You have just arrived at your hotel or resort from a super long flight to Vietnam, they greet you with a nice glass of juice or tea. But Wait! There is ice in it! Can I drink this ice? Oh no, you are so thirsty though! What do you do?
Can I Drink Ice in Vietnam? Yes, most of the ice you will encounter is clean and you will be able to drink it. There are two types of ice in Vietnam and one of them isn’t filtered and should not be drunk. As a customer, you will rarely ever encounter this type of ice. This is for commercial use only, and not for drinking. Most Restaurants, Hotels, and even street vendors will not serve dirty ice to customers, this would be really bad for their business as everyone, even local Vietnamese, can not drink dirty ice.
That’s why a company like Back of the Bike Tours exists providing Vietnamese food tours so we can navigate our customers to safe and hygienic eating places.
How do you Avoid Dirty Ice in Vietnam?
There isn’t a 100% guarantee that you can avoid ice that is a bit dirty from being mishandled, for example. I’m talking about a bag of ice that is put on the ground for a minute or some lady scooping ice with a dirty hand. Will that bit of mishandling make you incredibly sick? I highly doubt it.
As a traveller, you need to be concerned about a vendor or restaurant who is grossly mishandling their ice or purchasing from an unreliable source to save money. If it’s a hygiene problem and safety issue, then that isn’t the ice’s fault and you can’t avoid that 100% of the time no matter what you do, even in Western Countries.
The common sense approach to this is going to be thinking about it logically. Which type of vendor or restaurant is trying to save such a small amount of money and risk their reputation by serving dirty ice? These are going to be street food vendors serving a very cheap meal in a very poor area or a failing restaurant that is being mismanaged. If you eat in popular busy restaurants, street food vendors, cafes, and hotels that aren’t located in very rural poor areas, You aren’t going to be at much risk of getting contaminated Ice. These places will not risk their reputation for such an easily solved problem.
How does Ice become Contaminated or “Dirty”?
A lot of quality inspections are carried out regularly by the food and safety authorities but dirty ice cannot be completely controlled and prevented from being served to customers across Vietnam.
Contamination can occur at the source used to make the ice, the packaging process, the transportation of the ice, or the distribution. That is a lot of moving parts to control in a developing country like Vietnam. As long as a vendor or restaurant are purchasing the right type of ice, a risk of serious contamination is still rather low as the reputation of so many are on the line to deliver a safe product to customers.
What does clean ice look like?
While there’s no way to be 100% certain that the ice you consume in Vietnam is safe for health, there are a ton of safe and qualified ice manufacturers. A big safety tip with ice is to look out for commercially made ice with cylindrical shape and a hole in it. Generally speaking, this type of ice is the safest, costliest to produce, to store, and to preserve. Only large manufacturers having more modern machines can produce it.
This type of ice is usually found at large “beer restaurants” where it is common to drink beer over ice. It can also be found in coffee shops and restaurants perfect to drink with juice and coffee.
The other type of clean ice you will commonly come across will be the small “chips” of ice. These are commonly found in Ice Coffee, Juice, and Tea as well.
What Kind of Ice in Vietnam should I be Wary of or Avoid Completely?
Large blocks of ice that get broken into smaller pieces. This is where you are gonna see your biggest issues. If you are at a vendor or restaurant who looks like they are breaking up giant chunks of ice, perhaps you can avoid it. 99% of the time, you would probably be okay. If you are easily susceptible to getting sick though, it may not be worth the risk.
These big chunks of ice are the cheapest and easiest to make, so these companies are probably not hiring the most astute employees. Which is where you might come across more of likelihood of some type of contamination.
Another tip is to look at the color. From the outside, if the ice shows signs of slightly turbid color and contains many bubbles, strange smell, it is dirty ice. Purified ice, on the other hand, has a clear crystal-like color, without any strange smell or residue.
Can I drink Ice Safely in Restaurants and Hotels in Vietnam?
Restaurants, Hotels, and even local restaurants aren’t going to serve you dirty ice. At least not on purpose, there would need to be a major mismanagement of the ice in order for it to be contaminated in a way that would make someone sick. These large companies would not dare risk their brand, and smaller mom and pop owned restaurants would not risk their livelihood.
When contamination does occur at a restaurant or hotel, it isn’t going to be from someone buying dirty ice, it would be contamination coming from staff most likely not the water source.
Iced Tea is everywhere, should I drink it?
In Vietnam, the water is sometimes replaced by a light tea called “Tra da” in Vietnamese. It is a popular drink usually served with street food for free.
I have never had a problem from drinking ice tea from cafes, restaurants, or even street food vendors. This does come down to common sense though, if you think a restaurant or vendor is a little too dirty or slow, don’t feel bad about not drinking the tea they offer. Iced Coffee is huge in Vietnam as well, check out this article about drinking and buying safe coffee in Vietnam if you want to learn more.
If after all this information you still feel skeptical, that is totally okay. It is your trip so you should do the best you can to enjoy it without any concerns. Simply, tell the waiter or waitress to serve you drinks without ice. In Vietnamese, that would be “Khong Da”.
You are being a smart traveler asking great questions about food safety and hygiene. Check us out if you want to know more about our Vietnam Travel Tips.
Overall, being prepared is the best tip for travelling to anywhere including Vietnam. After reading this guide about Ice in Vietnam, I hope that you feel more comfortable and ready for your trip to my beautiful country. If you find our tips helpful, please feel free to share our article so that other travelers can gain some local knowledge and feel even more confident about their future trip as well!