Warnings and Dangers in Bangkok – Water
Bangkok is Thailand’s large and populous capital city. Known for its cuisine, Bangkok also has a reputation concerning its water and other potential warnings and dangers you should be informed of before traveling there.
Metropolitan Waterworks Authority in Bangkok
There has been some debate about the quality of tap water in Bangkok. Many argue it is not potable. However since 1999, Mahidol University stated that the quality of the tap water from Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA), a public waterworks utility company in Bangkok, fully meets the World Health Organization criteria and standards. In blind taste tests, most people cannot tell the difference between chilled bottled water and chilled MWA tap water. MWA assures that if serviced by them, the tap water in Bangkok is safe to drink directly from the tap.
The water may be healthy to drink, but some people warn it looks dirty. Residents say that often, shower heads can become clogged with brown residue. Bathroom floors require heavy cleaning to remove a brown, slimy deposit that water leaves.
Many support that Bangkok’s water is in fact treated in facilities and passes all tests when sampled – the problem is contamination from the delivery system. Pipes that carry the water to the public are often old, broken, and in a state of disrepair. There have been instances of residents finding cellophane wrappers and other debris when cleaning out holding tanks. Therefore there is an increased possibility for microbes to cause water contamination.
Avoiding Tap Water
Maybe you don’t want to risk falling ill on your vacation. Perhaps you will visit rural villages outside of the city. Or maybe you are visiting for a short period, and your immune system will not have enough time to adjust to the water quality.
In any case, if you decide to try and stay away from drinking the local tap water, one option is to purchase bottled water. A half-liter bottle costs between 7 and 10 baht – it’s inexpensive and available throughout the city.
Remember that tap water comes from your hotel’s sink faucet and shower head. Therefore when cleaning your teeth, if you want to avoid consuming tap water, brush with bottled water. (If you choose not to don’t worry – the tiny amount in your mouth paired with a bit of mouthwash afterward will likely rid you of anything potentially dangerous.) If you take a shower, spit the water out. When you are out and about avoid ice – it may come from tap water. Also avoid salads – more than likely they will have been washed in tap water.
Another alternative is to purchase portable water filters. They are sold at REI and other outdoor stores and are excellent in filtering out microbes.
Though buying water may seem like a simple solution, sometimes it creates a complex problem for the country. Tourists may be getting a revenue from the millions of bottled water purchased daily, but like with any country, plastic poses a risk to the environment. Recycling in not routine in places like Thailand. In Bangkok and in the country side, residents burn the plastic bottles. If they are not burned, they take up vast spaces in landfills.
There is also no guarantee that bottled water is anything other than tap water in a bottle – it is not regulated there. Local newspapers conduct studies that conclude bottled water doesn’t taste any better than their tap water. Also the idea that bottled water is more safe has been very well and objectively studied; it is of no relevance to your health.
Some things to remember when considering water quality, is that water and ice from street vendors and restaurants come mostly from filter machines. Ice with a circular shape and a hole in the middle is filtered. Crushed ice may also be delivered from ice companies and not made from restaurant tap water in the first place.
If you are staying in the country for a longer period of time and want to look less like a tourist, consume the tap water and accustom your immune system to it. Especially in the city where the water has been deemed potable (it is in the more rural areas where you may need to be more careful with what you consume). Your immune system will acclimate to the local microbes and get used to them. If you take too many precautions, you may not be able to fight off more dangerous germs you encounter. Having your body adjust will also may make daily life easier and less of a hassle. And Cholera is not something you read or hear about in the cities of Thailand.
Food is also safe and well prepared. You may notice that street vendors in Bangkok do not refrigerate their meat, however they do cook it thoroughly in order to kill any insects that would make it harmful. You cannot avoid changes in your body in order to get used to consuming another country’s food and drink, but you will adjust to your environment with increased exposure.
If You Get Sick
There is always risk of developing food poisoning or other illnesses when you consume foods and beverages your body isn’t used to.
If you happen to fall ill, you can go to a pharmacy and get the medicine you need. Pharmacies have a red cross outside of them. If you point to your stomach the people working there will understand and give you the proper medication.
Finally, don’t forget travel insurance. A visit to the local doctor can cost as much as $160. Keep in mind, you may not see compensation for several weeks after you arrive home.
Editor’s Note: The information contained on this page was compiled using real traveler reviews about water in Bangkok and other warnings and dangers.