International travelers should be aware that specific health advice applies when visiting Thailand. When in Thailand, visitors should:
- Avoid food and water contamination
- Protect themselves against insect bites
- Avoid risky behavior such as swimming in contaminated water, getting a black henna tattoo, consuming kratom leaves, etc.
Vaccinations are not mandatory for Thailand. However, it’s important to speak with your doctor before you travel to figure out if your specific circumstances require you to get vaccinated.
Before traveling to Thailand and while in the country, making sure to follow health guidelines and take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe and smooth holiday is one of the traveler’s main responsibilities — just like applying for a Thai visa in advance and booking accommodation.
Safe Food and Drinks in Thailand
Contaminated food and water can cause a number of diseases, from diarrhea to cholera and hepatitis A. Avoiding contaminated food and water can be difficult in Thailand, especially in certain areas. However, thinking ahead before traveling and taking simple measures while in Thailand will save travelers the cost and inconvenience of falling sick abroad.
The following is a list of hygienic habits that will help you stay clear of contaminated products in Thailand:
- Wash your hands with soap as often as possible, especially before eating or touching your face and mouth. Many travelers also find it useful to carry sanitizing gel with them.
- Drink bottled beverages such as water and carbonated drinks.
- Opt for fruit and veggies that can be peeled.
- When eating out, consume meals that are prepared on the spot and served piping hot.
What Foods Should I Avoid in Thailand?
A number of foods and cooking methods are at higher risk of contamination. The following is a list of foods to avoid while in Thailand:
- Food sold at street stands or that has been sitting uncovered for a long time.
- Uncooked fruit and vegetables, unless they can be peeled completely.
- Raw meat and seafood. A number of traditional recipes include raw fish and meat and should be avoided (i.e. koi pla, luu mo, larb leuat neua, and larb dib).
- Unpasteurized dairy products.
- Pufferfish, barracuda, moray eel, and other reef fish exposing the eater to the risk of marine poisoning.
- Wild game (what the locals call “bushmeat”) like monkeys and bats.
- Kratom leaves. This popular herbal medicine can have stimulant or opioid-like effects (depending on the dose) and is used as a powerful painkiller. However, kratom side effects include anxiety, irritability, dry mouth, increased urination, constipation, and even seizure. Moreover, kratom is illegal in Thailand. Check for other prescription drugs that you can take to Thailand to treat your symptoms.
Can you drink tap water in Thailand?
Travelers should avoid drinking tap water in Thailand as it may be contaminated. Some areas are more at risk than others — the local authorities have assured the population that tap water in Bangkok is drinkable. However, the best option is to stay safe and avoid drinking it altogether, since water that was potable at source can become contaminated while traveling through the pipe system.
Always choose bottled or filtered water while in Thailand and avoid ice in your drinks unless you know it’s made from bottled or filtered water.
Swimming in freshwater and waterfalls can be very appealing for tourists. However, it also exposes them to the risk of bacterial infections like Leptospirosis.
Insect Bite Prevention for Travelers Visiting Thailand
Insect and tick bites are common in tropical and subtropical climates like Thailand. Although most bites will only cause irritation, a series of vector-borne diseases can be spread by bugs. There’s still no vaccine for many of these diseases.
Malaria is not a threat in Thailand in most areas and taking malaria tablets is not mandatory. Tourists who plan to visit rural areas usually take the tablets with them and use them if they notice a high concentration of mosquitoes.
On the other hand, dengue fever is a more common infectious disease found in Thailand that is caused by mosquito bites and can be very dangerous if left untreated.
Precautions that travelers can take against bug bites include:
- Cover exposed skin with long trousers and sleeves, hats, etc
- Using insect repellant (there are different repellants for different bugs)
- Protecting your bed with a net or making sure the room is bug-free
- Checking your body regularly for tick bites, especially after spending time outdoors
Vaccinations for Thailand: What Vaccines are Necessary and When to Get Injected
There are no mandatory vaccines for Thailand and getting vaccinated is not part of the visa requirements for Thailand. However, it’s highly advisable that you speak with your doctor 4 to 8 weeks prior to travel in order to get your routine vaccines up to date and receive the latest health recommendations for Thailand.
All international travelers should make sure to be up to date with routine vaccinations before traveling to Thailand. These include measles, MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and more.
Most travelers can benefit from getting vaccinated against diseases caused by contaminated food and water — usually, hepatitis A and typhoid.
Some travelers are at a higher risk of contracting certain diseases while in Thailand. This depends on the length and time of travel, the areas they will visit, and the activities they will take part in while in Thailand — for example, sleeping outside, spending time with animals, using needles, etc. In some of these cases, the doctor may recommend getting vaccinated against cholera, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, yellow fever, etc.
Remember that timing is everything when it comes to preventive healthcare. Together with sorting your Thai visa and booking your flight, you should talk to your doctor about vaccine options for Thailand as soon as possible.
Is It Safe to Get a Tattoo in Thailand?
Many travelers choose to get a tattoo done to remember their holiday. Like anywhere in the world, safety and hygiene levels vary and it’s paramount to do your research in order to choose the right tattoo studio. The needles used by the tattoo artist should always be new and other equipment sterilized properly (for example, with an autoclave) and the ink should be clearly labeled.
It’s also important to remember that sun exposure should be avoided for the first few weeks after getting the tattoo done in order to allow the skin to heal properly.
Black henna tattoos are also popular among tourists in Thailand. However, the ink often contains dangerous ingredients like kerosene, boot polish, hair dye, pen ink and more. That’s why getting a henna tattoo in Thailand can expose you to the risk of severe allergic reactions and even developing permanent intolerance to inks.