at restaurants or street food carts in Vietnam. Some things to consider when considering your food choices:
- Bottom line: food is the most safe when it is hot and completely cooked! Make sure that your pho is piping hot!
- Raw meats: You have to use your judgment and consider the type of restaurant you are at. Does it seem quite busy and professional? Usually, the busier places with a high turnover of customers will have fresher food. However, travelers often report getting sick not at the street stalls, but at nice restaurants while travelling! For example, sushi restaurants will likely prepare the fish properly, but again- if you are only here for a short time, it probably isn’t worth it.
- Salads, raw vegetables and fruits that aren’t covered with an inedible skin (like the safe: bananas, watermelons, pineapples, oranges, etc.), are also always suggested to be wary of when travelling to many countries, as they can contain pesticides or bacteria that will upset your body.
- Hygiene: Be observant and try to see if the standards look clean to your eyes…if the dishes and utensils used in food prep are washed in tap water and are still wet when food is put in for example, this is probably not good.
- Maybe this is why the banh mi is so popular! It is one of the safest street stall foods you can eat because there are hardly any utensils involved and the ingredients include cured meats, fresh herbs, pickled veggies (vinegar kills bacteria) and daily fresh baked bread.
*Tip: Listen to reviews from other travelers, this may be a good source-if many people go to a particular establishment and none of them have become ill, hopefully you won’t either! And you can rest extra assured that you are being taken to quality controlled food places if you let the guides make the decisions for you and go on one of the very reasonably priced and super fun food tours!
You’ll see many people doing it, and if you want to, go ahead and embrace the surgical mask. But you don’t have to. Ho Chi Minh City is not overly polluted, but the traffic alone may make you feel like you’re taking in more exhaust than you want to. Protection against air pollution is a must when your body simply isn’t accustomed to it.
- For short rides, you really do not need to wear the mask- you won’t be harmed by exhaust. For longer rides, like cross-country journeys, it is very helpful to protect against dust and pollution, not to mention- bugs!
- Pollution and dust can also affect your eyes so make sure to wear sunglasses or goggles on both short and long rides. Eye drops can relieve any itchiness or dryness you might experience, and is sold at any pharmacy.
- Taking some time in a park or clean, plant-filled environment can help rejuvenate your senses. Also, a trip to a gym or spa for a little exercise or relax in a sauna or steam room can do wonders in resetting your mood and toxin levels.
Sun and Insects
You don’t have to go full-Vietnamese and wear a hoodie and long sleeves and socks and sandals…but please- wear sunscreen! And sunglasses! And maybe a hat.
As for insect transmitted diseases, malaria (prevalent mostly only in rural areas) and dengue fever (throughout the country) are the two that are unfortunately all too common here, so it’s best if you can get your immunizations in advance and also use insect repellent in any areas where you sense bug bites occurring.
Stray dogs, cats, etc. may be cute…but do not touch! Stray animals in Vietnam very well may have diseases your body isn’t equipped to fight off- including rabies!