Traveling far away from home can be daunting. Check out our top five tips for travelling in South East Asia – written by someone who’s lived there for years.
When it comes to traveling in South East Asia, most people think of gorgeous beaches, great-smelling street food, and the hustle and bustle of overcrowded cities brimming with life. That’s not far from the truth, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
There are a lot of things that people tend to overlook before coming to South East Asia. The sheer amount of backpackers and tourism infrastructure has many thinking that they can sort it all out when they get here – that’s often easier said than done.
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Tips for travelling in South East Asia
It’s not uncommon to see people stood in queues at immigration in airports from Hanoi to Yangon, trying to argue with a bored-looking official who really doesn’t care that they have to queue up again because they didn’t fill out the necessary forms beforehand.
Research entry requirements
Bringing the necessary invitation letters and documents for immigration is important. Europeans are used to being able to simply wander over borders without anyone stopping them – but that’s not the case in Asia. Make sure you’ve got the right documents, as well as the right fees in the right currency to pay at the airport.
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Bring the right clothes
Most people assume South East Asia is hot all the time. Some of it is – some of it isn’t. For example, Hanoi gets pretty chilly in the winter (around 10 degrees or less) and it’s not uncommon to see European and American travelers walking around shivering in shorts around this time.
On top of that, you don’t want to be walking around in your favorite Converse when the heavens open up for a tropical rainstorm. Make sure you thoroughly research the weather before arriving and pack accordingly.
You shouldn’t wear overly casual clothes in temples. Don’t wear shorts, and ladies, make sure you have something that covers your shoulders and don’t wear a short dress or skirt. Be respectful of the culture of others.
Street food 101
You’ll probably find yourself on the toilet for a disproportionate amount of the day at some point during your visit. The best way to navigate street food is to eat in busy places. The locals know where the good stuff is, so try to pick places full of locals.
Learn the language basics
You don’t need to be a pro – no one is expecting you to be. But even just hello and thank you show the person you’re talking to that you’ve made some effort to learn their language. People will respect you more for it and the more you can speak, the less likely you are to get overcharged for things.
Don’t dress like a tourist
If you’re walking around in a banana shirt and shorts, then people will take you for a tourist and likely overcharge you for certain things. If you’re wearing trousers and a shirt, people will assume you’re either living here or here on business. You’ll blend in a little more.
That shirt doesn’t really cost 400 baht. Not if that’s the first price the seller gave. Haggling is perfectly acceptable in most South East Asian countries, so brush up on your haggling skills and try to gauge what a fair price is where you’re not being overcharged much, but you’re also making sure the seller is getting a good profit.
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