With a small dose of preparedness and planning you’ll be well positioned to handle any minor ailments you pick up in Southeast Asia—don’t forget to use your common sense!
For travel in Southeast Asia, most medical experts recommend at least vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), typhoid, hepatitis A, chicken pox, diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Some of these you may have had when you were a child, but in some cases you will need a booster to get you back up to scratch. A doctor in your home country can offer advice on your personal situation.
You may also wish to consider shots for Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis B and rabies. Each has its own risk profile and will be dependent to an extent on what you’re doing during your travels. For instance, if you are spending a lot of time around animals then a rabies shot would be a good idea. Be sure to consult with a travel doctor or travel clinic (as well as your own doctor for whatever specific needs you may have) to decide which vaccinations are the right fit for you and your itinerary.
Generally you will be able to get medical attention and general medicines throughout Southeast Asia for most minor ailments, at local hospitals, medical clinics or pharmacies.
Treatment costs are reasonable by Western standards. If you are looking at major surgery or get seriously ill, get yourself to Bangkok, Singapore or home for treatment. You do have travel insurance, right?
Nevertheless, it's a good idea to take a small medical kit. There is not a region-wide prescription system, and much general purpose medication can be bought over the counter, though if you require specialist medication, bring your scripts as a local pharmacy may refer you to the hospital if they don’t have what you are after. Local chemists can be inconsistent, sometimes asking for a script or doctor’s letter, other times just handing the goods over.
While many of these are easily purchased in Southeast Asia, if you prefer to be prepared, in a general traveller medical kit we would recommend:
* Band aids, elastoplast dressing strip, steristrips, sterile gauze, cotton wool, thermometer, safety pins, safety scissors and tweezers
* A wide spectrum antibiotic, antacids, Flagyl (for giardia), Imodium or Lomotil (for the runs), paracetamol, rehydration mixture and cough lozenges.
* Antifungal cream, cetrimide antiseptic (Savlon), mosquito net, insect repellent (Muskol, Repellem, RID) and sunscreen.
Other items may include a torch/flashlight, a small bottle of hand sanitiser, and, if you think you might need them, condoms. Of course you'd pack sunscreen. While you can buy any of these items locally at the many chemist shops, quality sometimes varies. While the variety and quality of available tampons and pads are improving, they remain pricey so you may wish to bring a supply of your preferred brand in case a suitable substitute isn’t readily available.
Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.