After reading my recent post on eating street food in Hanoi, Jessica Cym asked a pointed, very practical question: “We are going to VN during Christmas. Can't wait!!! Andrea, do you have any tips on handling street food so we won't get the runs?”
I’ve had my fair share of traveler’s diarrhea but over the years, don’t have a bulletproof answer. Before a trip, I make sure that my immune system is strong. The flights are long and I make sure to get some amount of sleep on the plane via ear plugs, Sleepy Time or valerian tea, and an awesome travel pillow. On the ground, I fortify myself with Citricidal, Airborne, and my regular daily multivitamin. I carry Tums and Pepto-Bismol. On this trip, I didn’t bring any kind of antibiotic because Karen Shinto said she had some.
On the flight to Vietnam, we met up with Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo and and her husband Henry. Michelle is a trained pharmacist and she had a nice stash of probiotics. (I knew Michelle and I would be fast friends when she offered me a probiotic at the Saigon airport.) Kyle Hildebrant of Our Daily Brine and his wife Lisa were also on the same Red Boat trip to Phu Quoc island and they carried meds too. Between the six of us, there was probably quite the medical kit. We felt equipped to deal with whatever Vietnam’s street food had to throw at us. We were eager to eat the streets.
But Lisa and Karen had tummy problems during the trip. It wasn't from the same place, city or time. They just got a bug of some sort and were each out for a good day. No bueno and no fun.
So despite all the care and precautions, stomach issues may happen. There’s no clear cut answer.
To help Jessica prepare for her trip to Vietnam, I consulted with Dr. Mike Ly. He’s a dear friend and a stellar infectious disease doctor. He’s diagnosed and treated conditions that you and I do not ever want to get. Born in Vietnam, he lived there until the late 1980s. He's trained and practices in Los Angeles. He regularly returns to Vietnam to do presentations to doctors there. Here are his some of Dr. Mike's insights: