Last night I touched down in Bangkok, a city I’ve visited more than most, and am looking forward to eating terrific food, seeing glorious things, and having a blast. What I won’t be doing is drinking the tap water.
Despite all the infrastructure improvements and exponential rise in tourism numbers over the past two decades, Thailand still doesn’t treat its tap water. Unfortunately, they’re far from alone. In most of the cheapest places to travel, you’re more likely to find fast internet than drinkable water. (In some of them you’ll get neither.)
This leaves us travelers with the problem of having to contribute to the world’s collective plastic trash pile every time we drink from a single-use plastic bottle of water, or we have to carry around a water purifier like a SteriPEN or Camelbak All Clear. I’ve ranted enough on here for you to know where I stand on that issue and you can check in with Travelers Against Plastic to learn just how bad things are around the globe.
It’s a depressingly sure rule of thumb that you’re better off assuming you need to keep your mouth closed in the shower in most bargain travel destinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “No countries on the continents of Africa and South America contain water suitable for drinking” and there are only “a handful in Asia: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Israel and South Korea.” These are of course, the wealthiest spots in Asia, though you’ve gotta wonder what’s up with the Arab Emirates.
Are there any departures from the norm though? Are any of the cheapest places to travel also places that respect their citizens enough to invest in water treatment facilities? Yes, a few. Put your hands together for these standouts. As you might expect, most of them are in Europe.
Czech Republic – Probably the cheapest destination on this entire list (outside of Prague anyway) and one where you’ll want to supplement your drinking water with the excellent local beer.
Poland – Not high on a lot of travelers’ bucket list, but a large country that is the last place you can drink the water if heading east. After this it’s the old Soviet Union until you get to the Pacific Ocean.
Macedonia – Greece’s seldom-visited neighbor to the north is the last clean tap water frontier before hitting a wasteland that extends from the Balkans through the former Iron Curtain countries all the way up to Finland.
Slovakia – This one does not get a clean bill of health from the CDC, but it does from travelers and residents of the places where tourists would go. They have treated municipal water in populated areas such as Bratislava and Kosice. I’m guessing some rural parts of the country don’t, thus the omission.
Hungary – As with Slovakia, the whole country doesn’t get a clean bill of health, but any place a tourist would go has treated water.
Chile – You can drink the tap water, which is treated and closely regulated, in all populated regions of Chile. Take precautions in rural areas using well water.
– You can’t drink the water all over Ecuador, but you can in its favorite city for expatriates: Cuenca.
– Many resorts and upscale vacation/retirement home communities around the world have taken things into their own hands and all their water is treated before reaching your home or room. This is especially true in resort areas of Mexico.
Where You’re Most Likely to Get Sick
It’s no surprise to those who have suffered from Delhi Belly or become temporary vegetarians: Delhi is the most unsanitary place on the planet. In some spots, like Mumbai, there is heavily chlorinated tap water, but overall it’s a dangerous place. Here’s a prime cause, according to the CDC: India has “626 million people who practice open defecation, has more than twice the number of the next 18 countries combined.”
Others high on that “crapping in public” list include Indonesia (#2), Nepal (#7), China (#8), and Cambodia (#12).
In all fairness though, India and China are working hardest to improve the situation, city by city. African countries lauded for their improvements in meeting World Health Organization targets include Malawi, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Namibia, and Gambia.