Do I need a water filter in Southeast Asia?

f12There aren’t many countries in Southeast Asia where you can drink the tap water.

Malaysia has the safest water supplies but elsewhere you should either buy bottled water or use a filter. Standards are lowest in Cambodia and Laos (see the Worldwide Rating of Drinking Water Safety for more details).

Bottled Water
Finding bottled water is not a problem and it’s cheap. In every small town you should be able to find water in 1 litre plastic bottles at a minimal cost. In Laos, these bottles are sold in packs of six for 7,000 kip – less than one dollar. The price is similar in Thailand and Cambodia. Occasionally in Cambodia we could only find small bottles of water – about 300ml each – and they are a bit more expensive.

The only problem with bottled water is the waste. Two cyclists in humid southeast Asia can easily drink 8 litres of water a day. If you have a water filter, you’ll save yourself a bit of money and the world a lot of plastic. Often there’s nowhere to dispose of the plastic bottles so you either have to hold on to them until you reach a town or leave them by the side of the road.

MSR-miniworks_exFiltered Water
The other option is to filter water, although that does take time. We spent about half an hour each evening filtering our daily water with our MSR Miniworks EX water filter: about 8 litres of water split between bottles mounted on the bike frame and our Camelbak Unbottle 70 bladders. Every filter is different and will process water at different rates and qualities.

If you don’t have a water filter already, the cost of buying one is likely to outweigh the cost of buying bottled water on a smaller tour. We bought ours with a world trek in mind, knowing that sometimes we would need to use it, unlike in Southeast Asia where bottled water is always available.

In Thailand, you have a third option and that is to use the water dispensers found in most towns. They are tall, white plastic machines that look a bit like a soft drink vending machine. They can be hard to spot but you’ll often find them beside convenience stores or laundromats. For about 1 baht a litre you can quickly fill up all your bottles with cold, filtered drinking water.

At the beginning we drank tap water and never got ill but some locals warned us there might be heavy metals in the water. Refilling at the water machines might be a better idea. -Laetitia and Sebastien

Don’t worry about the water and ice you get in restaurants, whichever country you’re in. As long as its not hand-shaved ice (rare to see in restaurants), it’s always purified and safe to consume so indulge in those fruit shakes and ice coffees to keep cool!


  1. Agata
    6th June 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks for the good advice. My boyfriend and I have been cycling around SE Asia for over 3 months now (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia,now in Vietnam) and after a few weeks we switched from buying bottled water to refilling our bottles to reduce plastic waste.
    We used to buy about 40 bottles per week for the two of us (1.5litre bottles), now that we refill, we will get max four bottles per week just because we can’t always refill.
    Most of the time we will refill at restaurants, shops and guesthouses from large 21 litre water barrels you will see everywhere. This is what the locals use for clean drinking water.
    We even bought one of them ourselves for about $3 and then returned the empty bottle to the same shop and got $2.5 back. So we ended I paying 50c for over 20 litres of drinking water!
    If you do refill from those barrels, make sure it is sealed. Otherwise it might have been refilled by shop/restaurant the owner and there is no guarantee it’s safe to drink.

  2. Gary Jackson
    17th September 2014 at 7:50 am #

    A friend brought me a Camelback All Clear UV water filter bottle, from the states. It cost about 100 USD I’ve been using it for the past two years and find it very useful for the usual reasons, Thailand has plenty of bottled water available everywhere, except where you need it. And a very real plastic trash problem. It runs on a built-in battery and has a USB charger that will go a long way between charges. I have also begun carrying a “Source” two litre bladder mounted on the bike that shows some promise. Happy riding. Gary

  3. Kelsey
    9th December 2015 at 2:40 am #

    Has anyone used a Brita water filter over there? I have a bottle that filters it as you drink it. Im wondering If it would be strong enough to filter anything or if you would need to buy something a little higher end?

    • Terr
      4th May 2016 at 6:05 pm #

      Brita filters soften water, they do not technically filter it.

      To make water safe to drink you will need a filter made for that purpose. You can find them on Amazon and at almost any outdoor pursuits store.

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