How to Drink Water Safely in Southeast Asia – Helpful Tips

In many parts of the world, you don’t have to worry much when you drink water from the tap. Southeast Asia, is unfortunately not one of those places.

When traveling through Southeast Asia, having clean and safe drinking water was a big concern.

In the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, drinking countries was questionable. Fortunately, neither one of us has fallen ill or become sick as a result of the tap water.

In this article, we shed light on how to drink water safely, particularly around food situations. Travel safe with these helpful tips to drink water safely in Southeast Asia.

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Drink Water Safely at Home – Hotels, Guesthouses & Locals Homes

In Southeast Asia water from the faucet is not potable. Depending on the type of accommodation you choose for your stay, the availability of potable water will vary.

In general, hotels and guesthouses will give you one or two ½ liter bottles of complimentary mineral or purified water per day. After that, you have the choice of buying additional bottled water from your hotel, which can quickly add up and become spendy. Your next alternative is to go to the nearest 7 Eleven or local deli store and get a large bottle of water.

Be aware that in some cases, the gym at your hotel might not even provide filtered water on site. Ask before you work out as you may need to purchase bottled water in advance.

Bottle Water Shangri La Drink water in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestBottles of water available in the hotel bathrooms

Staying with locals using Airbnb is our prefered accommodation, and one way of connecting at a local level.

At home, we saw locals in several countries using a filtered bottle water service. They would get filtered water delivered to their door. These huge containers of water, 30 liters or more, would be put on a piece of furniture and used exclusively for cooking and as drinking water.  This was especially true for Cambodia and the Philippines.

Water bottle Drink Water in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestWater bottle service in our Airbnb in Ho Chi Minh City

In Vietnam boiling the water is usually enough to make it drinkable. In the kitchen, locals would have a pitcher of water cooling off, right next to the kettle.

Discovering The Public Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water

In Thailand, we stayed at short term apartment rentals. These apartments were not set up with a filtered water delivery system. That’s when we discovered the public option: Reverse Osmosis drinking water.

Along the streets are machines, about the size of a typical vending machine, which are popular for refilling bottles of water. At the inexpensive cost of 1 Thai Baht (about $0.03cts) you can refill your 1 liter bottle.

We would typically buy two large 6-liter plastic bottles and refill them regularly using one of the reverse osmosis machines for about 11 Thai Bhat (about $0.31cts).

Reverse Osmosis Drinking Filtered Water in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestRefilling large water bottle with filtered water on the streets of Bangkok

How to Order Water at Restaurants

Service Water

In most restaurants, except for Cambodia, you get free tap water or what they call “service water” with your meal.

Many of the little restaurants or food stalls will usually have a small space with cups on shelves reserved for drinking water. This is typically self-service. You take a cup that is placed upside down (indicating it is clean) from the shelf, as well as a short straw from a nearby cup.

Next to the cups is a bucket of ice for you to use fill your glass. Take your cup with ice back to your table where you will find a pitcher of room temperature water. Be aware that in some places in Thailand you may have to pay additional for the ice.

Water and Cups to Drink Water in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestSelf-service ice bucket and cups in Thailand

Light Tea in Vietnam and Thailand

In Vietnam and parts of Thailand, the water is sometimes replaced by a light tea called tra da in Vietnamese. It is a tea that is diluted with lots of water. While the tea gives the water some taste, our recommendation is to be cautious of the cups.

In Vietnam especially, the used cups are not always washed. Instead, they are used and then put back on the rack upside down to be used again. The hygiene levels in Vietnam can be questionable at times.

To be sure, drink using the clean straws that are available.

Rosemary drinking Tra Da_ the Drinking water of Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestRosemary drinking Tra da or light tea in Hanoi, Vietnam

Soda Water

If you are looking to buy bottle water at the restaurant, consider trying the “Soda water” or sparkling water, sometimes also called gasified water. The price is equivalent to a regular bottle of mineral or purified water.

The soda water comes in a glass bottle instead of a plastic bottle, which is better for the environment. And it is a nice change from flat water, adding a bit of sparkle to your drink!

Expect to pay between $0.25 cents and $0.50 cents USD for a small bottle of water (500 ml).

Danh thanh Carbonated mineral Drinking water Vietnam Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestCarbonated mineral water in Vietnam
Soda Drinking water Thailand Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestSoda Water in Thailand

In Cambodia, you have to order your water and buy whatever brand of water the restaurant has available. Prices are slightly on the higher side, where water starts a $0.50 cents for a small (500ml) bottle of water due to the use of the US dollar as the local currency.

Mineral Water in Cambodia Drinking water in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestMineral water in Cambodia

Interestingly, you will find branded mineral water coming from France or Italy such as Evian, Badoit or San Pellegrino. A nice surprise to discover in Southeast Asia.

Expect to pay a higher price for this type of water: $1.50 USD for a small bottle of water (500 ml).

Get Water on the Go

Bottled water is very accessible on your travels throughout Southeast Asia. You can easily find water at any of the local convenient stores you will see all over. 

At convenient stores, the typical price of bottled water ranges from about $0.20 cents for 500 ml up to $1.00 for 6 liters. Be prepared to spend a little more if you buy water from a well-known brand.

Mineral Water in the Store Drinking water Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestSome interesting mineral bottle of water at a groery store in Thailand

GRAYL – Our Solution to Drink Water Safely in Southeast Asia

To keep us healthy and safe on our quest, as well as “do good” for the environment, our water partner is Grayl. Grayl makes an ultralight purifier bottle, that allows you to easily make clean and purified drinking water.

GRAYL Drink water Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestGRAYL bottle

With one press and in under 15 seconds, water from virtually any source can be purified against all types of viruses, chemicals and heavy metals.

Claire at a street fair in the Philippines drinking water from a Grayl bottle in Southeast Asia Authentic Food QuestClaire at a food market in the Philippines drinking water from a Grayl bottle

We use our Grayl water bottles regularly and in two unexpected ways – drinking coffee and keeping fit.

Drinking Coffee with GRAYL

Are you a coffee lover? Do you love walking up and enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee? If that describes you, then you will probably find yourself in the same situation we found ourselves.

I’m not a coffee drinker, but Rosemary loves a fresh cup of coffee when she gets up. Given that we prefer to stay at Airbnb’s or rent an apartment, we usually have access to a kitchen.

In Thailand, where the tap water is not drinkable, instead of using bottled water, Rosemary would simply filter the water using her Grayl bottle and then boil the water and make coffee.

We never thought we would use our Grayl water bottles for something as simple as coffee. This unexpected benefit has not only kept us safe, it has also allowed us to avoid waste and unnecessary plastic.

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Keeping Fit with GRAYL

Keeping fit and healthy on our quest for authentic food is a huge priority for us. As we enjoy local delicacies around the world, we also look for places to run and exercise.

In Bangkok, one of the best parks that we discovered for running was Lumpini Park. We would run regularly and use the outdoor equipment. In the Philippines, we discovered several ways to keep fit in Manila and Cebu City.

With running being our favorite form of exercise, staying hydrated becomes important. In the time that we have been in Southeast Asia, it has been hot. Temperatures we are told, are above average in most of the countries we’ve visited.

To keep us hydrated, we carry water on our runs. Rather than buy bottled water, we would filter the water first using our GRAYL water bottles and then fill up our running bottles and go off for a run.

How to stay fit on your travels to the Philippines , drink waterWater bottles to stay hydrated when running
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In Summary

If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia, be prepared for lack of access to safe drinking water.

As noted, bottled water is easily accessible, though you pay the price for excessive use of plastic and waste. To help guide you on your travels, keep these helpful tips in mind as you navigate the local water situation.

 

Tips to Drink Water Safely in Southeast Asia for Savvy Food Travelers

1- Ask the locals. In whichever country you are in, always ask the locals if the tap water is drinkable. If it is not, do what they do and let them tell you the best place to find filtered water.

2- At a restaurant, with the exception of in Cambodia, you can get service water, which is filtered and available for free. Simply ask for it, or serve yourself.

3- The Ice is safe to use. In the mornings, we would see ice trucks delivering ice to the local restaurants. The ice in the ice buckets at restaurants is safe to use and made with purified water. If you are not comfortable or have any doubts about the ice, feel free to ask the restaurant owners or avoid to drink water with ice.

4- Be cautious about the hygiene level of the cups, especially in Vietnam. More than likely the water cups are just rinsed and reused. Whenever possible, use a straw.

5- Get insurance to cover any unexpected health issues. We use and recommend Allianz Travel Insurance which is affordable and great option for travelers.

READ MORE: When traveling, you always want to be prepared for the unexpected. We are covered by Allianz Travel Insurance and it has unexpectedly come to our rescue in Thailand for dental treatment. Read our review of Allianz Travel Insurance and the benefits of being covered on your travels.

In the comments below, please share with us your tips for drinking water safely on your travel.

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52 comments

  1. Great tips. I alway am worried about getting sick when I travel. There is nothing worse than not being able to go out and enjoy yourself because you are sick in bed. Thank you so much for the ideas. I will be using them for sure.

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  2. Such an informative article you had posted. Your article will help us in drinking safe water.thanks for sharing this tips with us.keep posting like this.good wishes for you.. 🙂

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  3. It sure was nice that you said bottled water is easily accessible in Southeast Asia and that they can easily be found in any convenient store. Apparently, that is the reason why my sister’s classmate, who is currently staying with us, prefers to drink bottled water. I guess it is very normal to drink it from where she came from. Anyway, I am okay with providing what she needs since she seems serious about it. I will order a few bottled water if that will take the load off her chest.

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  4. I had a friend that traveled around Southeast Asia, and even the smallest slip-up caused her to get ill. This is very important information to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I’m thinking of getting a water purifier bottle. I always buy bottled water when I travel but I feel so bad because many places don’t even have the option to recycle. I was very impressed with the public water distributors in Thailand!

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    • You are right Lydia, the reverse osmosis machines in Thailand are quite convenient. We use them a lot and also like having our GRAYL water bottle with us for those “just in case we run out of water” moments. Do check out GRAYL for your next water bottle. Cheers.

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  6. One thing I think you should also mention is to be sure to brush your teeth only with bottled or filtered water. It was Africa, but that was the thing that did me in. I was brushing my teeth with the tap thinking it didn’t matter since I was only spitting it out. A month of an infection later, I was definitely regretting that decision.

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    • Oh wow, that sounds like a horrible situation in Africa. I wonder if there was more to the water in the countries you visited. One of our first tips is to ask “the locals and do what the locals do”. In every situation and country, we always asked about the safety of the water to drink, cook and brush our teeth. Asking the locals goes a long way….and having a GRAYL water bottle offers peace of mind as well. Cheers.

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  7. This is great! I do South East Asia frequently (not enough as I’d like to), and didn’t know about the filter option. Thanks for sharing and check out my posts on Travel-Break.net!

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  8. Great tips, it looks a bit complicated finding clean water in each country. I think Grayl solves all these problems and is good for the environment too. I will definitely keep it in mind.

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  9. Posts like this are so important. I forgot all about drinking water in Africa and got violently sick. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson now!! I think it’s brilliant hostels give you bottled water each day – I will make sure I save this post for when I visit Asia

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    • So sad to hear about your situation when traveling through Africa. Get yourself a GRAYL water bottle for your next travels and you’ll be much safer. While the hotels give you one or two bottles a day. It’s really not enough. Having a GRAYL water bottle allows you to filter more water throughout the day. Thanks Maddy for your comments.

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  10. Great tips. I always end up spending a fortune on water. I need to get one of the filter bottles to try and save some money. At the moment I am in Peru and am spending a fortune on bottled water and feel so bad for the environment too!!

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    • Hope you are enjoying Peru, Clare. When we were there, we also had to be careful about the water. I wish we had shared this article prior to your trip. When you get a chance, do get yourself a GRAYL bottle for safety and peace of mind for your next trip. Cheers.

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  11. What a thorough post! As a water addict, this is something I think about a lot while traveling, and never got such a full answer as this. I’ve never heard of Grayl water bottles but they seem like a great addition to my future packing lists.

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    • So glad you found the article really helpful. Like you we drink a lot of water and keeping safe and healthy is key. Check out GRAYL for your next trip. Easy to use and lightweight to carry. Can’t go wrong. Thanks for your comments Lillie.

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  12. I”m a hiker and I use mini Sawyer filtration system – it’s tiny and absolutely perfect for any kind of travel where there is no access to purified/safe water. It’s definitely cheaper than buying bottled water around!

    Thanks for the post!

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  13. Clean drinking water is so important when you travel. You have to keep hydrated, especially in tropical heat. On our last trip to Thailand, we got “gotten” in Railay. It wasn’t just us, but from our informal survey, about half the people who visited when we where there had the same feeling. We felt we were being careful but, as they say – something was in the water.

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  14. Excellent tips! Who would like to be sick on the road, right? We needed to have precautions especially when we were in Asia. At least, the water isn’t too expensive and most of the places tolerated us having our own bottles of water on the go. This bottle of water seems brilliant!

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  15. I am from the Philippines and i agree with you. We use to buy alkaline water from water stations here for safety. Thank you for your tips, we can use it when we travel soon.

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    • You are most welcome Ruth. Happy to hear that you also use alkaline water from water stations in the Philippines. Having a water bottle that filters and purifies makes a huge difference and helps keep you safe 🙂

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  16. This is great information to know, as I know where ever I go I definitely am always scared of drinking water that is not from bottled water. I also hate just plain water, and since I love soda I love that idea of soda water.

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    • There is no need to be scared about the drinking water on your travels. If you travel with a lightweight bottle like Grayl you can feel safe about the drinking water 🙂 The soda water is indeed a nice change and tasty option 🙂 Thanks Ivette for stopping by.

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  17. Very helpful tips, one should always be careful especially when it comes to your health. Tourists normally get excited and want to try out all the famous delicacies, however they really don’t know whether the food or utensils are hygienic or not. The best rule is to be prepared for the best and this is what the post is all about.

    Reply

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