In Vietnam, there are plenty of cute and harmless urban animals: the friendly neighbourhood dog that pads along the sidewalk, the lazy cat that skirts in and out of alleyways, the little gecko that’s just sort of part of the wall. But then there are the significantly more annoying creatures — and that’s when you call Absolute Pest Control. Words by Margaret Smith, photos by Kyle Phanroy


You’re sitting at home when suddenly the worst thing imaginable happens. A roof rat — which, by the way, can squeeze its whole body through any hole that’s big enough to fit its head — has made its way into your house. What do you do?


Your first thought is probably to call your landlord, who will maybe set up some sticky paper or send up the security guard. Yet as Vietnam has grown over the past few decades so has the need for professional exterminators. Southeast Asia already has optimal weather conditions for rats and insects — but combine that with urban development and sanitation, and you have a pest’s paradise.


“Think of it from both the residential and the commercial aspect,” says Curt Rischar, a managing partner of pest management service Absolute Pest Control. “You have property that is high-end property here, as far as anyone is concerned… yet that property has been plunked right down in perhaps an environment that would be very different from a Hawaii or Singapore.”


Humidity, constant development, hygiene and sanitation infrastructure issues — it already sounds like a losing battle. How’s a regular human supposed to match up? We decided to follow the boys of Absolute Pest Control, who have been in the business since 1995, as they bring out the big guns for some of their more difficult jobs — and we’re only half-joking about the guns.


In an Apartment Complex

District 1, Ho Chi Minh City



We’re standing at the entrance of a villa in District 1, complete with wood floors, high ceilings, cream-colored walls and a private patio. As he takes off his shoes, exterminator Khuong walks in with two bags — a messenger bag slung over his shoulder and a thick, square briefcase that looks straight out of a heist movie.


Today’s task is to check if any termites found the previously installed bait box, which carries insecticide. Khuong unclips the briefcase and takes out the Termicam, a handheld thermal camera that looks like a laser tag gun. The Termicam detects moisture — which attracts termites — and termite movement through walls.


Curt explains that the Termicam is a big improvement from scopes and motion detectors. “With the thermal imaging,” he says, “you can look at a wall, you can look at a ceiling, you can look at door frames and it will you give you information that may be very, very useful.”


First Khuong checks the skirting, the wooden strip that outlines the bottom of the wall. A blue screen pops up on the Termicam. As Khuong slowly walks around the room, we finally make our way to the bait box. There’s a hole in the corner of the wall where the wood has fallen apart.
Khuong points the Termicam, and on the blue screen three black dots appear. He explains that these aren’t termites, just moisture damage, but the damage proves that termites have been in the area. Time to check the bait and see if the job is done.


A Residential Job

District 2, Ho Chi Minh City



Early Wednesday morning and we’re on a residential job in District 2, checking the house for pests and performing chemical work. As we walk through the gate and look at the neatly manicured lawn, flies and mosquitoes start buzzing around our legs.


The four exterminators we’re following start to suit up in green rubber gloves and set up the day’s equipment: compressor sprayers filled with insecticide and something called a thermal fogger, that quite frankly looks like a grenade launcher.


Chuyen, the team leader, and another exterminator head to the backyard. First they check the two bait stations. These are designed for rats. The square plastic boxes have one hole carved in on each side. The idea is that the rat will scurry in one end, eat the poisonous bait, and scurry out the other end.


“This is the rat of the plague of Europe, climbing the ropes and the ships and this kind of thing,” says Curt, who has tagged along with us today. “They’re native to Southeast Asia, so they’re naturally in coconut trees and in the countryside. But in urban situations, like all over the world, they do really well.”


Next they examine both inside and outside of the house: under the porch, around curtains, in plants, and through every corner. Inside, insecticide is only sprayed in the bathroom drainpipes in order to keep the chemicals to a minimum. Outside, however, they give the house’s perimeter full treatment.


The final step is the thermal fogger, which creates chemical fog to target flying pests like mosquitoes and flies. It takes a while to turn on; the electric starter doesn’t seem to be working. With one last push, however, the fogger roars to life. The exterminator puts on a gas mask and large earphones, walking around the house as fog follows him. The sound it makes is something like the sound in movies when the apocalypse is starting.


And for some of these insects, this is the end of the world. As we walk out, Curt points out a cockroach on the ground. It’s having trouble walking, and each time it finds its footing it falls back down. Twisting and turning on the ground, Curt says that the cockroach has come into contact with the insecticide. It’s at the end of its life.


Check out your pest control options at With operations in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hai Phong and Nha Trang, Absolute Pest Control can take care of most any pest problem



Pest Control at Home



What should you do before you call in the pros? Here are some tips:


— Keep your windows and doors closed to keep out flying pests and any other creepy crawlers. Fresh air is nice, but a mosquito flying around your bedroom is not


— Make sure to keep your food contained, the easiest way to ward off rats and ants


— Get rid of any dirty, standing water. Even that bucket you keep in the bathroom for ‘emergencies’


— Check with your neighbours. With the close proximity of property here, pests can move from house to house with ease. If you can’t do anything to control your neighbours’ mess, at the very least you’ll know where the problem is when you call the professionals


— Ant chalk, also known as ‘Miraculous Insecticide Chalk’, is an insecticide in the form of a stick of chalk. Although miraculous for its clean and fun approach to pest control, it’s also been implicated in a number of accidental child poisonings



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