Oh my god – they’ve put ice in my drink, I’m going to die a horrible death! Southeast Asian ice cubes are a short cut to a stomach pump in the nearest hospital! A commonly believed myth maintained by certain guide books, but these days, in much of the region, simply false.
Firstly it’s well known that drinking very cold drinks when you are very hot is enough to upset your stomach regardless of what kind of ice you have in it! Secondly, after drinking 10 bottles of Singha Beer – local style with ice – then it may just not be the ice that is making you feel so bad the next morning!
In much of Southeast Asia these days tap water is officially drinkable. That said most locals are equally, and accurately, aware that it’s not so much the water but the pipes it comes through that are the problem, so only very rarely in this part of the world would you see local people drinking a glass of tap water or indeed making ice cubes out of it. The vast majority of ice – especially for bars and restaurants – is purchased very cheaply in sealed bags and comes straight from the ice factory where it is made using sterilized water.
It’s in nobody’s interest to give the customers, whether local or foreign, food poisoning from dodgy ice cubes! Now in poorer parts of the region such as Cambodia and Laos, you will see ice delivered in large blocks on the back of a truck or cart!? Café owners will buy a chunk and see it sawn off the block on the pavement in front of them, Well, the ice might just be ok but transport conditions certainly won’t be ideal. Locals’ stomachs may be used to it but, as a tourist – best to avoid it! (They don’t though, as I was informed recently, freeze Mekong River water to put in your iced coffee!?). But that’s in street cafes in poorer areas and the ice, in irregular shaped shavings and chunks, is clearly not the same as the nice regular shaped, rounded ice tourist cafes will put in your Apsara Sunrise, Siem Reap Slammer or whatever their cocktail of the week is. Anyway, your guides and tour-leaders are there to help you – are aware of where and when to consume the ice or not – so with a few obvious precautions, a couple of ice cubes in your soda’s really not a big deal and not automatically putting your Southeast Asian holiday at risk! Anyway, cheers!