Health Tips for Travel in S E Asia

– Posted in: Health and Safety Tips

Keeping the bugs at bay during travel in S E Asia is something that needs to be considered before you travel. Hygiene isn’t good in many places and pollution is often high. Stomach “upsets” or “travelers’ diarrhea” are common with travelers and is usually caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria or, less commonly, with parasites or viruses. (I’ve personally known people to be hospitalised in Vietnam and having parasites removed from their intestines! ) Travelers’ diarrhea is also prevalent in countries other than South East Asia but the terms commonly used to describe it include “Montezuma’s Revenge,” “Aztec Two Step,”  “Turista” in Mexico,  “Delhi Belly” in India and the “Hong Kong Dog” in the Far East.

But don’t let that put you off; it usually only lasts for a couple of days.  I spent 3 months traveling around Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, with no incidents of stomach discomfort. And I ate everything I wanted to eat, street food, or not. (street vendors sometimes have the most delicious food!).

Was I simply lucky?  Maybe. Maybe not. I DID prepare myself before I left.

How to get a healthy gut before traveling

Take Priobiotics. (That’s the opposite of “anti-biotics” right?) Antibiotics are indiscriminate bactericides, meaning they destroy ALL bacteria, good and bad. They stuff up your immune system.

Priobiotics do the opposite.

I began taking probiotics a couple of months prior to leaving on my travels, and took enough with me to last the journey. Buy “shelf-stable” probiotics – not those that need to be kept in a fridge!

Vitamin C:  This can be purchased over the counter in pharmacies in most countries, and I top up my system every day .

Stay healthy whilst traveling

Water:  Ensure you drink clear fluids frequently. It’s easy to become dehydrated when traveling, especially in hot climates. Check that the seal on the bottle of water is unbroken before purchasing.

Unless you’re certain the ice has been made from pure filtered water, you’re best to request “no ice”. (I saw how ice was delivered in one instance in Vietnam. It came in a big block on the back of an open truck, and the workers chopped it up using rusty machetes. I rest my case!)


Foods should be well-cooked and served warm. Raw vegetables, uncooked meat or seafood, and other foods maintained at room temperature should be avoided.


I love the selection of fruits in S E Asia, especially Vietnam. When buying raw fruit from markets or stalls choose fruit that can be peeled.


There are a great range of really nice teas in S E Asia. Of course, hot beverages are safer than cold. Vietnamese coffee is great, but very addictive. (I should know!)

Carbonated drinks are good, and the beer is cheap, and good.

Clean Hands

I like to travel with a bottle of hand sanitizer in my bag, and use it often.

p.s. Did I say “beer is good” already? 

5 Comments… add one

Jaci Byrne July 13, 2013, 9:06 am

Hi Maxine, Great travel blog and delighted you told people about probiotics. Every time I hear about someone who is ill I tell them about probiotics but so often get the comment ‘I’m on enough medication/vitamins etc.’I just don’t think people actually understand how vital these are to maintain healthy gut flora but they are straight to the dr to get antibiotics for the slightest problem. Antibiotics actually means against life. Interesting. Anyway I’ll get down from my high horse. Looks like you’re having a ball in Vietnam. Can’t wait to visit. Thanks for the entertaining and informative blog.

Maxine Stephenson August 18, 2013, 3:31 pm

Hi Jaci! So sorry I didn’t spot your comment earlier. I keep telling myself I’ll update more regularly.. I’ll just keep on telling myself I guess!
Another trip to Thailand and Vietnam done and dusted! This time with two male travel companions (my brothers) and I’m happy to say I had NO down-time through sickness (again)! I played nursemaid to a couple of big boys who thought their life was coming to an end though, while everything was being ejected at both ends. LOL They survived.

Coralie April 10, 2015, 3:57 am

Hi Maxine!

I know this article is from quite a long time ago… But I stumbled upon it while researching “probiotics to take on a trip to Southeast Asia” hah! (Yes sometimes I think Google is a person and I ask him very long questions). So anyway I was wondering when you talk about “shelf-stable” probiotics, which one would you recommend that worked for you? I currently take amazing probiotics but they need to be refrigerated… I tried two or three brands that didn’t need to be refrigerated but they didn’t seem to be effective.

Thanks for your recommendations!


Maxine Stephenson April 10, 2015, 11:42 am

Hi Coralie! Good on Google!
There are 2 I can recommend. Bioceuticals Ultra 45 or
Orthopaedic Multi Flora.
I’m very fortunate to have a daughter who is a naturopath so I get the very best recommendations for health care products from her!

I hope you get this reply. I’m not sure how this all works regarding replies to comments and if anyone gets notified of them, or not. I’ve never had a “response” to my response. Perhaps you can confirm for me that they do actually work by responding!?
Have an awesome trip to SE Asia!!

Coralie April 11, 2015, 11:23 am

Hey Maxune! Thank you for your reply! I did not get a notification but had bookmarked this page to come back and check, it somehow seems that notifications are not working indeed. Anyway thanks a lot for your recommendations! I did some research but it seems that these two products are only available in Australia sadly – so I’ll keep doing my research for effective probiotics available in Canada 🙂

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