The Lead Standard: A Look at Saigon’s Tap Water

In How-To, Vietnam by Nick4 Comments

Nothing scares the shit out of travelers more than third-world tap water.

Forget human trafficking, child prostitution and terrorism. Don’t brush your teeth with Calcuttan water; you’ll get the clap. Don’t bathe in Tangiers’ water; your nipples will fall off. Don’t even turn on the sink in Guadalajara; 30-foot sharks have been known to maul unsuspecting dishwashers as of late.

Sometimes we have access to too much information. We are overwhelmed with data to the point where indecision borders on paralysis.

Take prostate cancer. Doctors are able to detect many diseases earlier and earlier, leading to a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario where you can either live with the knowledge you have a potentially fatal disease, OR undergo early surgery with potentially drastic ramifications of its own.

Simply put, we have the tools to gather information like never before, but our ability to do something with that data hasn’t kept pace.

It’s the same with drinking Saigon’s dirty tap water (yeah, it’s gross).

How dirty, though?

Pick Your Poison

We’ve got your trusty ol’ lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. Toss in some E. coli, various other bacteria and the parasite Giardia. Next up we’ve got the first-world problem of antibiotics and toxic nonylphenol ethoxylates. Top it all off with some raw sewage and garbage and you don’t ever want to drink water again, do you?

Ice isn’t safe either, since most companies can’t be bothered to comply with already-lax safety standards. Currently munching ice, so take that with a grain of salt.

At least you can buy bottled water, though. Oh, shit. Never mind. Those findings were from way back in 2009, but that might not be enough to convince you of your water’s safety.

Especially considering just 4.14% of Saigon’s suburban households have access to clean tap water.

OK, but the sky isn’t exactly falling. I’m not dead.

Water, Water Everywhere

Here are your options if you don’t want to import water from our shining city on a hill in the west.

  1. Buy bottled water. Despite that 2009 report, I think bottled water is generally your best bet. A big 5L bastard is only a dollar, and if you plan on staying in town longer than a week or so you can order a 20L jug for about $2.50 (and the jug itself is $2, but you keep it. Refills are about 50 cents). Just ask your landlord/neighbors which company they use. They will probably even call them for you to set up delivery. Smaller bottles are available at the many convenience stores sprinkled around the city.
  2. Filter/boil tap water. Truth be told, I’m just boiling tap water to drink. But if you want to actually remove the metals and shit, you need a filter too. Electric kettles cost less than ten bucks, filters are vary depending on how well they do their job.
  3. Use water purification tablets. Still doesn’t remove metals.
  4. YOLO drink tap water. Not recommended.
  5. Drink river water with a crazy straw because you’re nuts.
  6. Grab a refreshing glass of cemetery water.

Here’s why I don’t have a $10k water filtration system installed on my toilet—western tap water isn’t exactly clean, either.

Clean Like Your Cousin’s Driving Record

Well, maybe it is depending on how you define “clean.”

American tap water is clean in a sense that, no, you probably aren’t going to get a six-week bout of diarrhea from a New York City water fountain.

But considering much of America’s water treatment facilities are close to a century outdated, there’s no way to filter out all the shit from pharmaceuticals we dump down the drain every day—a class of pollutant the scientists and engineers of the early 1900s couldn’t have accounted for.

Just consider that the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure—given by the American Society of Civil Engineers—gives our drinking water supply an abysmal D.

“But the low concentrations of estrogen in our tap water hasn’t been shown to have any adverse side effects in people!”

No, it’s just causing severe physiological changes in fish. And even if there was a proven link, it would cost the government literally trillions of dollars to overhaul our water delivery system.

Live Dangerously—Drink Water

Is this a post to shit on the United States? Nope.

Let’s bring it all home. I drink tap water in the US, and I drink it in Vietnam (after boiling). I also enjoy going to the beach, despite wading in the ocean being just as dangerous as walking blindly into a jungle. I know there are sharks in the ocean, and I know there are little beasties in my iced tea right now.

There is a difference between being carefree and reckless, but some people are stuck in a little bubble where the two words are exact synonyms.

Buy bottled water or boil it. Don’t worry about getting sick and dying in a dingy third-world hospital unless you’re already immunocompromised.

And for a taste that can’t be beat, make sure to try that cemetery water—now with 37% more corpse juice. Cemetery water—a Saigon favorite for longer than you’d like to know.

Have your vacation plans ever been ruined by Montezuma’s/Ho Chi Minh’s/George Washington’s Revenge?


    1. Author

      No need, I get them from the canal water down by the train tracks. Thanks for checking though!

    1. Author

      This isn’t the last we’ll hear from cemetery water. SPOILERZ

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