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.

TSA Pre-Check Program

I had my first TSA Pre-check experience today and I have to say it was wonderful.  I was flying out of Orlando, FL (MCO) where the lines can be long, especially during summer months.  There is a dedicated line for TSA Pre-Check which I qualify for as a Global Entry participant and Delta Diamond Medallion.

There was no one in this line.  I did not have to remove liquds or my laptop from my carry-on bag.  I did not have to take off my shoes.  I did not have to empty my pockets.  Total time from entry into line until through security couldn’t have been more than 90 seconds.

I like this program.