Health and Safety


Some call it Travelers Diarrhea
, some call it Bali Belly, but in Vietnam it is best known as "The Saigon Squirts". Imagine this, you have arrived in Asia a few days earlier and you feel some stomach cramps. You begin to pass wind way too frequently and you yourself needing to stand up wind from yourself to avoid the odour. The cramps get pretty bad and you take a trip to the toilet. You leave the toilet, the cramps are gone and you feel so much better. Ten minutes later, the cramps return, and they are bad. Ooops, you need to go to the toilet again. No longer do you pass a solid stool. For the next 3 to 5 days, you find yourself sitting on the toilet passing what would be closer to water than the usual solid stool. Over those days, you find yourself on the toilet as frequent as every hour on the hour !
Guess what? You have the Saigon Squirts. Great way to wreck a holiday.
Most commonly, you have picked this up from the tap water. I personally saw a water mains being replaced about 200 metres from the Binh Tanh Markets in HCMC.The water mains was a concrete pipe.  I noticed another concrete pipe in the freshly dug trench running parrallel to it, with no more than 10 centimetres of earth to divide them. An English speaking worker told me one was the water mains, and the other was the sewerage pipe. Blind Freddy would know that with concrete being porous, the liquids flowing through each pipe have the capacity to pass on to each other. It's called E. Coli
bacteria that leeches into the tap water as a result. Experienced travelers know not to drink unboiled tap water, which was the case for me, so I pondered as to where could have picked it up. I am perhaps a little paranoid about tap water, to the extent that I used bottled water to brush my teeth. Most probable cause was ice from my iced tea. Some commercial ice is made in large blocks from tap water. It gets delivered to cafes and bars. The cafe then smashes the big block into smaller pieces and into your drink it goes. So the tip is this when you are being given ice, ensure it is rounded which is water made from an ice maker where the water used is either safe bottled water, or passes through filters into the ice machine. The cubic or shattered ice comes from those big blocks. Look around Vietnam and you will see some take the block of ice and put it on the sidewalk or street and smash it into pieces there. And yes, that is the same street or sidewalk where dirty feet trod, rats roam and people spit or vomit.
How to avoid it ? Obviously, avoid tap water which apart from the tap directly can come to you in ice, green salads and cold seafood (rinsed/washed with tap water), cold soups (topped up with tap water), fruit that has been kept cool in ice, the jug of water in your hotel fridge, washing your hands from which you are later handling finger food, and of course your open mouth while you are taking a shower. There are so many sources, that it might be almost impossible to avoid picking up E. Coli bacteria. Pharmacies will recommend preventative tablets and the likes, and if you get a dose, the pharmacy will recommend Imodium or similar to help you get over it. Problem with the likes of Imodium, it almost feels like you have a blockage in your pipes. Here is a sure fire remedy. It's called Junket. Junket tablets were traditionally used to make a milk based desert, but also in cheese making. What they are is a small tablet loaded with enzymes that coagulate your insides, essentially converting the diarreah into a solid stool and the enzymes attack the E.Coli. You don't feel bloated or clogged up by consuming them, and they work very rapidly. Within an hour or two you will notice the difference. And the other good news about getting the Saigon squirts is once recovered, it is rare for it to re-occur during the remainder of your travels. If you do get a dose of it, drink plenty of water (bottled of course) to avoid dehydration.

Visitors becoming infected with Malaria is rare, but that does not mean you should not take precautions. Use insect repellents, cover your arms, legs and feet and so forth. Today, you can buy these little electronic devices you can clip on your belt that emit a sound that humans can not here that sounds like the male mosquito. The female mosquito, (the one that sucks blood and carries malaria) when looking for victims does not want to meet a male. They are great.
But having said that, generally, mosquitoes are not a problem all year round and predominately only in the south carry malaria. Do not take my comments as medical advice. You decide what to do and how to avoid malaria. Ask your doctors opinion as to the need for you to take preventive prescribed drugs or treatments. A friend of mine picked up Malaria while working in the Solomon Islands. He was very ill for several months.

There are numerous bugs and bacterias you can contract walking barefoot in the Vietnamese soil. Always wear suitable footwear.

Reported in the Vietnamese Media in late 2008, was a report of illegal liquor being seized by officials all across Vietnam. This happens from time to time. The cheap spirits, as whiskey and vodka, being sold across the country originates from illegal, unlicensed and unsafe distilleries. In the case of 2008, the media reported of some 20 people being poisoned and had died from drinking it. Now if that does not scare you off drinking it, how about this.... The price of bootleg Vietnamese Whiskey and Vodka is selling cheaper than the production cost, if they were in fact making it purely from distilled rice. The media reported the alcohol in each bottle was less than 30% actual whiskey or vodka, with the remainder being added to the bottle being industrial alcohol and gasoline additives.

Without any need to elaborate, raw untreated sewerage is piped directly into the waterways.

Apart from running the risk of going to jail, as at 2008, the World Health Organization said that Vietnam ranked as number 18in the top 100 countries with the highest rates of HIV infections. It added that over 30% of Vietnamese prostitutes were HIV positive.

A "lady boy" is a young man on his way to becoming a woman, or at least trying to look like one. They are notorious for snatch and grab theft, normally getting around on motorbikes late at night, snatching jewelery, handbags, shoulder bags or any other loose valuable article as they ride by. They are common around the "backpacker" district of HCMC. They have been known to use violence to get away when challenged.

Particularly when you walk around the upscale areas of Vietnam, such as Don Khoi Street in HCMC, you will see Vietnam's love affair with ceramic tiles as sidewalk pavement. When they are wet, it is not too different to a wet shower room floor. So choose shoes that offer sufficient tread or grip that you don't end up on your face, or worse.

While the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese people are extremely honest, this will be of no comfort if your phone, camera or cigarettes suddenly go missing off the dining table in front of you, particular when dining outside on the sidewalks. Similarly in any hotel you stay at anywhere in the world, do not leave it lying around in your absence. It is a commonly held belief that most thefts from hotel rooms in the "backpacker district" is not by the staff, but other foreign travelers.

While it is no longer against the law to do so, some old school officials still detest it. I have heard a few reports of cameras taken from visitors when doing so.

Vietnam is such a cheap country to visit, carrying hundreds of dollars in your wallet or pocket is not necessary. While pickpockets are rare, it can happen. I would rather lose $20 than $200 to a thief.

Read the health warnings such as