10 Essential Health and Safety Tips for Southeast Asia

For many travellers, a trip to Southeast Asia is an unforgettable experience filled with delicious foods and mind-boggling historical and natural sites. Stories of meandering down the Mekong River, clambering over ancient temples at Angkor Wat and meeting locals in Laos are stories you’ll tell for years. But for an unlucky few, a trip to Southeast Asia is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

There’s always some risk to travelling, though Southeast Asia is notable for having a few more health and safety risks than other regions. Here’s what you need to know to avoid some of the common problems travellers can experience in Southeast Asia.

Hoi An in Vietnam.
Hoi An in Vietnam

10 Essential Health and Safety Tips for Southeast Asia Travel

1. Prepare for health risks

Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget or seeking luxury in Southeast Asia, it’s important to get your health check-up and prepare a health kit before you travel. That means going to your doctor and getting necessary vaccinations (diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis and Tuberculosis to name a few). You can also pack supplies which will help prevent you from becoming sick or help you recover from sickness or injury. For example, remember to pack sunscreen, DEET-based insect repellent, antiseptic and antibacterial cream, diarrhoea treatment (rehydration solution and stoppers), first aid items (bandages, scissors and a thermometer included), paracetamol and contraceptives. If you’re prone to some illnesses, such as urinary tract infections or hay fever, prepare these medications before travelling. Just remember, different countries have different rules on drugs and medications so you should always check to find out if you need permission to bring your medicine with you.

2. Consider purchasing travel insurance for Southeast Asia

Travel insurance can provide cover for a range of emergency situations that you may experience in Southeast Asia, from getting injured after a motorbike hits you while crossing a road to becoming sick after eating contaminated food. In a commissioned survey of over 1000 travellers, travel insurance company Fast Cover found that one in five travellers required medical assistance while overseas.

Without travel insurance, you may be out of pocket for these emergency medical expenses. If eligible, travel insurance can also provide cover for unexpected cancellations and for accidental loss and damage to your belongings.

A tuk tuk driver (motorbike-taxi) outside Angkor Thom temple in Cambodia, Southeast Asia
A tuk tuk driver (motorbike-taxi) outside Angkor Thom temple

3. Know the rules surrounding motorbikes and mopeds

Thousands of travellers hire a motorbike in Southeast Asia, regardless of whether they’d ever ride a motorcycle at home. While it may be easy to hire a motorcycle, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are obeying the law in riding it. Check what licensing you need before you travel. In Vietnam you’ll need a local licence, while in Cambodia you’ll need an International Driver’s Permit. You should also check whether or not your travel insurer will provide you with cover for motorcycling, as it is not always an automatically included activity. If you’re breaking the law while riding a motorcycle, you’ll most likely not be covered.

4. Avoid mosquito bites

Dengue Fever and Malaria are two well-known diseases that affect some areas in Southeast Asia. Your doctor will advise you if you need to take malarial medication if you’re travelling to a high risk area, but there’s no preventative medication for Dengue Fever. Neither disease is something you want to experience, so prepare to fend off mosquitos by packing DEET-based insect repellent, wearing light coloured clothing that covers most of your body and using mosquito nets at night if required.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines: Photo Fotorus / CC BY-ND 2.0

5. Dodge wild animals

Petting cute dogs and playing with monkeys may seem like part of an ideal trip to Southeast Asia, but keep in mind that animals can carry rabies. There is a rabies vaccine available but it’s often only provided to those travelling to high-risk areas. It never hurts to be cautious around animals overseas, so try to avoid situations where wild monkeys can climb all over you or a dog could bite you.

6. Use reputable transport

Theft on privately run buses is a well-known risk. So is the chance of getting scammed by an individual selling bus or train tickets at a cheap price. Only go with reputable companies and you’ll be less likely to lose your money on a fake ticket.

7. Never keep all your money in one place

A money belt is the best way to keep your cash and passport close to you and out of sight of opportunistic thieves. As well as a money belt, keep a stash of money in your luggage and your daily bag or backpack. This will mean if one is stolen, you’re not left without any cash.

The floating markets in Thailand, Southeast Asia
The floating markets in Thailand

8. Avoid drinking alcohol excessively and taking drugs

This is one obvious way to minimise the chances you’ll become injured, in trouble with the law, robbed or assaulted. Be aware of the laws surrounding alcohol and drug use, as some Southeast Asian countries impose harsh penalties for breaking the law. In Vietnam for example, you can be sentenced to death for possession of a small amount of heroin. You should also read up on the risk of drink spiking or methanol poisoning from homemade alcohol.

9. Be wary of food and water In Southeast Asia

Street food across Southeast Asia is something you shouldn’t miss out on! But be wary when you choose where to eat. If meat or vegetables have been sitting out all day in the sun, it may make you sick. The same goes for fruit (the kinds you can’t peel) and vegetables that have been rinsed in local water which may be contaminated. Water in a lot of Southeast Asia can make you sick due to contaminants, so only drink and brush your teeth with bottled water.

Health and Safety Tips for Southeast Asia Travel: Street food in Laos, Southeast Asia
Street food in Laos

10. Consider using a VPN

Using your mobile and connecting to WiFi is one of the cheapest way to keep in contact with family and friend on your travels. To make your connection more secure, consider downloading a VPN app such as VPN Master. This way you can be sure your online information, including bank details, is kept private.

Fast Cover Pty Ltd ABN 98 143 196 098 AR No.381399 (“Fast Cover”) arranges this insurance as an authorised representative of AGA Assistance Australia Pty Ltd, ABN 52 097 227 177, AFSL 245631 trading as Allianz Global Assistance. This insurance is issued and managed by Allianz Global Assistance as agent of the insurer Allianz Australia Insurance Limited ABN 15 000 122 850 AFSL 234708. Terms, conditions, limits and exclusions apply. We do not provide any advice on this insurance based on any consideration of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before buying this product, you should consider the Combined Financial Services Guide and Product Disclosure Statement (including policy wording) available on the Fast Cover website www.fastcover.com.au to decide if this product is right for you. If you purchase a policy, Fast Cover receives a commission which is a percentage of your premium – ask us for more information before we provide you with any services on this product.

About Laura Hedge

Website: https://fastcover.com.au

A writer and digital marketer currently working for Fast Cover travel insurance

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