South East Asia is a common destination for many. Speaking from experience of visiting the popular haunts of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos four or five years ago, statistics show that visitors have drastically increased since then, making this area of the world, the hottest destination for backpackers and holiday makers (bar Australia).
But there are other countries in South East Asia which are as equally as stunning or even more so (I vote even more so… Indonesia is one!) and so I urge you to explore the path which isn’t as well trodden as others. I have compiled a list of things any visitor should know before exploring this area of the world.
1. Each Country is Different
Each country in South East Asia is wonderfully unique. Some visitors expect countries to be the same because they are all in the same part of the world, fortunately, this is not the case. Each country has its own personal history which will take you on a journey; a culture that will immerse you into their life, traditions that will dazzle you, a religion that’ll silence you in admiration, delicious food which will tempt you and make you fat (it’s the truth lets face it), natural beauty that’ll send shivers down your spine and people who will warm your heart. Stop looking for similarities between the countries you visit and focus on each country individually, taking in everything as you go. There is a reason why I am so in love with Asia, that is because each country is different.
2. Bartering Is Key
Bartering is part of the culture in many areas of the world and South East Asia is one of them. It shows skill, wit and is a way for tourists to connect with locals. Just be careful when bartering, do remember not to offend someone and think about how much that price difference would mean to them in relation to you.
3. Be Wary Of The Tricks of The Trade
Now this is very cheeky. There are many scams that are in place throughout Asia and unfortunately travelling is not all sunshine and rainbows. Be wary of new friends you make as soon as they start talking about their product or shop, and when visiting any recommended accommodation or shops by a passer by, keep in mind you may be paying a commission if they have taken you there. Other common scams are: being taken to a gem shop or a government shop for free petrol or rice for the driver, “religious” bracelets or marks given who will then demand payment after, tour guides who are “not tour guides” and being told your ticket is invalid or your hostel is burnt down. Always follow your intuition.
4. The Art of Padlocks
These bad boys are the best thing to have whilst travelling. Bring 3 or 4 as each can be used for different things. Locking your belongings away whilst travelling on any public transport is a no brainer, and using your own personal lock on a locker in your hostel or even on your hotel room door is advisable. Always bring a padlock with you when you are out and about, you never know when you might need it.
5. Is it Really Suncream?
Before you gallivant around the globe on an incredible adventure, do make sure you have your necessary and beloved items from home you want to take with you (as well as a photocopy of your passport and insurance in a hidden section of your bag and some emergency American dollars- which is widely accepted throughout Asia). I unfortunately bought some “local” sun cream in Sri Lanka, which consisted of milk, thus I ended up with painful sunburnt legs on some of the nicest beaches in Asia. Not an enjoyable time, believe me. Although with some countries like Thailand and Malaysia, it is easy to communicate your needs and to find your desires, but a remote village in India will not have the same flexibility. Keep this in mind when travelling (running out of my birth control pill in Indonesia was a frightful experience, especially as areas of the country are strictly Muslim, luckily I found some American exported drugs in the Gili Islands!).
6. Learn The Lingo
As I said before, Asia has numerous visitors from all over the world who flock to the sandy shores to soak up the sun, explore ancient jungle covered ruins, hike through luminous layered rice terraces and whisper in awe at glittering golden temples. What local people always appreciate, is visitors making an effort at immersing themselves into the culture and the way of life, not being a tourist but a traveller. You can do this by learning a few simple key phrases to use when interacting with local people, this breaks the barrier of difference between the both of you, provides a point of conversation and communication, and highlights that you respect and understand their culture.
7. Free for All On Roads
Everything and anything can and will be on the roads in Asia. Cows and other farmyard animals are to be expected, grinding their jaws on odd bits of plastic as they wander past you, rickety buses jam packed with families overflowing out of doors is a regular occurrence, as well as cars, tuk tuks, rickshaws, motorbikes and cyclists. India definitely has the most dangerous roads with their relaxed attitude to lane control and accidents, however Vietnam is an incredibly difficult place to cross the road. When crossing the road, do so confidently, always keeping an eye on the traffic, even stopping and starting in the middle of the road according to the flow. When driving on the roads yourself, always remember: the bigger the vehicle the more right of way they have.
8. How To Check A Room Well
Always make time to check a room out before you choose to stay there and pay, although it can be a tiring routine when you have travelled far, it is worth it if it means avoiding places that will cause you problems. First, check if the door closes and locks, or if your own personal lock fits. Second check the beds for any bed bugs by seeing if there are any black dots in the corners of your mattress (they are an absolute nightmare once you have them and are irritating as hell), following this, see if the beds are comfy themselves. Then, check for curtains, storage space (any which you can lock is a bonus) as well as flushing the toilet and turning on the shower to see if it works. Once done, look around the accommodation for any roads or construction sites which might potentially disturb your sleep.
9. Act Local
No matter what job or lifestyle you had before arriving in South East Asia, you will most likely adopt the uniform which all backpackers immediately clad when arriving here. Cue baggy Aladdin trousers, loosely fitted baggy wife beater esque style tops for men and patterned belly bearing tops for women. Although seemingly stylish, remember that some of this attire may attract unwanted attention. In most places in Asia, women cover the entirety of their body, paying attention to their shoulders and legs to cover. Adhere to local custom so you are respectful and remember to adopt the attitude of their culture by focusing on local personal experiences and unique independent businesses with home stays and restaurants, to help support the local community and gain a more authentic experience.
10. Be Respectful
Countries in South East Asia are extremely religious and an incredible sight you will get to see often, is ornately decorated temples and stunning mosques that are hidden behind every street corner, or stand magnificently over a town. Adjust to seeing pictures of gods hanging on walls or above shop doors, by being respectful and mindful of their religion and beliefs, and always wait for your local companion to eat first. They might want to pray before their meal which during so, you should pay your respects by sitting and waiting patiently, looking down at your meal.
I hope these tips help you on your new and exciting adventure! If you are going to the specific country of India, read through my Reflections of The Country to prepare you, as well as my Top Ten List of Things You Should Know, before you go! If not, have a look at a specific country by checking out my travel destinations 🙂