Don’t Drink The Water (But The Ice Might Be Ok)

By far, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “Can I drink the ice?” We all know not to drink tap water in most of the countries across the globe (barring North America, Europe, and Scandinavia) - at least not unless it is boiled (to a rolling boil for one minute below an altitude of 5,550/2000 meters or for three minutes if above).

By how about the ice? Is it safe? The short answer is, a little common sense can go a long way when ingesting anything in a country where sanitary conditions are less than exemplary (and even at home, for that matter). If you are traveling to South East Asia, South America, or the continent of Africa, you’ve likely gone to all of the trouble of getting the Travel Immunizations recommended by your doctor like the one for Hepatitis A and possibly Typhoid. Why disregard all of that hassle, by neglecting to take precautions with contact with water. Diseases such as Hepatitis A, Cholera, Typhoid Fever, Salmonella, and worse in Africa are all caused ingesting water, even tap water. Just don’t do it. Precautions also need to be taken when swimming in lakes, rivers, and oceans. Don’t swim with your mouth open. In Bangkok, travelers need to avoid splashes of water from riding in a water taxi on the filthy Chao Phraya River, and elsewhere, be careful not to laugh to hard when an elephant you are bathing shoots water at you with his trunk. Just be aware and be prudent. If you feel strange about brushing your teeth in the hotel, go ahead and use bottled water. My rule of thumb is three stars and up, its ok to brush with the tap in a hotel. I avoid all tap water in Airbnbs.

So what about that ice? Almost all ice you will encounter is made from purified water and comes from a manufacturing plant. It is easier for a smoothie vendor in a street market to use bagged ice than to make their own, so in almost all cases you’ll be fine ordering that delicious Passion Fruit Smoothie on Khao San Road in Bangkok. So, yes, the ice is fine.

How about a purification straw or water bottle with a purification filter? While these are practical for serious adventure traveling such as way up the Amazon River, three days from a corner bodega, elsewhere I suggest sticking to convenience store bottled water. Yes, there is the plastic pollution problem, but sometimes we need to pick our battles. Ask the smoothie lady to leave out the plastic straw and use your own metal straw. It’s small steps, every day that will make a difference in the end.

So no need to deprive yourself from a chilled refreshment in a sweltering tropical climate, go ahead and enjoy that smoothie or iced coffee. They are truly delicious! Cheers!

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