Below we list some of the main vaccinations you should consider for Southeast Asia travel, as well as other health tips to make sure your travel is safe.
Disclaimer: The information presented below is general advice, but is not a substitute for medical advice from a health professional.
Why Vaccinate and Protect Your Health in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian countries are located in tropical, sub-tropical, and equatorial regions with rainforests and jungles and for the most part significantly lower standards of health and cleanliness compared to more developed countries in the West.
All these factors combined mean that there are a range of tropical diseases that can potentially harm you, especially if you come from different parts of the world, and it is your first time.
While many locals have developed natural immunity to many diseases, particularly illnesses resulting from unsanitary street food, there are still many other conditions that can affect anyone.
In order to eliminate the risk of such diseases ruining your trip to Southeast Asia, it is recommended (and sometimes required) to get vaccinated for certain diseases in advance.
Do I Need Vaccinations?
If you come from a different continent, and have never been to Southeast Asia or nearby regions before, it is recommended that you get a few basic vaccines. Note that some travelers from specific countries (mostly in South America and Africa) may also need to show proof of vaccinations/immunity (specifically yellow fever) upon arrival.
Always check if there are any specific vaccine requirements for the country you are entering, or for the country you are coming from.
At the moment, there are no specific requirements for vaccines (except for yellow fever for travelers coming from countries where the disease is prevalent). However, there are basic vaccinations that are highly recommended.
When Should I Get Them?
It is best to get vaccines as early as possible before your trip. The sooner you get them, the better your body can reach full immunity. Also note that some vaccines require multiple injections spaced out over certain time periods.
Generally, you should visit a doctor or clinic for consultation at least two months before your trip, so around the time when you would normally begin planning your travel.
What Vaccinations Should I Get?
*Note that you can get a 3-in-1 (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Polio) vaccine.
- Hepatitis A and B: The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through contaminated food or water, and hepatitis B through bodily fluids or unsanitary needles. Both diseases are very serious, and affect thousands of people. You can get a combined vaccination of the two diseases, known as Twinrix.
- Typhoid: A potentially fatal disease also originating from unsanitary food and poor hygiene. This is one of the most essential vaccinations for Southeast Asia.
- Tetanus: A common bacterium that can enter the bloodstream from open cuts or saliva. Getting cuts during travels is not uncommon, and although this disease is somewhat easily treatable, it is best to get vaccinated.
- Diphtheria: A contagious airborne disease that infects the mucus membrane of the throat and nose.
- Polio: A common disease in children spread through bodily fluids, and which can lead to paralysis. Adults who have been vaccinated in childhood, may need boosters.
- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella): The vaccine for these three diseases is mandatory for children in most of the Western world, and is normally valid for 20 years. If you have not had a second booster recently, you may need to consult a professional, or get tested for immunity.
- Rabies: Many streets and beaches in Southeast Asia will have stray dogs roaming about. Avoid contact at all costs, but as major cites have adequate hospitals and a bite is unlikely, only if you are traveling to remote areas is it recommended to be vaccinated for rabies. This is particularly recommended if you are planning to visit forests or parks with monkeys, or if you are going caving (against bats).
- Japanese Encephalitis: Not particularly common for travelers to get infected, but a serious sickness nonetheless, and can be potentially fatal. If you plan on spending prolonged periods of time in rural regions, it is best to get this vaccine.
- Cholera: Also not too common in popular Southeast Asian countries, but still a potential risk from unsanitary food or water. This vaccine can be drunk rather than injected.
- Meningitis: A disease particularly common during monsoon season.
- Malaria: There are no actual vaccines for malaria, but there is medication that can be drunk daily during your trip to significantly decrease the chance of infection. It is recommended especially for those planning to travel inside rainforests or jungles.
Other Health Advice
No matter how many vaccinations you get, there are many illnesses and conditions (big or small) that cannot be vaccinated against, and the only thing we can do, is take necessary precautions to try and avoid them.
Of course, one of the joys of Southeast Asia is to try the unique street food sold along popular tourist destinations such as night-markets and bar-streets.
It will probably be impossible to avoid grabbing a little taste of some local street delicacies, and we wouldn’t advise not to. However, do note that first-time travelers to these regions are prone to get minor food-sicknesses from such foods.
Choose the stalls you eat from carefully (more people = probably safer), and stay away from food-carts if you can’t spot a visible refrigerator for meats.
A lot of food in such countries can also be extremely spicy, and no matter how much you think you can tolerate spiciness back home, in here it’s just not the same! Spicy food in particular can lead to upset stomachs and digestive problems, so do not overeat.
As can be expected, Southeast Asia is a place where mosquitos and similar bugs thrive, due to the ideal environmental conditions. This creates a major annoyance for travelers in the best cases, but in the worst; can lead to unfortunate illnesses.
In order to avoid both of these issues, it is recommended to use bug-repellant sprays and devices. These can be purchased in any local convenience store, and may even be provided by hotels.
At nights, it is safer to wear long-sleeved clothes despite the heat, to reduce the chance of getting bitten. Avoid leaving windows open at night while you sleep unless there is a mosquito net.
- Dengue Fever: Dengue fever is an epidemic disease in many parts of the region, and is transmitted by mosquitos. The disease is not particularly deadly (the first time), though is quite serious. Contracting it a second time, however, can be fatal. If you have had dengue fever before, you need a dengue vaccine.
- Zika: Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos, and can become a serious illness if left untreated.
- Sandflies: As the name suggests, sandflies are found in the sand along beaches, and are particularly common in the Philippines (somewhat seasonal). Their bites can be painful, and cause rash or blisters, and can get infected if untreated.
Many Southeast Asian countries’ tap water is not very clean, particularly in the less-developed countries. Do not drink water straight from the tap, and if you can, try using bottled water to brush your teeth, and close your mouth when you shower.
- Scuba Diving: Many Southeast Asian countries are popular for diving, as there are gorgeous coral reefs and marine life to witness. Diving, while a fun activity, can pose some minor risks due to the pressure of the water, such as decompression sickness (“the bends”). Such complications can affect the ears and sinuses, and can worsen if followed by flights shortly after. If you have never been diving before in your home country, it may be best to avoid this activity, and try snorkeling instead. If you do wish to try it, be sure to go through a legitimate training course, and plan it so that it is not close to the date of your flight back home.
- Traveler’s disease: Traveler’s disease is a general term for discomfort, fatigue, fever, or other somewhat mild symptoms, caused by the stress of travel, dietary shifts, and jet-lag (or a combination). This can affect anyone, and can be common for non-frequent travelers. To reduce risk, try to spend the first days of your journey in a less strenuous/intense manner, and get slowly acquainted with the area first.
- Heat Stroke: Being that this region is tropical, the sun is blazing-hot throughout the day, and temperatures are mostly very high. Particularly at the beach or when trekking for long distances, always bring enough water, and replenish yourself frequently.
- Different vaccinations may be needed for different countries (origin or destination), and can also vary depending on time, as there are seasonal outbreaks. It is recommended to consult a doctor, travel clinic, or travel agency (of the region you are going to) in order to receive up-to-date vaccine recommendations.
- If you have a medical vaccine record booklet, keep it with your passport for all travels. Be sure to also document all the vaccinations you have received in a spreadsheet, for future reference.
Visiting Southeast Asia with Us
Asia Highlights offers a seamless trip-planning experience, helping you design the perfect trip to any country in Southeast Asia. Our knowledgeable staff will assist you in selecting destinations, accommodations and activities that best suit your requirements.