Vietnam is a strikingly beautiful country, boasting rugged mountains, massive caves, white sand beaches, and lush jungle. The cities are bursting with incredible culinary experiences and vibrant textiles, while small villages are home to over fifty different ethnic groups, each with their own culture and customs.
Vietnam has something to appeal to everyone, whether you’re looking to explore stunning natural wonders like Ha Long Bay or wander through twisting, bustling alleyways like those in Ho Chi Minh City. While the country is cleaner and more developed than some of its neighbors, there are certain precautions you’ll want to take to stay healthy while traveling in Vietnam so you can get the most out of your trip.
Here are our top tips to stay healthy while traveling in Vietnam:
Food and Water Safety
In Vietnam, you’ll find that very few people drink the tap water, including locals, as it not as clean as water in the US. As a result, most restaurants and private residences have large coolers of potable water on the premise that is safe to drink. You can also find and order bottled water wherever you go. Tra da (iced tea) is also a safe, refreshing bet – this type of tea is made with boiled water.
Despite having undrinkable tap water, you can safely cool down with ice in your water, soda, iced tea, or beer. Ice made with filtered water is frozen at central plants and distributed throughout the cities. If you wander the streets early in the morning, you’ll likely see motorbikes delivering blocks of ice to restaurants, food stands, and homes.
Vietnam is known for its thriving street food culture, and you can safely enjoy phở, bún chả, and bánh mì with the proper precautions. When choosing a street food stand, look at the system they have for washing dishes. If they use bottled water to clean their dishes, it’s likely safe to eat there. Stands with long lines of locals mean that the food has higher turnover and is therefore fresher.
To minimize your risk of getting traveler’s diarrhea, choose fruits and vegetables that can be peeled, and avoid other leafy greens and produce that may have been washed in tap water. Avoid raw or undercooked food, especially at street food stands.
Even if you follow the guidelines listed above, there is still a chance that you could get traveler’s diarrhea, which is a common condition that travelers get while eating and drinking new foods.
To help fight this condition, pack probiotics and DiaResQ, a food for special dietary use, that helps promote a healthy digestive system and provides beneficial nutrients to relieve traveler’s diarrhea.
Sun and Rain Protection
Vietnam is a biodiverse country, and you’ll encounter different climates in different areas of the country. In the southern and coastal areas of the country, the weather will likely be hot and sunny. Locals protect against the sun with pants, long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and gloves. If the idea of wearing long sleeves in the heat doesn’t appeal to you, a hat and sunscreen will do the trick.
In northern and mountainous regions, the weather will be a bit cooler, and you’ll likely have more cloudy days. Bring a light jacket and pants for cooler days, especially if you’re traveling in winter months (November – March).
Vietnam’s most drastic seasonal weather changes come during the rainy season, which lasts from April to September in the north and south, and often through November in the central region. If you’re planning to visit during the rainy season, be sure to take sturdy rain shoes, a raincoat, and an umbrella out with you every day, as rain can start unexpectedly. If you’ll be exploring on a motorbike, a poncho is your best bet for staying dry. You can buy these on the side of the road as rain clouds start rolling in.
Pregnancy and Vaccines
Check out the CDC’s recommendations for vaccinations to consider before traveling to Vietnam. Note that some recommended vaccines, like Japanese Encephalitis, require multiple shots spaced out by several weeks, so it’s important to plan your vaccinations well before your trip begins.
You will also find information on the CDC website about Zika, a virus spread by mosquitoes that could place a fetus at risk for birth defects. Currently, the CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid traveling to Vietnam.
Besides probiotics and DiaResQ for relieving traveler’s diarrhea, you may also want to bring along a first aid kit, hand sanitizer, and Vitamin C supplements. Large cities, especially Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, struggle with pollution. Pack surgical masks to wear on days when the air quality is particularly bad. You can also buy them from vendors on the street when you arrive.
These health tips will help you enjoy Vietnam’s incredible street food, natural wonders, and lively culture to the fullest during your trip.