How to Avoid Getting Sick in Thailand

There's more than a few ways to fall ill in Thailand. Food poisoning, dengue fever, leptospirosis… the list goes on.


So, how do you avoid getting sick? 

Can I Drink the Water in Thailand?

Don't drink tap water in Thailand, stick to bottled water, but don't worry too much about the ice. There's an extensive network of ice factories and they use purified water. It's easier for businesses to use the commercial ice rather than go to the expense of making their own. The good ice is easy to spot, it's tubular in shape.

For the same reason you don‘t drink the water, take care when you‘re swimming in it. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that gets into your body through cuts and abrasions when you're swimming, kayaking, and white water rafting. Also known as swamp fever, it was first recognized as an occupational disease of sewer workers.

Yuck! All that monsoonal flooding and not much in the way of piped sewerage. If you have a cut, make sure you treat it with disinfectant from your travel medical kit, and stick a plaster over it.

Also, be careful when you're washing your food, always check the water source.

Is Eating Street Food Safe in Thailand?

You're going to find a variety of delicious food. Here's how to enjoy it without any nasty after effects.

Don't eat anything that's been sitting around – even for a short while. Insist on the food being freshly prepared for you. If the street vendor won't cook you a fresh dish, go to another vendor who will.

Pick food stalls that have a lot of people at them, the locals will quickly learn which ones are safe. A food stall that's popular will have a high turnover of produce, again nothing is left sitting around to go off or let the flies get at it.

Another tip, watch for a stall that looks clean and fly-free, and try to watch the vendor's hands, make sure a dirty thumb doesn't get stuck in your dish.

Have a think about the utensils the vendor provides. Have they been washed properly? Is the washing water clean? Probably not. So carry a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel, and give the utensils a wipe. Give your hands the once over while you're at it.

Want extra chilli? Go on, be brave, but think twice about taking a pinch from that communal bowl of flakes on the table. Who else has dipped their digits in there? Ask the vendor for a fresh bowl.

How to Avoid Malaria and Dengue Fever in Thailand

There are conflicting stories between doctors prescribing Malaria tablets for travel in Thailand. Some strongly recommend and other suggest a good slathering of DEET will do the trick! Malaria hasn't really been much of a problem in Thailand for a while, but you should still take the necessary precautions while in rural areas.

Some nomads opt for taking medication with them, but only popping the pills if they feel like mosquitos are thick in a certain area - not a bad idea! There are also alot of non medical products on the market now to keep you covered and bite free.

But until then, Dengue is the fever to watch out for.

Also called breakbone fever because of the excruciating joint and muscle pain, it can be fatal if untreated. Similar to Malaria, it's transmitted by mosquitoes, but these pesky little blighters are active in cities and during the day. They like to hang around shady areas – exactly where you're sheltering from the hot sun.

There's no vaccine or preventative medication for Dengue, and no cure. Medical staff simply treat the symptoms until the disease passes (about 2 weeks).

  • Wear white loose fitting clothing (The Thai government actually issued a warning about tight black leggings popular with young women).
  • Make the shirt long-sleeved and the trousers full-length. Okay, you're not really going to do that when its hot, so lather yourself in insect repellant (DEET) on exposed skin.
  • Use insect repellent (mosquito coils) in rooms, even during the day and if you see stagnant water around your accommodation, tip it out.

Box Jellyfish season in Thailand

Inflicting a painful and potentially fatal sting, these transparent cube shaped, long tentacled (reaching up to 10ft!) aquatic beasties are not to be messed with. Between 1999 and 2015, 6 tourists died from box jellyfish stings.

Box jellyfish float into beach areas around Krabi, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, with highest instances of injuries and fatalities around Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Their numbers increase in inshore during monsoon season. It is also important to avoid touching any jellyfish washed up on beaches as they are still dangerously toxic.

Avoiding swimming at night, wearing a stinger suit, swimming at beaches with vinegar first aid stands are some ways you can potentially avoid being stung. 

Tourists don't realise they have been stung by the box jellyfish until the venom sets in because spotting the animal is difficult due to its transparency in clear waters. Symptoms can include: severe pain, swelling, itching, difficulty breathing, sweating/fever and tentacle tracks appearing on the affected body area.

Immediate first aid treatment is essential to survive a box jellyfish sting. First aid stations are set up at popular tourist beaches

Call emergency services or seek medical attention at a hospital or medical clinic.

It is important that both the affected person and first aiders remain calm and not panic.  Do not wash or scrub the sting sites. Previous sting cases have shown that application of vinegar to the site within the first minutes of being stung may give some relief. Remove any visible tentacles on the skin using gloves or tweezers. CPR may need to be administered in severe cases should the affected person pass out and stop breathing.

Medical Emergencies in Thailand: Who You Gonna Call?

If you do get sick in Thailand you're in a good place. There's a network of public and private hospitals. The private ones, especially in Bangkok, offer an excellent standard of care. Medical tourism is big business here.

But if you have an unexpected illness or injury don't just cart yourself off to the nearest hospital… call the WorldNomads Emergency assistance number. We might have knowledge about the best hospital in your area and want you to go there. Or we may send a doctor to you, saving you the inconvenience of getting across town. Let someone else do all the organizing, it's what you've paid for.

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  • Ben Hasan said

    Thank you very much for your advice. Our family are heading off to Thailand tomorrow.

  • Marcus Häger said

    Hello, don`t be horrified about hygien in Thailand. generally every streetfood
    stalls have plastiks over one of the hand.
    As earlier said, when many Thai people eat there, it`s safe. And SO much tastier than on
    expensive resturants.

    Marcus from Sweden

  • James Nardell said

    Thailand tap water can be used for cleaning food. It also probably won't do you any harm to drink it -- tap water currently meets World Health Organization’s 2011 Guidelines for drinking water quality. That said, as you advise, it's best not to.

    I did a YouTube video on the subject of; 'Is Bangkok tap water safe to drink?' Check it out below.

    FYI I have lived in Bangkok, and Thailand for 18 years now, so know what I'm talking about. [My wife's cousin also works for the MWA].

  • Michael said

    Thank you very much, can I subscribe somewhere here? Can you please give me some tips about Rawai Beach area in Phucket? I want to go train Muay Thai for a few months there. Thank you very much

  • Stephanie Meacham said

    If you are living here, it's better to reduce your plastic waste and just boil the water for a full five minutes.

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