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Clean Water Hacks for Southeast Asia

Clean Water Hacks for Southeast Asia

In most parts of the world where you may find yourself, you don’t have to worry too much about drinking water from the tap or being served ice with your drink. But Southeast Asia is, unfortunately, not one of these places due to its lack of filtration systems. While in other countries I typically bring a refillable water bottle and top up as needed, this is one place I’ve visited that makes that much more difficult, but not impossible.

You’ll want to be wary of any water you that you haven’t seen the source of, or bottles that aren’t sealed. Ice in glasses is also a risk and can typically give you stomach ailments or worse. In many places, it is fine to brush your teeth with the tap water, being sure not to drink it directly, but I erred on the side of caution by brushing with bottled water when at all possible. It can sometimes take just a little exposure to make stomachs turn.

Free Bottles of Water

Most hotels and guesthouses throughout Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand and Cambodia, offer 2 free bottles of water per day for guests. While you may not feel that your room needs cleaning every day, it’s smart to at least ask for the bottles of water.

Reverse Osmosis Systems

reverse osmosis system
Reverse Osmosis System

I had no idea what these machines were when I first spotted them across from my guesthouse in Chiang Mai, but I soon found out I could use my refillable bottles here to fill up 1, 5 and 18 liter bottles for as cheap as 5 baht, the equivalent of 15 cents. Just stick in your coin, press the green button and wait for the water to come out. It’s been treated using ions to remove chemicals. These are found throughout Thailand, but I haven’t seen as many in other countries.

Boiling Water to Cool

kettle and water bottles
Kettle and Water Bottles

Another hack for securing clean drinking water was taken from a method commonly used for camping. I’ve filled a tea kettle, which comes standard in many hotels in Asia, from the tap, boiled it to the point of making it clean, and allowed it to cool before filling my bottle. I could quicken the progress by sticking a bottle in the mini fridge, when my room had one. This hack only works if you have a kettle or a kitchen to boil water, but be sure that the bottle you fill it with is made of high grade, BPA free plastic to keep it from emitting toxins from melted plastic.

Bring a Water Filtration or Purification System

In the past we’ve discussed various methods for purifying your water on the go, including the SteriPen, filtered water bottles and iodine tablets. If you’re worried about not being able to find clean water during your trip to Southeast Asia, particularly if you’ll be in remote areas where you won’t be able to purchase bottled water nearby, it’s a good idea to come prepared. While you may have to wait 30 minutes per liter, iodine tablets are the easiest to travel with and are just as effective.

Buy Bottled Water

While it’s not the most environmentally sound option, bottled water is very cheap in Asia. Expect to pay 7 baht (20 cents) at 7-Eleven for a small bottle. Just remember to recycle your bottle if you can find a place for it!

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Nic says

    I’ve got myself a Sawyer mini filter which attaches to most water bottles and hydration packs. I’ve tested it out a camping trip already and it seems to work great, so I’ll be using it when I trek the Annapurna circuit in September. Apparently it will last 100,000 gallons, which I can’t imagine I’ll exceed! Previously I’ve used iodine drops, but the taste was awful.

    • Emily says

      Yes! I have the Sawyer mini filter as well, and it’s the best! So small and easy to use & maintain, and surprisingly inexpensive. I’ve used it backpacking with a hydration bladder (SO nice to not have to sit there pumping water for 15 minutes), but it also screws on to water bottles, or you can use it with a straw. Definitely recommend it.

  2. Rena says

    Hi, I’m from Malaysia. Slowly but surely my country is changing for the better. While most places in SEA you still can’t drink from the tap, most places in Malaysia are now using efficient water filters which makes it safer to drink from the tap. But I’m still buying bottled water if I’m visiting countries like Thailand, Indonesia etc. Just to let you know!

    • Andrea says

      Need to remember that for the next time!
      I also saw loads of the reverse osmosis machines around so never had a problem with a lack of clear water in Malaysia 🙂

  3. Maria says

    I usually feel guilty about buying bottled water because of the plastic waste but I’ve found that in Cambodia I feel less guilty because the plastic bottles are coveted for recycling for money by the local kids or the poor. From remote areas to the city if you leave your plastic bottles collected to the side, they will be scooped up and made use of. I was curious how much these kids could get and the going rate last January was 100 riel for two bottles, which is about the price of one piece of candy. For these kids it was candy money so I was happy to turn in my plastic to them. Its sad to see the poor collect the plastic to make a living but at least its not going to be wasted in a dump.

  4. Scott says

    Re: “You’ll want to be wary of any water you that you haven’t seen the source of, or bottles that aren’t sealed. Ice in glasses is also a risk and can typically give you stomach ailments or worse.”

    As someone who has lived all over the world, and in Thailand for the past 15 years, I can tell you that you in fact do not need to be wary of the water here. Firstly, the incidence of water borne illness here is extremely low – about on par with most of the US. Secondly, Thai people are incredibly health conscious, and they will not serve you any water that they themselves would not drink. Third, all water and ice served in restaurants, bars, etc is bottled water from reverse osmosis.

    Relax and enjoy your vacation!

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