Southeast Asia is one of the most fascinating travel destinations. Flights are getting more and more affordable when booking in advance, cost of life in many of those countries is relatively low, they’re rich in history and culture and blessed with wonderful weather for most part of the year. However if you’re not well prepared, some small issues could make your holiday less enjoyable…or even ruin it.
That’s why having travelled extensively throughout Asia, I’d like to share some tips that might make your trip more enjoyable!
1 – bring a (good) DEET mosquito repellent
Always bring with you a mosquito repellent. Many places in SE Asia are infested with mosquitoes and other small insects that can cause very unpleasant bites. Don’t trust cheap, local products. As far as I’m concerned, western brands seem to be more effective. Moreover, many accommodations don’t have mosquito nets on the windows and your nights can turn into a warfare!
Ultrathon is super effective, produced by 3M and even used by the American Army! Keeps away nasty mosquitos for hours, guaranteed.
2 – never run out of water
Most places can EASILY reach temperatures between 35°-40° C (95°-104° F). You will likely walk a lot under the sun, sweat and lose fluids. Keep your body hydrated and always bring with you a bottle of water. Even if some touristy places sell water bottles at outrageous prices make a small sacrifice and buy some.
3 – bring your own napkins
yes ladies and gentlemen. This is especially true in China, where 99% of public WC don’t have toilet paper. The main reason is that many people are still very poor..and they would steal it and take it home. So toilet paper is nowhere to be found, unless you’re in a expensive mall.
4 – wake up early
(most) SE Asian countries are tremendously hot at noon and in the afternoon. My advice is to wake up early and take advantage of the morning if you have planned some climbing, hiking or long walks. Many places and attractions are also less crowded in the morning so have a nice breakfast and leave early!
5 – don’t rent motorbikes
I’ve seen a countless number of tourists injured, using crutches, having legs and arms marked with bruises, limping around and so on. In many of these countries foreigners cannot drive motorbikes but this doesn’t stop them to rent one. The traffic is crazy and rules are non existent especially in Thailand and Vietnam. On the top of that many locals try to scam tourists in every possible way making them pay for false damages to their motorbikes. Be careful, check your bike, take pictures of it, always ask for the helmet (which is mandatory everywhere). Forewarned is forearmed.
6 – wear comfortable shoes…or slippers!
Wear good quality shoes or good slippers (i.e. Crocs). Don’t buy local shoes, 90% are fake and the remaining 10% has an awful quality anyway. Bring your own shoes, preferaby light. In Thailand and Laos you will be asked to take off your shoes to enter temples and hotels so consider a comfortable pair of slippers (NOT flip-flops, used for an extended time can cause strong back pain).
7 – Don’t bring jeans
they take forever to dry and they’re too heavy and thick for the weather of this particular area. Instead, choose something that can dry quickly overnight.
8 – pack lightly
most hostels/guesthouses and train stations don’t have a lift. You will be carrying your luggage up & down stairs all the time so pack lightly! I’m not a backpack fan, usually I just carry with me a small trolley.
9 – leave expensive jewelry at home
I personally always wear a 10$ watch (bought at Decathlon!). I’ve heard about bad experiences about thefts occurred on holiday (especially in Vietnam) so leave your expensive stuff at home and you won’t have to worry about that.
10 – bring some cash dollars/euros !
ATM are widely available even in Laos and Cambodia but drawing money can be very expensive. Consider bringing some cash (based on your necessities) and exchange it at a reliable local bank.
11 – do your homework 😉
Look for some information before visiting a country, spend some time planning a good itinerary and understanding its culture. More information you get before leaving and less time you’ll waste on holiday. Sure it’s impossible to know everything and make a perfect daily schedule but try your best! Personally I mostly use Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness guidebooks but other are equally good. Few examples: Rough Guides, Routard, Insight, Frommers, etc. (Tripadvisor is a good source too).
Don’t be the clueless dude asking at the reception: “yo man, is there anything cool here in …what’s the name of this place…oh yeah, Bangkok? Cool..mark it on my map thanks!”
12 – bargain hard!
don’t be shy and don’t feel ashamed! Ask for a cheaper price! Bargaining is the way to go in most Southeast Asian countries. Don’t accept the first price, make your counter offer, walk away, check the prices at different stalls before making a purchase.
13 – buy some earplugs
Asian cities can be very noisy at night. Buy a pair of earplugs and have sweet dreams!
14 – buy a “Money belt/pouch”
Just to be safe, hide some of your cash in a money belt. Someone likes it someone hates it. Either way, remember not to put all the egg in one basket! I usually divide my money among suitcase, wallet, money belt and shoulder bag.
15 – Hand sanitizers
Sometimes it can be a little bit difficult to find a toilet to wash your hands. Hand sanitizers is essential in Southeast Asia!
16 – pack a light jacket
This is something you can actually buy from local stores if you forgot yours. You will need one in many situations: airplane, air conditioned buses, hikes, boat rides and so on. Doesn’t take a lot of space so why not!
17 – dress casual
SE Asia is not Italy. Sure, bring at least a nice outfit if you plan to hit nightclubs and western pubs! However during daytime you can dress as you want, tshirt-shorts-slippers are a good combo. Nobody will look at you with disgust like they would in Italy or France 😀
18 – try to learn few words
if you’re going to Thailand why don’t you learn some greetings and numbers? Locals will be happy to see a foreigner speaking their language ! This is true for all the countries, so try to memorise few sentences during your 16 hours flight !
19 – respect the rules
don’t be a pr*ck. In Thailand don’t offend their Buddhist tradition, in China don’t wear a “Free Tibet” t-shirt, in Vietnam don’t wear the Marines uniform under Ho Chi Minh statue, etc.
It might sound obvious to you but more than a foreigner has been deported for offence against the law, local culture and costumes. Be respectful and if you’re not sure about something just ask the locals.
20 – be patient and…smile! 🙂
We’re all different! Be patient, smile, keep a good attitude towards locals, be respectful, don’t get angry (unless there’s a serious reason to). Remember you’re a guest in somebody else’s country, and you should respect their customs regardless of your belief.
That’s all! I hope these tips will help you during your trip to Southeast Asia!