BlogRants/ThoughtsSoutheast Asia

The Rat Factor: What is the Cleanest Country in Southeast Asia?

Everyone says not to judge books by their covers, but if you’re lazily looking for a quick way to review them then there really is no better way. I took the same attitude when trying to decide the cleanest country in Southeast Asia. Sure, I could have done a whole lot of research and bombarded you with facts and figures – but to be honest, the only figure I really care about is the number of rats I see (I have a fear of rats, check out this post to find out why). The rat factor may be a flawed system, but it’s as good as any other and could 1 day be the official cleanliness yardstick in respected publications like Lonely Planet (as long as they pay me for using my idea!).

Here is a list of countries in Southeast Asia, from the dirtiest (or home to the most rats that decided to reveal themselves to me) to the cleanest. Before you scroll down, see if you can guess the cleanest country in Southeast Asia – you might be surprised!


Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is a haven for rats. I saw quite a few on the streets – it’s the kind of place where it’s better not to look down into gutters and drains! I also saw 1 in a market in Kota Kinabalu, as well as a few hanging around the restaurants and bars there. I saw 1 in Kuching and 1 stuck in a cage in a town near Ipoh, but thankfully I didn’t see any on the islands I visited.


I saw a lot of rats in Thailand, so many in fact that I became less and less scared each time I saw one. They seemed to be all over Bangkok – particularly in the Khao San Road area, and I even saw them running on the streets from the windows of taxis. I also saw a few in Chiang Mai and one in Kanchanaburi.


Seeing a rat running past your table in a restaurant is never a good thing, but you almost get used to it in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It happened to me at least 3 times and is one of the reasons I didn’t really enjoy my time there. I could also hear one clawing at the wall of my guesthouse – it was desperate to get in so I stood guard for an hour or so, banging at the wall every few minutes to try and scare it away.  I eventually yielded so I could get some sleep – I’m not sure if the rat’s siege paid off or if my defences held up but I hope it was the latter. I also saw a few on the streets of Hanoi, and I’ve heard horror stories of rats onboard the Ha Long Bay cruise boats – I never saw one though.


Cities in the Philippines are pretty grim, and while I didn’t see any in the small amount of time I spent in Manila and Cebu, the 2 biggest cities in the country, I saw plenty in smaller provincial capitals. I saw the biggest rat I’ve ever seen outside a guesthouse in Dumaguete, Negros. I saw 3 or 4 more in the 2 nights I spent there, including one in my guesthouse’s lobby. I also saw a few in Tagbilaran, the smallish capital of Bohol and I’m pretty sure I could hear some in a guesthouse in Sabang, Palawan.


I only saw rats in the capital, Phnom Penh, but I did see a lot of them. They run rampant down by the river and often venture into the restaurants nearby. I once saw a huge one right next to the table I was eating at. I alerted the waitress who thought it was hilarious that I was scared of a rat. She said they see them all the time but that I shouldn’t worry – they come over from the river (I don’t know why that’d make a difference!). I never saw rats anywhere else in Cambodia, but I did hear that Koh Rong, an awesome island that you should definitely check out if you’re in the area, had a huge rat problem. I stayed in a guesthouse full of cats so I was safe.

cleanest country in Southeast Asia


I didn’t see as many rats as I expected in Indonesia (that might be tempting fate though; I have about 2 more weeks left of my current Indonesian adventure). I saw 1 in Jakarta and 1 in my room on Rote Island. That was quite a disturbing discovery, but my mosquito net was so good that I felt pretty safe.


I lived in Singapore for 2 years and saw 3 rats. 1 was near a hawker centre in Tampines, a middle class Singaporean suburb that no tourists visit. I also saw a couple near the beach at East Coast Park, but rats in open spaces like that don’t worry me so much.


I didn’t see any rats running around Laos (I spent 6 weeks there), but I did see a little girl in a small village holding a bunch of about 5 dead ones by their tails. I’m not sure what she was doing with them but I’d be very concerned if I was forced to eat a meal in that village.

And the cleanest country in Southeast Asia is…Myanmar

I didn’t see any rats during my month long trip in Myanmar, making it (according to the rat factor) the cleanest country in Southeast Asia! I hope the tourism board finds out about this important award and feels very proud.

Do you agree with this list? Is Myanmar really the cleanest country in Southeast Asia? Did you see a lot of rats while travelling in the area? Let me know!

*I didn’t include Brunei in this list as I only spent 2 days there – but I didn’t see any rats!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. July 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm — Reply

    Ahh, I’m in Bangkok at the minute and my friend and I were horrified to see TWO rats crawling around of fruit stalls at a local market…near Ko San. Definitely started triple washing fruit and veg after seeing that!

    – Keyta

    • July 17, 2014 at 9:02 pm — Reply

      Haha, sounds horrible!! I saw so many around Ko San Road!

  2. July 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm — Reply

    Ha, great post. I think people worry too much about it though, I have seen as many rats on my visits to London and NY as I have on my visits to Asia. As long as they aren’t sat on your plate at a restaurant you’ll probably be fine! Haha! I’m surprised you saw any in Singapore though, I have spent probably 60% of the last few years in Singapore and never saw a single one! I think it is the cleanest, safest country I have ever seen. (P.S I absolutely LOVE Singapore!) ;D

    • July 17, 2014 at 9:04 pm — Reply

      Yeah, Singapore is definitely clean, but the suburbs are a little rough round the edges in parts. It’s amazing the change as soon as you cross the border into Malaysia though – so much rubbish everywhere!

  3. July 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm — Reply

    Agree! We also saw the most rats in Malaysia!

    • July 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm — Reply

      Glad I’m not the only one!

  4. July 18, 2014 at 2:32 am — Reply

    You seem to attract rats. Is there something you’re not telling us? 🙂

    From your list I’ve only been to Vietnam (2 weeks) and Thailand (8 hours) and didn’t see a hairy critter in either. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough? 🙂

    • July 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm — Reply

      Maybe they can sense my fear! I’m actually quite surprised you didn’t see a rat in Thailand in 8 hours haha!

  5. July 18, 2014 at 5:43 am — Reply

    That is a very interesting question Jon. Thinking back, I actually don’t recall seeing rats in Myanmar, but then again I rather pay attention to cockroaches than rats. Calling Myanmar the cleanest country is definitely quite far-fetched and I personally would have suggested Singapore and the winner. But who wants to argue with your rat factor? 😉

    • July 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm — Reply

      Haha, well I wanted to come up with an answer that wasn’t Singapore, and it worked!

  6. July 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm — Reply

    I love it! A good way to tell…the rat factor. I see rats all over Europe, too!

    • July 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm — Reply

      It’s one aspect of Europe I’m not looking forward to!

  7. July 22, 2014 at 11:50 pm — Reply

    Very interesting.Where is China in this list I wonder? Saw lots of rats in India,Thailand and Vietnam also never saw any in Laos.Wonder if someone ate them? LOL

    • July 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm — Reply

      I just kept it to Southeast Asia this time – I did see a few rats in China but mostly out in the countryside. I’m heading to India soon and I’m dreading running into a lot of rats.

  8. Kierra
    September 11, 2014 at 12:24 am — Reply

    I was so excited about travelling all through Southeast Asia, but now that you have shared this I am terrified! I have the hugest phobia of rats and I honestly don’t think I can handle seeing on…even if I could handle seeing one I might die if one ran across the table or floor while I’m eating! I’m almost certain my heart would stop. That is how dramatic I am when it comes to rats… Oh God help! Lol

    • September 11, 2014 at 12:33 am — Reply

      Haha, just stick to Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Brunei and you’ll be fine! The other places really aren’t that bad either, and the more rats you see the less scary they are – for me anyway.

  9. November 7, 2014 at 8:50 pm — Reply

    My thing is cockroaches. That’s a deal breaker.

  10. December 9, 2014 at 11:37 am — Reply

    Have seen so many rats and cockroaches over the last 3 months in Thailand. Funny, as a tourist going to the islands you don’t usually see them, but this time we’ve used Bangkok and Hua Hin as bases for work and seen tons. Enough that we get a bit nervous walking out after dark..then there’s of course the soi dogs as well…
    Frank (bbqboy)

  11. Rawiri
    September 22, 2016 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    I had the rat-in-the-restaurant experience in Penang (yes that’s in Malaysia ?).

    That place is a foodies paradise though, so it’s worth entertaining a rat or two all the same!

    • September 27, 2016 at 2:20 am — Reply

      I had another one in a cafe in Hoi An, Vietnam today. These rat encounters never get easier!

  12. May 31, 2017 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon, Its Funny post. I am from Myanmar and my country is most rat country in South East Asia. Too many rats in Downtown back street. Size bigger and like cat.

    • June 1, 2017 at 5:44 pm — Reply

      Haha, you’re making me think twice about returning to Myanmar! Maybe I just got lucky the first time.

  13. Jonpepe
    March 28, 2018 at 3:35 am — Reply

    Ha ha, you don’t have a chance to see any rats in Myanmar because all those were being caught by them to be eaten!

    • March 28, 2018 at 11:06 am — Reply

      Haha, I hope I didn’t eat any!

    • Denton
      June 10, 2018 at 6:51 pm — Reply

      Glad to hear it, Did you enjoy your rat curry and rice?

  14. Peter
    October 2, 2018 at 6:58 pm — Reply

    I spent 3 days in Yangon and saw a dead rat near the sewer. I felt like Myanmar was actually less clean and developed compared to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. Definitely less touristy (that could be a good or bad thing depending on who you are). There was a bit more trash on the streets as well. It seemed that the culture of Myanmar was a mix of South East Asian and Indian. Interesting article!

    • October 5, 2018 at 5:28 am — Reply

      Hey Peter, I think I was pretty lucky not to see any rats in Myanmar! Did you visit Myanmar recently? I went back in 2012, I’ve heard it’s changed quite a bit since then.

  15. Sam Silva
    January 6, 2019 at 11:26 am — Reply

    I don’t know who make these comments. Bangkok is pretty dirty even in tourist areas. Phuket is OK! Philippines? Give me a break! All Chinese towns except Singapore are dirty!

    Take a trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka and see how a clean city look like!

    • January 9, 2019 at 8:33 am — Reply

      Hey Sam, yeah it’s not the most serious article! I have been to Colombo but only passed through — will have to return one day!

  16. Marvel Christy
    February 25, 2019 at 6:10 am — Reply

    Aka. Blogger Rat Hater 😍❤

  17. Mickee Naparan
    September 16, 2019 at 11:00 pm — Reply

    Philippines? Nahh… as a Filipina and as living in the Philippines, in my life I just saw like 2~3 rats in my life. They’re not that big though.. and, hey! There are 12 Philippine City in the list of cleanest city in Southeast Asia. And, there are 3 from Thailand!😊

    • September 18, 2019 at 5:44 am — Reply

      That’s good to hear — hopefully your luck doesn’t change!

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