Vietnam/Cambodia – Practical Considerations and Security

In today’s post, I’ll touch on some of the planning necessary for the trip – some of it obvious and some of it not.

Travel Documents

Of course, there are some required documents that you will have to make sure you have arranged:

  • Passport – must be valid for six months after date of entry and have blank visa pages, if you plan on getting visa on arrival
  • Visa – both Vietnam and Cambodia require visas.  You can do a “visa on arrival” but I prefer arranging in advance and use a company called Travisa.
  • Traveler’s Immunization record – not required but could be needed if you need to prove vaccination for Yellow Fever because you have recently been in an “at risk” country

Savvy travelers make copies of their important documents – the above plus medical insurance card(s), travel itineraries – and leave a copy with someone at home, take two copies with them and store them in different places, and put one copy somewhere on “the cloud” so they can access it from the road, if needed.  These copies will be invaluable should you lose your passport or have your wallet stolen on the journey as they would greatly simplify the process of replacing the original documents.

Register with State Dept. (or your equivalent)

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can register your travel with the U.S. State Department through their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure you get timely communication in the case of a crisis and that you are “on the list” should something really bad happen in the region you are in.  Even seasoned travelers neglect this or register only when they are going somewhere “risky.”

The problem with that strategy is that a destination may not be high risk and yet have a sudden change of environment.  Egypt was not seen as high risk until all hell broke loose.  Japan was certainly not on high risk lists but the tsunami created a sudden, widespread issue due to both the actual storm damage and the atomic/nuclear risk in the days after the disaster.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, other countries have similar schemes that provide travel warnings, information from local embassies and consulates, and registration services.

The only reason not to register is because you are concerned that the government will know where you are traveling.  Trust me, they already know that information.  Go ahead and register.  It is also a good idea to carry a list of your country’s embassies/consulates where you will be traveling including address and phone number in case you should need to contact them.


Cambodia is easy.  Take US currency that is in good condition.  They do have their own currency – the Riel – but the USD rules.  Go to an ATM in Cambodia and what do you get?  US dollars.

In Vietnam, the currency is the Dong (come up with your own joke).  In fact, I picked up 2.6 million VND recently at my bank.  That is worth about $125 USD.  So, the rule of thumb is that 100,000 VND is about five bucks.

I always like to land with at least some local currency.  You cannot assume that a taxi from the airport will take a credit card and I don’t care to do money exchange at the airport.  The rates are not typically great and you are exchanging money in a very public place.

Crime, Terrorism, and Security

Probably one of the most common questions I get from friends about travel around the world is about the risk of terrorism and crime.  Generally, the world is a pretty safe place.  Both Vietnam and Cambodia have very little serious crime but the normal safeguards and reason you would use at home are appropriate.  Risk of terrorism in either of these countries is pretty low.  Expect some begging and a few tourist scams – which are easily researched on TripAdvisor and the web – and some aggressive touting.  But, none of this is risky.  All in all, these are both low risk destinations.


Vietnam/Cambodia – Health and Safety Considerations

Anytime one travels to an unfamiliar location, they must consider the challenges they might face in their chosen destination.  This includes health, safety, security, crime, political unrest, and cultural differences they might encounter.  Luckily, in the age of the internet, most of the information you need is fairly easy to research on the internet.  In today’s post, we’ll focus primarily on the health considerations that need to be planned for in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Vaccinations / Disease Risks

One of the first stops to make on the internet is at the Center for Disease Control’s website for travelers.  You can enter your destination(s) and any special aspects of your trip and it will give you the health risks and suggested precautions.  For Vietnam and Cambodia, the recommendations were identical and included, as a baseline, the following:

  • Hepatitis A
  • TDAP (tetanus, diptheria, pertussis)
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Annual Flu Shot

Based on my previous travel needs, I already have all of the above plus the following two that are recommended for some travelers, depending on nature of trip, specific destinations, etc.

  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid

So, the only real question I had to consider was whether I felt I needed to vaccinate for Japanese Encephalitis and take pills while on the trip to prevent malaria.  Both of these are mosquito borne diseases and the actual risk, from a percentage basis, is pretty low.  Another factor to consider is that the other disease risk in these countries is Dengue Fever, which is also mosquito borne but there is no vaccination for it.

Therefore, I decided against the malaria tablets (which do have some potential side effects) and the vaccination and go with a “prevention” strategy.  I used Permethrin to treat the clothes I’m taking on the trip with mosquito repellent.  This is simply a spray on treatment that survives multiple washings.  The brand I use is by Sawyer.  In addition, I will be taking a DEET based repellent – I use Ultrathon which has a DEET concentration of 34% – for use in higher risk areas such as the temple complex at Angkor.

Basic Medical Supplies

Regardless of destination, my medical kit always includes the following:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Immodium AD
  • Cipro – prescription, used for severe traveler’s diarrhea
  • Alka Seltzer – a miracle drug in my book
  • Immodium
  • Alcohol wipes, band aids, antibacterial gel
  • Blister pads
  • Duct tape
  • Super glue – for closing lacerations, if needed

Medical Insurance

Medical care around the globe is not consistent in terms of how it is delivered, its cost, and the quality of the care itself.  This is why I carry a traveler’s health insurance policy that provides support for selecting good providers, covers the cost of treatment, and also provides coverage for medical evacuation should it be necessary to be transported out for medical care.

Many times, corporate travelers are covered by their company’s policy but they are also available for individual purchase.  I use Travel Guard for an annual policy that runs somewhere around $260.  Another popular provider is Frontier MEDEX which I have used in the past and they provide similar services.

Other Basic Practicalities

The only other “safety” item that I take with me consistently is a good, mini flashlight.  Dark hallways, power outages, being dropped off on a dark road from a bus..there are times you might need it.  My go-to flashlight is an Inova T Series that gives over 200 lumens of illumination in a small package but there are several similar brands out there that also do a good job.

In our next post, we’ll cover other practicalities and security considerations.

Global Travel Security Risks

When most people think of travel risks, they think of either an aircraft disaster or a terrorist incident like the hotel attacks in Mumbai or the bombings in Jakarta.  However, most risks are much more mundane and much more common.  Car accidents in China, sanitation in India, pickpockets in Rome, or a twisted ankle in Dubrovnik are the types of things that are more likely to affect your trip.

Still, it makes sense to monitor global hotspots relative to crime, terrorism, and social unrest.  There is  a current article over at Hurman Resource Executive Online that highlights a recent study, 2012 Global Security and Travel Risks, conducted by International SOS and Control Risks that identifies top concerns for business travelers in 2012.

The Arab spring, nuclear disaster in Japan and the worldwide financial crisis — combined with other political and security issues — made last year an “extremely turbulent” one for business travelers, expatriates and their organizations

That’s according to Iain Donald, vice president and director of Global Risks Analysis for the Americas at Control Risks in the New York area.

During a recent webinar, Global Political and Travel Security Risks 2012: Looking Ahead, he said organizations need to take a fresh look at their security and travel policies and procedures in light of past and future global risks, which are becoming “more complex and interconnected.”

Periodically, NoteFromTheRoad will post specific security and safety tips for travel.  You don’t have to be Jason Bourne to stay safe on the road.  Instead, simple preparation and behavior modifications go a long way to keeping you out of harm’s way.

Clearing the Air: Pollution in China

There is a really good article over at The Economist’s website about the levels of air pollution in China.  When I was in Beijing last summer, the air was absolutely apocalyptic.  You could taste it but you could hardly see through it.  Buildings that were 300-400 yards away could not be seen in the swirling smog.  Twice in the last couple of months, flights at the airport have had to be grounded due to the lack of visibility.

This represents a true health concern for anyone who has respiratory issues.  Reliable data from the Chinese government is hard to come by, hence the reason some are trying to measure pollution levels via satellite imagery as discussed in the article.  Other industrial cities can be just as bad so go prepared and aware.

Chubb Survey: Business Travelers Refuse Trips to Risky Locations

Nearly half of people surveyed would refuse to go on a business trip to a location they consider dangerous unless their employer provided them with emergency medical and other services, according to a survey by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.  

Twenty-three percent of business travelers indicated that they would refuse to go on the business trip; 21% said they would go but would refuse to go on the next trip; and 14% would go but look for a new job after returning.

Many employees, however, said they would take the trip if their employers provided access to one or more services.  Forty-two percent would go if their employer provided access to reliable emergency medical services, while almost half (47%) would travel if their employer provided pre-travel information about the country. Thirty-eight percent would take the trip if their employer provided access to legal assistance abroad.