There is no doubt that sickness may ruin your trip to Vietnam as fast as possible. Unfortunately, Vietnam is located in both a tropical and a temperate zone, it is influenced strongly by the monsoon. However, the country has a high rate of rainfall, high humidity and a considerable amount of sun. Some regions in the mountains and near the tropics are endowed with a temperate climate. Traveling to a new country, you may have many questions relating to your health. How to avoid getting sick on your trip to Vietnam? What and where to eat and drink? Which activities to do? Where to stay? What to bring? This article includes all of the necessary information and useful tips on How to avoid getting sick on your trip to Vietnam. I hope you stay healthy and have a great trip to Vietnam.
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Food safety advice
Which foods are safer?
Soup-like dishes are abundant in Vietnam and these foods are the safest in Vietnam. Noodle soups such as Pho, Hue beef noodle soup, Crab soup cake, Rice noodles with fish cake, Quang noodles, Chicken (or duck, organ meat) congee are always served piping hot. Noodles, meat, seafood and vegetable toppings are covered with broth which is boiled at high temperatures. Note that these kinds of foods usually served with uncooked fresh vegetables and herbs. If you would like to eat them like local people, you should put them into the broth right after they serve the hot bowls of noodle soups. Or you can request waiters to have your vegetables and herbs blanched in boiling water or broth.
Pipe hot dishes are better than cold dishes. Steamed broken rice or Steamed sticky rice is kept warm in special steamers.
Vietnamese sandwiches, steamed sticky rice, baozi, burgers are safer than other foods because there is no dirty vessel nor dining ware which is the potential impact of food safety. Not all restaurants and food stalls in Vietnam sterile dining ware before using them to serve foods to customers.
Vietnamese salads are usually made from meat, seafood, chicken, vegetables and herbs. Meats often are cooked while vegetables and herbs are washed with water before mixing.
Fermented foods (Mắm) and pickles are not good for weak stomachs.
Dried foods are popular in Vietnam. Traditionally, they dry raw foods under the sun from a half day. Some products are dried using drying machines. You should not eat uncooked dried foods. For example, grilled dried squids and fishes are safer than uncooked shrimps and acetes. Some famous Vietnamese salad such as Papaya and dried beef meat and dried beef liver salad, Dried shrimp and green mango are made from uncooked ingredients.
If you feel seafood dishes have strange smells, refuse to eat them and report to the restaurants in order to be served better foods. If squids, shrimps, octopuses, clams, mussels are too tender and mushy, they are not fresh.
Many foreign foodies would like to eat snails after reading or watching videos about them. Be careful of eating these kinds of foods although they are worth trying. They may cause a pain in your stomach if they are not cooked well. Make sure that all dishes made from seafood and snails are cooked well. Eat Vietnamese mints which are usually served with snail dishes and have lots of health benefits including treating flatulence and abdominal distension, diarrhea due to cold infection.
Fruits with inedible skin are safer than fruits with edible skin. We do not know if farmers spayed the trees and fruits with pesticides or chemicals. Pomelos, oranges, mangos, pomegranates, dragon fruits, jackfruits, papayas, watermelons, mandarins, mangosteens, bananas and similar fruits are safer than apples, plums, pears, guavas, grapes.
Peeled and sliced fruits are less safe than whole fruits. You should buy fruits, wash, peel, cut and eat them yourself. On some tours to Vietnam’s countryside, they usually serve you prepared fruits. Some tourists only eat unpeeled fruits. Based on my experience, fruits in Vietnam are rather safe.
If you are not familiar with Asian foods, feel free to request tour operators to arrange Western foods for you.
Read more about The ultimate guide to food safety in Vietnam
Which places sell safe foods in Vietnam?
Supermarkets such as Co.opmart, Vinmart, Lottemart, convenience stores such as Circle K, B’smart, FamilyMart, Aeon Ministop are good places to buy some prepared foods, canned foods, cakes, fruits.
Restaurants and coffee shops in shopping malls, buildings and houses are considered safer than street food stalls in Vietnam.
Street food stalls, moving food carts, food shoulder poles, and food trucks, street food stalls in local markets are less safe than other places.
International fast-food brands are choices of many Western and American people and young people although burgers, fried chicken, French fries, pizzas, pasta at McDonald’s, KFC, Lotteria, Pizza Hutz, the Pizza Company accommodate your taste if Western tourists do not want to change their eating habits. These restaurants are meeting international hygienes standards. They serve not only Western but also Asian and Vietnamese foods. The prices are sometimes more expensive than Vietnamese foods at local restaurants.
Are Vietnamese street foods safe?
As mentioned above, street foods are recognized as unsafe. However, Vietnamese street foods have attracted lots of foodies including locals and foreigners thanks to cheap prices, secret recipes, long-standing street food stalls, and real local vendors. So that it is a big miss to not enjoy amazing foods at eateries on the streets.
They are good choices of budget travelers who do not want to pay for pricey foods at luxurious restaurants. Street food vendors do not rent a restaurant space with high prices, train and pay high salaries for professional waiters, design the restaurants beautifully and furnish it with expensive furniture, spend money on air conditioners. So that prices are cheaper at street food stalls in Vietnam.
I will recommend some good ways to choose safe street food vendors in the next section. It is true that it is not easy for foreigners to find good places to eat street foods. It takes lots of time so eating street food with local guides on a food tour provided by trusted tour agencies in Vietnam is a good idea. CLICK HERE to book a food tour in Ho Chi Minh City.
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How to choose safe restaurants and street food vendors?
One of the best tips on choosing restaurants in Vietnam is that the more customers the restaurants have, the more delicious and safer the foods they served are. Although this tip does not always work, you can follow the people who queue in line for eating at a restaurant or buy a Banh mi and a Vietnamese sandwich shop and find that the foods are cheap, tasty and safe to eat. In fact, you feel safer to eat in crowded eateries.
Observing how they wash dishes at street food stalls. If they only wash the dishes in two or fewer changes of water or wash the dishes without dishwashing liquid, the street food stall is not worth the risk. You should not eat at places where they serve foods on wet plates and bowls.
Seeing how they serve foods is a good way to know if the foods are safe in Vietnam. Stay away from vendors serving food without gloves, cleaning her hands with a dirty cloth while serving. If the vendors sneeze but do not wear masks while serving your foods, do not eat the foods. As I know, most street food vendors do not wear masks, some of them wear gloves.
See how street food vendors protect the foods from dust. Vietnam’s streets are polluted, street dust which contains mineral particles which are released into the air. Risk factors in street food practices in developing countries including Vietnam. Some vendors cover the foods with plastic sheets or put them in glass food cabinets while others do not.
Do not eat at street food stalls near dirty and stinking drains, dump or polluted channels.
At some restaurants, you can not see the kitchen and there is no way to see how they clean dining ware and serve your foods. The last tips are useful in case they are street food stalls.
What to do before eating?
Washing your hands before eating is one of the top things to do before eating when you are in your country. In Vietnam, washing your hands make sure you are safe on your trip. Not all eateries provide sinks in dining areas, not all eateries have clean restrooms where you can wash your hands. A hand sanitizer should be brought with you so that you can clean your hands at any time.
Cleaning chopsticks, spoons, fork with tissues or lime wedges which are usually available on dining tables is recommended. Although cleaning dining ware means nothing if the foods are dirty, it is worth to reduce the risks of bacteria on things you use to eat.
Share your foods with other people in your group or private meals
Serving a group of travelers a set menu is a common practice in Vietnam’s tourism. It is recommended to use a ladle or chopsticks to get foods instead of your own utensils. If one of the travelers in the group uses his utensils to get foods on a plate, you should not eat the foods from that plate. It is better to get all the foods you would like to eat from the beginning. You can ask them to serve a private meal for you when you book the tour.
Read more about The ultimate guide to food safety in Vietnam
Diet, food restrictions and allergies
For travelers who are on a diet, restrict or allergic to some foods, eateries in the country can accommodate them. Tourists can choose from hundreds of delicious Vietnamese foods. Celiacs can find gluten free foods easily in the country because the majority of Vietnamese people eat rice. Vietnam accommodates vegans as well as they eat at home. A large number of Vietnamese people are Buddhist followers, who eat vegetarian foods every day or a few days a month. Pagodas and vegetarian restaurants are abundant. Halal restaurants and Halal processed foods are easy to find in big cities. Tourist hotspots offer great vegetarian and Halal foods, menus are written in English and the staff speaks English well.
Read more about The ultimate guide to eating gluten free in Vietnam
Tips on drink safely in Vietnam
Bottled water or tap water
Bottled water or bottled mineral is the best choice in Vietnam. Lavie, Danisa, Aquafina, Evian, Volvic, Vinh Hao, Vital, Onsen are good bottled water brands. Some tour operators and hotels serve you unsafe bottled water, provided by untrusted companies in order to save the cost of the tours. A 0.5-liter bottle of water costs about VND 6,000, a 1.2-liter bottle of water costs about VND 12,000, a 5-liter bottle of water costs about VND 20,000.
I would like to recommend you not to drink tap water because it is not quite safe. Besides, you should not eat at places where they serve foods with wet dining ware. Eating foods in bowls, plates with wet chopsticks, spoons, forks is not quite safe.
Canned and boxed drinks
Canned and boxed drinks are safer than others. Canned and boxed soft drinks, canned coffee, fruit juices, tea, milk, soda, beers and other alcoholic beverages are recommended for people having weak stomachs. Craft beers, brewed coffee and tea, juices made by vendors, waiters and bartenders are less safe.
However, coffee brewed with Phin filter is a must-try in Vietnam. Vietnamese craft beers are amazing and juices made from fresh fruits have won the hearts of lots of foreigners.
Is ice in Vietnam safe? Hot or iced drink?
Ice cubes are full of bacteria, it can be made from dirty water, transported without protecting from dirt and dust. No one can make sure that he is served a drink with safe ice in Vietnam. If you feel the hygiene is poor at a restaurant or cafe, stay away from drinks containing ice. Instead of a glass of iced fresh milk, you just order a cold box of fresh milk.
Instead of a glass of iced tea, you can order a hot cup of tea or a cool bottle of soft drink. Certainly, piping hot coffee is safer than iced coffee. However, iced drinks are favorite choices of not only locals but also tourists when it is hot in Vietnam.
Original and healthy coffee vs. low-quality coffee with harmful materials
Although Vietnam is the second largest producer in the world after Brazil, cheap coffee containing D batteries, dirt, rock dirt and other harmful materials is everywhere in the country. Not all but many drink stalls on the street and in alley sell cheap and dirty coffee which may be a mix of coffee and corn, bean, and banned additives. Trung Nguyen Coffee, Cong Caphe, Highland Coffee are Vietnam’s famous coffee chains serving original Phin coffee.
Coconut water is also safe because the coconut is usually not opened until you order. Street food vendors usually cut off the peel at the end of the coconut. The white coconut fiber turns light or dark orange, brown after being cut. They use coconut soak it in a liquid consisting of bleach Javen to keep the fiber white and attract customers. The coconut is not safe to drink.
If you see the coconut fiber of a cut coconut is too white and bright, do not buy it. Ask them to cut open an uncut coconut. In Mekong Delta tours, tourists are served coconut water, they only cut open the coconut just before serving you.
Drinks from chemicals
Fake soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, soy milk, mung bean milk, peanut milk, fruit juices, tea, milk tea are sold illegally at chemical markets and served to customers at street food and drink stalls, even at some budget restaurants and coffee shops.
Brush your teeth with tap water
As mentioned above, tap water in Vietnam may be contaminated so that it is not safe to ingest. Some tourists get sick after brushing their teeth with tap water or swallow tap water while showering.
If you are staying in Vietnam for a long time, it is a good way to get used to the local bacterial fauna. Many tourists do not get sick because of tap water. In case you stay in Vietnam for a few days, it is not worth a risk to brush your teeth with tap water. You can brush your teeth with bottled water which costs reasonably at supermarkets or convenience stores around the hotel. Prices of bottled water provided by hotels are always higher than those in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Internal filtration systems can be installed at many higher-end hotels. The main purpose of the system is not to make the tap water safe for drinking. The filtered water is safe enough for brushing your teeth in this case.
Protect yourself from air pollution
Vietnam air quality is not too bad. In the countryside, on highlands and islands, coastal regions, forests the air is fresh and clean so that I would like to recommend you to visit Halong, Sapa, Mui Ne – Phan Thiet, Mekong Delta (Ben Tre, Tien Giang, Vinh Long, Dong Thap, An Giang, Kien Giang), Phu Quoc Island, Con Dao Island.
In big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the air is polluted heavily in some days a year. In rush hours when they go to work in the morning and go back home in the late afternoon, the streets in the center are packed with vehicles, the air pollution gets worse. Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Nha Trang is less polluted but air pollution is getting worse in these tourist destinations.
So that you should know how to protect yourself from air pollution. Tourists may get sick because of bad air quality in a new country if their countries are too clean and the air quality is good.
Taxi, bus, car or minivan tours are good choices if you would like to completely stay away from the polluted air in crowded cities. However, these vehicles are not as effective as motorcycles on which you weave the streets quickly and drive through narrow back alleys where there are lots of brilliant gems to see.
In fact, it is not easy to do a street food tour by car because most of the best local street food areas and restaurants are hidden in narrow streets and alleys. If you join a motorcycle or cyclo tour which lasts about 4 hours, you can take off the mask for some time in order to smell the streets and enjoy the tours at their best. Many tourists do not get sick although they do not wear masks on short tours. On one-day tours by motorcycle and bike, I would like to recommend you to wear a fabric mask or a disposal medical mask. On multiday tours, you should prepare high quality masks such as N95.
Air pollution could be bad for not only your respiratory system but also your eyes. Sunglasses or protective eyewear are useful accessories in Vietnam, they make you look fashionable and protect your eyes from dust and pollution.
Sun and heat can make you sick
It has been said that American and Western people love sun bath. They can sunbathe all day and may be surprised to see street ninjas in Vietnam. It is important to protect from the sun in Asian countries including Vietnam. The sun is the strongest from 11:00 to 2:30 in Vietnam. The sun rays are dangerous for the health so that you should protect yourself from the strong sun when you are in Vietnam. Sun protective jackets, sunglasses for sun protection, sunscreens with high UV protection, hats. Although you can buy them easily at shopping centers, markets and fashion stores in Vietnam, you can buy them at home and pack them for Vietnam in order to save your time in Vietnam.
Your immune system can be weakened and your health can be harmed if the body’s temperature is changed from hot to cold and vice versa suddenly. Leaving air-conditioned hotels, supermarkets, shopping centers or other buildings, then walk in the hot sun right after that is not good for you. Spend a few minutes standing under the entrance balcony or in the shade of a tree or another building so that your body is accustomed to the heat.
Vietnam is hot humid in the summer, tourists will be sweating profusely. Keeping your body hydrated and stocked with salt. Drink enough water when you exploring the country. Tour prices usually include bottled water, or you can buy bottles of water easily at convenience stores on the streets. Soups, noodle soups, congees, hot pots are good sources of sodium.
Toilets in Vietnam
Sitting toilets are available in cities and towns but out in the countryside. If you are not familiar with squat toilets, make sure that your hotels, homestays, and AirBnb in the countryside are furnished with sitting toilets. Not all public toilet rooms in Vietnam have free toilet paper so that you should bring your own toilet paper, tissues, wet naps.
Toilet seats have bacteria — usually fewer than 1,000 per square inch, according to microbiologist and author Jason Tetro. You may catch diseases from toilet seats, especially public toilet seats not only in Vietnam but also in other countries. Not all public toilets in Vietnam are cleaned frequently. Clean the toilet seat with wet naps (or tissues, toilet paper) and line the seat with toilet paper before sitting. Bring toilet paper or tissues with you because not all public toilets provide free toilet paper. Wear a mask if a toilet room is too smelly or dirty if you have no better choice.
Stray animals in Vietnam – stay away from them
If you see a stray animal in Vietnam, will you stop, fondle and find a way to help it? In fact, there is a large number of stray animals in Vietnam, dogs and cats are among the most popular ones. Some of them are fierce and may bite you. Animals bites can introduce dangerous bacteria into the human body, they can also carry rabies. Go to the nearest medical center if you are beaten by any stray animal.
Insects are popular in tropical countries including Vietnam. Except for hotels and modern buildings where they use air conditioners and pest control services and in the cities, insects are available everywhere in Vietnam. For example, insects including mosquitoes are abundant in forests, homestays in the countryside or areas with lots of trees and plants. Lots of dangerous diseases such as viral hemorrhagic fever are transmitted by mosquitoes.
So that insect repellent is a must if you do not only stay in high-end hotels and go shopping at modern malls. Most of the homestays provide mosquito nets if there is this kind of insect is available. Although sleeping under a net is not your habit, you should use it in order to protect yourself from deathly diseases.
Medicine, clothes and accessories for staying healthy
- Hat, jacket, sunscreen.
- Insect repellents, medical masks, adhesive bandages, hand sanitizer.
- Vitamin C (or multivitamins); fever medicine (or cooling gel sheets), warmer stickers, flu medicines, digestive enzymes.
- If you need to take specific medicines such as high blood pressure medicines, allergy medicines, you must buy them from your home and pack them for Vietnam.
Where to buy medicine and health products?
Hat, jacket, sunscreen, insect repellents, medical masks, adhesive bandages are sold popularly at supermarkets, convenience stores in Vietnam. medicine and health products are sold popularly at drug stores. Top drugstore chains in the country include: Eco Pharmaceuticals, An Khang, Long Chau, Pharmacity.
- Eco Pharmaceuticals at 160 Co Giang Street, Co Giang Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Tel: 028 3920 9653
- Pharmacity at 223 – 233A Pho Dang Tien Dong Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi
- Pharmacity at 1 Le Loi Street, Hai Chau District, Danang
- Long Chau 637 – 639 Hoang Hoa Tham Street, Vinh Phuc Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
- Shop 06, Ground floor, Big C Nha Trang, Block 4, Street 19/5, Vinh Diem Trung, Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province. Tel: (+84 – 28) 7308 7318 – Ext: 247
Read more about Top 5 retail pharmacy chains in Vietnam.
Where to get medical care if you get sick in Vietnam?
You can come to the nearest emergency room if you encounter any problem with your health. A large number of government-owned medical clinics and hospitals are crowded and the staff does not speak English. If it is not a very serious problem, you can take your time to reach international clinics and hospitals in the provinces or cities. You can change to international hospitals after the first aid at a public hospital. The advantages of international medical clinics and hospitals include English speaking staff, modern facilities, modern equipment, professional services and experience in taking care of foreign patients.
Vinmec is under VinGroup which is known for real estate business, car production, hotels and resorts, entertainment centers.
Bệnh Viện Đa Khoa Quốc Tế Vinmec Times City (Vinmec International Hospital); Location: 458 Minh Khai Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi; Tel: 024 243 9743 556
Bệnh viện Đa khoa Quốc tế Vinmec Central Park (Vinmec Central Park International General Hospital); Location: 208 Nguyen Huu Canh Street, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City; Tel: 0283 6221 166
Bệnh Viện Quốc Tế Vinmec Nha Trang (Nha Trang Vinmec International Hospital); Location: 42A Tran Phu Street, Vinh Nguyen Ward, Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province; Tel: +84 258 3900 168
Bệnh Viện Quốc Tế Vinmec (Vinmec International Hospital); Location: 10A Le Thanh Tong Street, Halong City, Quang Ninh Province; Tel: 0203 3828 188
Bệnh Viện Quốc Tế Vinmec (Vinmec International Hospital); Location: 30 Thang 4 Street, Residence No. 4 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Hai Chau District, Danang; Tel: 0236 3711 111
Bệnh Viện Quốc Tế Vinmec Phu Quoc (Phu Quoc Vinmec International Hospital); Location: Long Beach, Ganh Dau, Phu Quoc, Kien Giang; Tel: 0297 3985 588
In addition, Hoan My Hospital (Danang, Lam Dong, Can Tho) International SOS Clinic (Ho Chi Minh City), Thu Cuc International General Hospital (Hanoi), Columbia Asia Saigon International Clinic – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Hoi An Medical Services, An Phuoc Hospital (Phan Thiet – Mui Ne) are good places for foreigners to see a doctor and get medical care.
Travel insurance is a must for a trip to Vietnam where you can encounter any health problem at any time because the cost of much medical treatment is prohibitive for locals and foreigners. You can buy travel insurance when you are at home with a trusted insurance company.
Make sure that all of your tours include insurances, even short tours such as 4-hour Ho Chi Minh motorbike tour (food or sightseeing), half-day city tour by car. Some tourists do not ask tour agencies about the insurance policies and are not ready for any accident in Vietnam. Travel agencies usually list insurance as one of the inclusions.