One of the fastest ways to ruin a vacation is to get sick! As a visitor in a new country, it can be difficult to know what to eat, drink, and how to continue your activities while staying as healthy as possible. Here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your stay in Vietnam.
Here’s how to avoid getting sick in Vietnam:
Foodborne illness is also a major concern for travelers. To avoid food poisoning, check that the meal you are eating is hot and fully cooked! Food restrictions are easily satisfied.
Tips for eating safely in Vietnam
- Soup-like dishes are very common in Vietnamese cuisine so there is a high chance of getting some kind of disease. Make sure the bowl of pho you order is still hot!
- Clean your cutlery. The air quality in Saigon is quite bad and dust quickly clings to objects. You don’t need to thoroughly wipe down every chopstick or spoon you use during a meal, but you should quickly wipe each chopstick or spoon on the table with a napkin to remove dust from it. .
- Eat only cooked foods and stay away from raw meat. While many sushi restaurants will prepare the fish properly, it’s not worth the risk if you’re only here for a short time. You can try in countries with higher hygiene standards in Asia like Japan, Korea, etc.
- Even eating salads and raw vegetables is not the best idea. Adding raw herbs to your hot pho is usually fine but again, you’ll have to use your judgment. Note that the restaurant will boil raw vegetables and herbs for you according to your request.
- Be careful with fruit – eat fruit with inedible skin (like bananas, oranges, watermelon, etc.) and avoid fruit like apples and grapes.
Street food vendor
A lot of visitors ask about street food in Vietnam. Is it safe to eat? The answer is yes, but only if you use caution and common sense to safely weed out street food vendors. Here are some things to consider before you decide to eat at a street food stall.
- You can also observe hygiene at the street stall you are reviewing. In many cases you may find your disc is in production, and if it’s not up to your standards, you shouldn’t risk it.
- Take a look at the ships they use. If you see them washing dishes under the tap and they’re still wet when you put food in them, this may not be the sidewalk bar for you. It is for this reason that “banh mi” (Vietnamese banh mi) is one of the safest street foods you can eat as there are no pots or utensils included!
- If you really want to eat street food during your stay in Vietnam, reviews from other travelers can be a good source – if many people go to a particular establishment and none of them get sick, so can you!
An easy way to eat safely while having an authentic urban Vietnamese dining experience is on a street food tour. Tours like The XO Foodie Tour are run by smart locals who know all the tricks when it comes to food safety in Vietnam. The tour will take you to street eateries and outdoor restaurants, where food safety and quality assurance processes have been scrutinized and adhered to high standards. It’s a bit more expensive than a self-guided street food adventure, but you don’t need to worry about finding good street food or practicing safety precautions – that’s done for you!
Is water and ice in Vietnam safe to drink?
As a traveler, water safety is a very serious issue. Like many other countries, Vietnam has an underdeveloped water treatment infrastructure. Contaminated water is a major cause of illness, so it’s very important to understand what you’re getting yourself into.
- In Vietnam, Avoid tap water as much as possible and only drink bottled water. In general, even locals will avoid tap water and will drink boiled or filtered water at home. Bottled water is almost always available at any local restaurant, hotel, and convenience store. Some popular and safe brands include Aquafina, Lavie, Vinh Hao and Dasani.
- For a refreshing alternative to water, try Vietnamese iced tea (“tra da”, pronounced “cha da”), which is cold green tea with ice. Since it is tea, it has been steeped in boiling water and then allowed to cool, thus killing any organisms that could make you sick. Most locals will drink ‘tra da’ at overwater restaurants simply because it’s safer, more refreshing than warm water, and cheaper than anything bottled!
- For the tape, use your judgment. Yes, ice outside may not be safe as it could be made with contaminated water. However, many restaurants buy ice from companies instead of producing it themselves, in this case the ice is quite safe. Many people, both locals and expats, are able to enjoy iced drinks without consequence.
Brush your teeth with tap water in Vietnam
As trivial as it sounds, many people worry about how to brush their teeth and whether tap water is safe to brush their teeth. As we discussed earlier, tap water can be contaminated making it unsafe to drink. Here are tips on how you can escape this daily routine and stay safe.
- For extended stays, brushing with tap water is thought to be a good way to familiarize yourself with the local microbiome. Many travelers brush their teeth with tap water successfully without getting sick. Again, this is only worth it if you are staying in Vietnam for a longer period of time.
- If you are in Vietnam for a short time, getting sick is not worth it, so we recommend using bottled water to brush your teeth or not using water to brush your teeth.
- You may also want to check at the front desk where you are staying as many higher end hotels have internal filtration systems. Remember that the goal of this filtration isn’t to make tap water safe to drink but rather to make small tasks like brushing your teeth hassle-free.
Ho Chi Minh City is not too polluted but you can still feel the difference in air quality when compared to other cities in the world. Protecting against air pollution is a must when your body is not used to it.
- If you spend a lot of time on a bike, you may want to wear a mask to protect against dust and pollution. This is useful if you plan to spend several hours cycling regularly, such as long cross-country trips. Make sure to buy a mask with a good N94 filter instead of a cheap mask sold by the roadside. For shorter bike rides like on any of the tours offered by XO Tours, you should be fine with none.
- Pollution and dust can also affect your eyes, so wear sunglasses or goggles during these long trips as your eyes may start to burn.
If you try to avoid air pollution, you can always escape with a day trip to the nature of Can Gio Mangrove Forest – UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for a green and peaceful environment. Another option is to go to these beautiful beaches all over Vietnam
Sun and heat
With much of Asia located in a tropical climate, it is important to consider sun protection in Vietnam.
- The sun’s rays are strong, so protect yourself by using a hat and strong sunscreen with good UV protection. Although sunscreen is already available in Vietnam, it is not as popular as you might think and the quality of sunscreen available is very questionable. Best to bring some with you.
- Sudden and extreme temperature changes can temporarily weaken your immune system. Please keep this in mind when entering or exiting air-conditioned buildings, etc.
- Stay hydrated! Heatstroke is a real danger for travelers unfamiliar with tropical climates. As a rule of thumb, take one or three sips from your water bottle every ten minutes. Fortunately, it’s not difficult in Vietnam, as almost every restaurant or convenience store across the street sells bottles of water for very cheap prices.
- Keep your sodium levels up. The humidity in Vietnam means that most travelers will sweat profusely, and it’s important to keep your body stocked with salt and water to sweat in a healthy way. There are many Vietnamese soups that will help with this.
Stray animals and insects
One feature about Vietnam that you may find different from other countries is the number of stray animals. As you go around, you will see dogs, cats, chickens and more. It is extremely important to note that Vietnam is not a rabies-free country. Besides rabies, there are many other zoonotic diseases. It is imperative that you do not touch or pet any stray animals, no matter how cute they are!
As for insect-borne diseases, malaria and dengue are two diseases you should learn for yourself. In Vietnam, malaria is common in rural areas, but dengue is more common across the country. Both are transmitted by mosquitoes, so sprays containing DEET must be applied!
Because mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water, areas with unused ponds, canals, swimming pools or fountains are often full of bugs. Obviously, still water is not suitable for drinking or bathing, but you should also stay away from areas with many mosquito breeding sites.
Where to get medical care if you are sick?
You should be fine if you follow the advice above, but there are a few other precautions you can take in any case.
- Before you leave, make sure you are fully vaccinated. For more information on this, see the “vaccinations” section of our illustrated Vietnam Travel Guide.
- Start taking Optibacs (a probiotic) a week before you leave. They will strengthen your immune system. Don’t stop taking them until two weeks after you return.
Here are some foreigner-friendly clinics/hospitals in Vietnam that you should go to if you have stomachache, diarrhea or sore throat.
|Hanoi||Hanoi French Hospital, International SOS, VINMEC International|
|Da Nang/Hoi An||Hoan My Danang Hospital, Danang Family Hospital|
|Saigon||FV Hospital, International SOS, Hanh Phuc Hospital|
You should also keep the phone number of your country’s embassy in the city in case of an emergency.
We hope you found the tips provided in this article helpful! Most tourists to Vietnam never get sick, so our advice is to take precautions and not cause panic. Please also note that if there is a large time zone difference or temperature change from where you are, it may take time for your body to adapt. We recommend taking extra precautions at the start of your trip, considering the risks you pose to your food and to the environment.