What about rabies injections for Southeast Asia?

dsc_4465.jpgRabies is a common disease in Southeast Asia but in our personal, unqualified, non-medical opinion, the chances of you being bitten by a rabid animal in Southeast Asia (assuming you’re not provoking wild monkeys or poking dogs with sticks) are virtually nil.

Yes, there is rabies in Southeast Asia (particularly in India and Bangladesh) and it’s carried by dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals.

BUT, most of the dogs in the region are incredibly laid back. This is not Turkey, with fierce sheepdogs at every turn. Dogs in Southeast Asia tend to barely lift an eyelid from their afternoon nap as you pass by. Occasionally it’s disconcerting to see a dog start to move towards you but almost always the dog is heading for another dog across the road and not in your direction at all.

If there’s any risk, it might come from businesses with guard dogs. This is rare, but these guard dogs may come out and bark or show their teeth but we’ve never been chased by a dog in Southeast Asia or had to resort to our techniques for dealing with aggressive dogs. More often than not, the owner will come out and chase the dog with a broom if it gives you any trouble.

You do have to be a little careful walking around some cities at night. Many houses have guard dogs and together with the strays they form packs. They can be aggressive but usually just pretending to throw a rock at them does the trick.

Despite the low risk of being bitten, you may want to get a rabies injection for peace of mind. This is very expensive in Europe and North America but if you have the time in Bangkok you can get it done cheaply there.

If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten, you’ll need medical treatment as soon as possible. Being vaccinated beforehand buys you more time to get treated and simplifies the process. If you are in Cambodia or Laos, get yourself to Thailand as quickly as possible to get proper treatment or at the very least to the capital cities of Vientiane or Phnom Penh. Doctors in smaller towns may not have the correct treatment on hand.


  1. james
    6th February 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Hey guys,

    Good page on travel by bike and the dog problem.

    Maybe you could review my post on the same subject here, and let le know what you think?


  2. Victor Calvo
    25th July 2015 at 6:48 am #

    Hello TravellingTwo,

    I’d like to post a dissenting opinion if I may. You are right, SE Asia is not Turkey and there are fewer large fierce dogs about, but there are more, many more of the mangy mongrel unowned village dogs type of dogs out and about in SE Asia. Especially if you are travelling the back roads and not on main hiways.

    Rabies is also endemic in the feral dog/cat population of SE Asia and many thousands of people die from it each year. India, Vietnam and Thailand are the worst. You need a strategy to deal with the risk if you are considering cycling in these areas. You will need it because you will get chased by dogs every day when out cycling the back roads. Dogs, all dogs, bark and chase things out of the ordinary, especially shiny bikes and spinning pedals/ankles. If you just try to outrun them, you just give them more motivation and sooner or later you will be bitten.

    And then you have to decide if you will or will not run the risk of not going through the pain and inconvenience of rabies vaccinations.

    My personal strategy: First, know the drill for what to do if and when you do get bitten. Wash the wound for a full 20 minutes with soap, water and disinfectant. You then have 72 hours to get to a hospital and start the series of rabies injections.

    Second, have a defensive strategy for dealing with the chase. I stop the bike, yell at the dog to go home, which usually works. For those instances when stopping and yelling isn’t enough, I also carry an umbrella. Opened it is an effective barrier between you and the dogs. Closed, the dogs can’t tell it apart from a stick. All dogs respect the stick – it’s a learned behaviour, learned from the locals who use it all the time to deal with dogs. In fact, most of the time, when you stop to yell at a dog or pack of dogs , the locals and their sticks are not far behind. Oh, and the umbrella is great use against the rain or mid day sun!

    Third, learn a bit about dog behaviour and read the dog/dogs mood as you approach. For example, they seldom will chase a cyclist on the opposite side of the road. They know the risk of getting hit if they cross the road, so usually with content themselves with a couple of angry barks and let you go. And if they do chase you across the road, then you have the oncoming traffic as an ally. Dogs that can’t be bothered to lift their heads won’t bother you. Dogs that are perky and looking/listening for trouble, more than likely will. Packs are more trouble than individuals. And if you are cycling as a group, following cyclists will have much more of an issue than the lead cyclist. Family pets and mongrel village curs are very different animals; family pets will respond to their owners commands, village curs will not respond as readily to a shouted command once on the chase.

    Lastly, don’t sweat it too much. It’s just part of cycling – but definitely do have a plan, cause you will be deploying it daily.


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