Southeast Asia is a beautiful, friendly, spiritual, chaotic and an all-together non-stop adventure. Comprising of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam, you will never be at a shortage of places to visit and things to see. Southeast Asia has rich and diverse cultures, beautiful landscapes, delicious food, and some of the friendliest people in the world. Best of all: traveling here is dirt-cheap! Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s paradise, and after reading this article, you’ll be prepared and ready to travel to these beautiful lands, taste the cuisine, meet the locals and make some lasting memories.
10 Tips To Help Master Traveling In Southeast Asia
I have spent over six months traveling Southeast Asia; I’ve been to Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My first taste of Southeast Asia was Bali, Indonesia. I thought I was prepared: I had done my research on what to expect, bought a Lonely Planet book and even watched some YouTube videos. But they never really explain how much of a culture shock Southeast Asia is, and how many things don’t go as planned. I’ve learned so much information during my six months here, and continue to learn more every day. Follow these 10 tips below so you can avoid the mistakes I made, and get a jump start on your amazing and unforgettable experience throughout these wonderful countries.
1. Pack Light!
If you aren’t aware already, then understand that Southeast Asia is hot! It’s located around the equator, and every day consists of 80-90+ degrees and humidity. So leave behind those jeans and jackets. Try to fit all your belongings into one carry-on backpack. This will save you so much money on airplane fees to Southeast Asia, and flights between countries. Also, you’ll be on the move all the time and won’t want to be lugging around a massive 30-pound backpack.
Here is a packing list to get you started.
2. Buy Good Traveler’s Insurance
Southeast Asia is full of hazards. Driving alone can be a dangerous venture, as there are no rules of the road here; everything goes. And you’ll probably want to go hiking up some volcanoes, venturing out to see wild mountains in the jungles, snorkeling. Anything could go wrong and when it does you want to make sure you’re covered.
3. Bring At Least $100 USD Cash With You
Some visas on arrivals require you to pay in US dollars, as do certain border crossings. Also, you never know when you’ll be short on the local currency and in a tight spot. It is always good to have USD on hand in case you need to bribe yourself out of a situation. I had to do this once at a border crossing…which leads me to my next tip.
4. Bring Passport Photos!
These are not literally pictures of your passport; rather they are simply photos of you against a white background. You can have these made at the DMV, or really anywhere that takes professional photos. I wasn’t aware of this when I crossed in Cambodia from Thailand, and had to bribe the border control officer with U.S. dollars.
5. Research Visa Requirements For The Countries You Plan To Visit
Some countries in Southeast Asia don’t require visas, while other require you pay for a visa on arrival, and some you need to apply for online. Have a rough idea of which countries you plan on visiting, and make sure to you give yourself enough time for your visa to be accepted. The Myanmar visa can take up to two weeks.
6. Pack Necessary Medicine
Southeast Asia is full of amazing, authentic cuisine. But regardless of how careful you are with the food you eat, you will undoubtedly get sick. It is a right of passage, and something you should accept before going. So be prepared and pack Pepto Bismol, Imodium, and any diarrhea medicine that works for you. Most likely the sickness will pass within a few days, but it definitely helps to have some Imodium at hand in case of emergency.
7. Take Local Transport
Taxis, scooter taxis, tuk-tuks are in most countries, and chances are you’ll never be without a way home. Taking buses, especially the ones the locals take are the cheapest, and often the most entertaining way to travel about. Regardless of how far you want to go, always set a price before getting accepting the offer. I made the mistake of going by the meter from the airport, and the driver ended up driving me around for a good hour when our accommodation was only twenty minutes away.
8. Bargain Everything
Yes, everything. This is the biggest money saver for me: I have mastered the skill of hard bargaining. If I want a pair of silver earrings and they start at $40 US (using US dollars as an example), I’ll offer $5. When they laugh and say okay $30, I’ll say $7. You get the gist of it. Even when you bargain hard and feel that you’re getting a good deal, they’re still making a profit off of you. But at least you’re saving money as well. South East Asia has a strong bargaining culture, so have fun with it! Laugh with the sellers, and enjoy yourself; if the price isn’t what you want to pay then simply walk away. This leads me into my next point.
9. Don’t Settle On The First Price
Let me tie this back into the last tip on bargaining. If you are looking for a pair of sandals and feel the seller’s price is too high for the pair you want, don’t be deterred; there will be twenty or more other stalls or shops selling the exact same pair of sandals. See how cheap one place is willing to sell the sandals, and then check out another one to compare the prices. This also benefits you because, depending on how close the sandal shops are to one another, the retailers will see competition, and immediately start offering you a lower price. This applies to virtually anything: taxis, buying produce, food stalls, accommodation, etc.
10. Always Carry Toilet Paper/Baby Wipes
This may seem like a bit of an inconvenience, but I find it a necessity while traveling through Southeast Asia. Most western touristy places will have Western toilets, but not as often toilet paper. This may seem frustrating, but realize they don’t use toilet paper; instead the locals opt for a ‘bum gun.’ This is a water hose that shoots water to clean yourself. If this isn’t your thing, then have toilet paper ready; but make sure to throw it in the trash can, not into the toilet.
These are only ten of the hundred or so tips I could recommend for traveling throughout Southeast Asia. I hope they are helpful, and give you a good start in your travels here. Don’t let any of these points deter you! Southeast Asia may seem rough around the edges with the lack of garbage pick-up, poverty, and all together cleanliness. But it is also has a magnetic draw; each new day you will see something completely new and unexpected, taste new foods, meet new people, experience different religions, and have a non-stop stimulation of both the mind and the senses. Southeast Asia is a part of this world I would recommend visiting now, while you’re young, full of ambition and adventure and ready for an experience of a lifetime.
Check out these tips on traveling on a budget.