Before you headed off to South East Asia you might have asked a friend or maybe your doctor if you should get any vaccines or take any medicine with you. Yes there are quite a few diseases in South East Asia that you don’t find back home, however, you don’t have to worry very much. Many of the diseases in South East Asia are the same diseases that were once in the more developed countries and can be prevented by staying up to date with your current inoculations.
There are two diseases that should concern you, Dengue, which I’ve had and made my bones feel like broken glass, and Malaria which I’ve not had but I hear makes you feverish and nauseous for days. Both of these are carried by mosquitos and unfortunately getting rid of these mosquitos in a tropical environment has, so far, proved impossible. In Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and most of Laos both of these diseases have been well handled and you are not likely to get either of them. However, in the deep jungles of any of these countries, or almost everywhere in Burma, these diseases become real threat. Luckily, they are very easy to avoid. Just bring plenty of mosquito repellent with you, if you have the time and money, also consider shopping for clothing with deet, a mosquito repellent, built in. If you keep yourself sprayed or lathered, then you are always safe, but even if you don’t, the odds of you getting one of these or another diseases is very rare. I did get Dengue, but that’s after 5 years of exploring these countries and their jungles. Now I do keep myself well sprayed when adventuring into the wild.
While mosquito borne illnesses are rare, water borne illnesses are not. I think the single worst decision I made when I first came to South East Asia was to drink the water in a small village. The water came from an open well, it was deep so I thought it was safe, it wasn’t. I’ll spare you the details but for five days I didn’t do much other than be sick, so do stay safe when it comes to your drinking water. That’s not to say that water in the big cities isn’t safe, for the most part it is, in fact Phnom Penh’s water system compares well to anything in the west. Even so, in most places, try to make sure you are drinking bottled, filtered or boiled water. You don’t’ have to worry about drinking dirty Ice, 30 years ago you did, but not today. 30 years ago everyone got their chance to have a refrigerator and 20 years ago the local people froze any water, assuming the bacteria and viruses would die, they didn’t. Today people only freeze filtered or boiled water, so you are safe as far as ice is concerned.
The biggest danger isn’t being sick but being injured in the wrong place. Thailand and Vietnam have plenty of great hospitals, but Cambodia, Burma and Laos are very lacking. Your odds of being in any kind of accident is very low, in fact, if you look at the statistics, you are more likely to have an accident in the west than you are in South East Asia. Even so, sometimes you might hurt yourself, the biggest danger you have is when you do something you are not ready to do. I’ve seen tourist who didn’t know how to drive a motorcycle, fall and injure themselves, and far worse are tourists who decide to be daredevils in far remote places. For example, the Laos’s very amazing four thousand Islands are a great place to visit, but be careful not to drink too much and then go to the rope swing. The swing dangles above sharp rocks before it reaches the open water and the nearest hospital is a good 10 hours away.
If you need some specific medicine, try to bring it with you, if you can’t buy it are one of the larger pharmacies. In Cambodia alone, 95% of the pharmacies are considered illegal pharmacies and are not likely to be staffed with anyone who can help you (Once I met a 13 year old girl in charge of a pharmacy). On top of this, sometimes these small pharmacies sell fake medicines, so do beware and do protect yourself.
Enjoy South East Asia, stay safe and healthy, but most importantly, enjoy yourself, don’t worry too much about being sick or getting injured because of the many millions of tourists that visit the region every year only a very few get sick or injured, and most of those who do end up just fine.