One of the fastest ways to ruin a vacation is by falling sick!  As a traveler in a new country, it can be difficult to know what to eat, what to drink, and how to go about your activities while staying as healthy as possible.  Here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam.

FOOD AND WATER

Drinking Water
As a traveler, water safety is a very serious issue.  Like many other countries, Vietnam has an underdeveloped water treatment infrastructure in place.  Contaminated water is a major source of illness so it’s very important to understand what you are getting into.

  • In Vietnam, avoid tap water as much as possible and only drink bottled water.  Generally, even locals will avoid tap water and will drink boiled or filtered water at home.  Bottled water is almost always available at restaurants.
  • If you want to drink something refreshing at a restaurant other than water, an alternative is iced tea (“tra da”, pronounced “cha da”), which is cold green tea with ice.  Since it is a tea, it has been steeped in boiling water and then cooled, thereby killing any critters that may make you sick.  Most locals will drink ‘tra da’ at restaurants over water simply because it’s safe, more refreshing than lukewarm water, and cheaper than anything bottled!
  • As for the ice, use your judgement.  Yes, ice outside may not be safe because it may have been made with contaminated water.  However, a lot restaurants buy ice from companies rather than manufacture it themselves, in which case it is quite safe.   Many people, both locals and foreigners, are able to enjoy drinks with ice in them without consequence.

Food
Food-borne illness is also a major concern for a traveler, so the food you eat should be hot and completely cooked!

  • Soup-like dishes are ubiquitous in Vietnamese cuisine so there are many opportunities to contract some sort of illness.  Make sure that the pho that you order is piping hot!
  • Eat only cooked foods and steer away from raw meats.  Although many sushi restaurants will prepare the fish properly, it is not worth the risk if you are only here for a short time.
  • Even eating salads and raw vegetables is not the best idea.  Adding raw herbs to your hot pho is usually fine but again, you will have to use your judgement.  Note that restaurants will flash boil the raw vegetables and herbs for you at your request.
  • Be cautious of fruit – eat fruits that have an inedible skin (i.e. bananas, oranges, watermelon, etc.) and avoid fruits like apples and sugar cane.

Street Food

A lot of travelers ask about street food.  Is it safe to eat?  Will I get sick?  The answer is not so simple.  For instance, our XO Tours Foodie Tour takes you to street stalls and open air restaurants where the food quality and safety procedures have been thoroughly scrutinized and held to high standards.  Here are some things that may help make your decision when considering other street food stalls.

  • The turnover and volume at the street stall is an important consideration.  The more people who frequent a stall, the more fresh the food will be.  A lot of these stalls do not have a means for refrigeration so they seldom prepare food ahead of time.  As an example, the stalls inside Ben Thanh market serve a very high volume of customers so a lot of their prepared food gets consumed on the day they make it.  That is not to say that you will avoid getting sick but the risk is less.

    The food stalls in Ben Thanh market sees hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other food stalls around the city.

    The food stalls in Ben Thanh market sees hundreds of visitors a day so they tend to go through their food quite quickly in comparison to other food stalls around the city.

  • You can also observe the hygiene at the street stall you are considering.  In many cases, you can see your food being made and if it’s not up to your standards, it is not worth the risk.
  • Be observant of the vessels they use.  If you see them wash the bowls or plates in tap water and they are still wet when putting your food in it, maybe this isn’t the street stall for you.  For this very reason, “banh mi” (Vietnamese sandwich) is one the safest street stall foods you can eat because there are no vessels or utensils involved!
  • If you really want to eat street food during your time in Vietnam, reviews from other travelers may be a good source – if many people go to a particular establishment and none of them have become ill, you may get lucky as well!

ENVIRONMENT

Air Pollution
Ho Chi Minh City is not overly polluted but you can still feel the difference in air quality when compared to other cities around the world.  Protection against air pollution is a must when your body simply isn’t accustomed to it.

  • If you are spending a lot of time on a bike, you may want to don a mask to protect against dust and pollution.  This is useful if you are going to spend several hours on a bike on a regular basis such as long rides across the country.  For shorter bike rides like on any of the tours offered by XO Tours, you will be just fine without one.
  • Pollution and dust can also affect your eyes so definitely wear sunglasses or goggles on these long rides because your eyes can start to burn.

 

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

Many motorbike riders in Vietnam wear masks to protect against dust and pollution.

Tap Water

As trivial as it may sound, many people get concerned about how to brush their teeth and if tap water is safe for brushing.  As we discussed earlier, tap water may be contaminated so it is not safe to ingest.  Here are tips on how you can go out this everyday task and still stay safe.

  • If you are in Vietnam for a short time, it is not worth getting sick so we would recommend using bottled water to brush or no water at all to brush your teeth.
  • For extended stays, brushing your teeth with tap water is said to be a good way to get used to the local bacterial fauna.  Many tourists brush their teeth with tap water successfully without getting sick.  Again, this is only worth it if you will stay in Vietnam for a longer period of time.
  • You may also want to check at the front desk of where you are staying because many of the higher end hotels have an internal filtration system.  Keep in mind that the goal of this filtration is not to make the tap water safe for drinking but marginally better so that small tasks like brushing your teeth are hassle free.

Sun and Insects
With much of Asia being in a tropical climate, it is important to consider sun safety and insect protection.

  • The sun rays are very potent so please protect yourself with the use of a hat and strong sunscreen.
  • As for insect transmitted diseases, malaria and dengue fever are the two you should educate yourself about.  In Vietnam the prevalence of malaria is contained to rural areas but dengue fever is more common throughout the country.  Both are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect spray that contains DEET is a must!

Stray Animals
One feature about Vietnam you may find different than other countries is the number of stray animals.  As you travel around, you’ll see dogs, cats, chickens and more.  An incredibly important point for you to be aware of is that Vietnam is not a rabies-free country.  Besides rabies, there are many diseases transmitted through animals.

  • Simply steer clear!
  • It is imperative that you do not touch or pet any of the stray animals, no matter how cute they are!

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

    Stray animals are commonly found out and about on the streets, but it is best to not pet them or come into contact with them.

This is another great travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the safest motorbike tour in Vietnam!

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6 Comments
  1. meg smart

    Hi, im travelling to vietnam/ ho chi ming city in sept this year 2014. I have Addisons disease, which is life threatening. If I get sick from anything, ie: food, contaminated water etc, i have to self inject a solu=cortef injection..and go on intravenous fluids. I was wondering what hospitals are near ho chi minh and in the south of vietnam, if something goes wrong, i need to know what medical help there is, and if i can easily access 100 mg of hydro cortisone to save my life if necessary.

    • Brinda Shah

      Hi Meg,

      Please contact Family Medical Practice. They have branches in Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hanoi. They will be able to answer your specific health questions. Good luck!

  2. Susan Murphy

    Hi Meg,

    Can’t you bring the cortisone? My grandson is allergic to peanuts and although he is little, age 5, he WEARS, his auto injector on a belt around his waist. I am going to Viet Nam also in October and will take an epipen as I am allergic to bee stings and also shellfish, so I always carry it on me.
    Good luck! Susan

  3. Are there any shops in Ho Chi Minh City that sell travel guides in English as well as city maps?

  4. Ravi Sathe

    I am going to travel to Vietnam in a couple of week’s time. Please tell me which vaccinations should I get? Should I get Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations?

  5. Gates

    Hi there. When people tell you ice manufactured in the factory is cleaner than self-made ices in restaurants, you should believe it, for the fact is more terrified. 9/10 factory use tap water, containing a high amount of detergen to make the color better, and AREN’T tested by the gorvenment. Ice tea is about 10% tea ( i dont know where the tea comes from), and 80% tap water, 10% water from melting ice. The tea flavour is added just to soo away the awefull taste of chlorine(which is overabused ) in water. Trust me, you shouldnt have anything with ices, if you fancy of smth cooling, find the nearest convenient store ( cirkle K, shopngo…) and buy one of the 1.5l Lavie or Aquafina.

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