• 23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

So you’re in the midst of planning your first trip to South East Asia? You’re going to have a blast trying out the street food, riding scooters past lush green rice fields, exploring intricate temples, and coming face to face with the local wildlife.

To help prepare you for your journey across South East Asia, here’s my guide on things you should know before you go.

PS: You DO need visas to visit many of these places. You can find out all the . 

23 Southeast Asia Tips & Things You Need to Know Before Your Trip

1. Squat toilets are common and you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper

Let’s get right down to business – we all have to use them so best to come prepared. You’re likely to find only squat toilets in train and bus stations, and often in some shopping centres and tourist attractions. Sometimes there may be a Western toilet in one of the cubicles. You’re unlikely to ever find toilet paper so make sure you have toilet paper or tissues on hand – and some hand sanitiser. Public toilets can get pretty nasty at times and there’s not always a place to wash your hands.

2. It’s a cash economy

You’ll always need to carry cash in South East Asia. You’ll hardly ever pay for anything using your card, and if payment by card does happen to be accepted at a hotel or for a tour, you’ll likely be charged a 3% fee on the total price. Cash is always preferred though. You’ll need plenty of small bills too. Things are cheap in South East Asia so bills equivalent to $1, $2 or $5 will come in very handy. You’ll notice the denominations are quite high too – for example 10,000 Vietnamese Dong is less than 50 cents. You hardly ever see coins in South East Asian countries.

3. Buses usually leave when they are full

Plan for public buses on a schedule to run at least an hour late. But it’s pretty unlikely there’s any schedule. Many of the buses in South East Asia will simply leave when they’re full and pick up people along the way. I found this to be particularly common in Indonesia. So add at least an hour to any bus ride, sit back and enjoy the scenery.

4. You may not get a seat on the bus or train

On the public transport topic, public commuter buses will often be sweaty hotboxes and you may have to stand or you’ll be forced to get up close and personal with the passengers next to you. There’s no such thing as personal space in South East Asia. ‘Luxury’ buses mean the buses are equipped with air conditioning but it won’t necessarily work. If you really want a seat, get on the bus where it starts, such as the bus station, rather than hailing it on the street.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

Don’t be afraid to take the local bus or train! It’s a great way to travel to see a little slice of local life – and very cheap. Some of my best travel stories are from taking a local bus. Just keep a close eye on your valuables.

5. Be wary of scams

Scams are everywhere across the world but I came across them more in Asia than anywhere else I’ve travelled. The most common one I got is from taxi drivers telling me the train or bus I was headed for didn’t run that day or I would have to wait a long time for the next one.

Be prepared by researching public transport options beforehand if possible.

I also often got people telling me that popular attractions closed at lunchtime or at the time I was visiting, and tried to take me to a gallery or shop. This was particularly common in Indonesia.

You may also come across money scams.

Always check your change at shops and also double check what you get back from money changers.

6. South East Asia is humid, really humid

You’ll likely be drenched in sweat from head to toe in about two minutes every time you step outside. Pack light cotton clothing, and clothes that can be easily hand washed. Leave your expensive and dry clean only clothes at home.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

7. US dollars will come in handy

You will constantly be changing currencies in South East Asia. From Dong, to Kip, to Rupiah – and it can be really confusing. Make sure you have a currency converter on your phone to figure out what to withdraw from ATMs and figure out how much everything is worth.

It’s useful to always carry US dollars or Euros on you as these are easy to change in case you can’t find an ATM when you arrive in a country.

Some South East Asian countries have visa on arrival schemes in place. It’s best to have US dollars on hand to pay for your visa.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

8. Change your money before you leave a country

Some of the currencies in South East Asian countries are quite weak and their money can be hard to exchange when you move on. Your best bet is to change any leftover currency at the end of your stay into US dollars. This is particularly true for places like Laos and Myanmar.

9. Insect repellent is essential

Insect repellent is a must to ward off mosquitoes. In many areas of Asia such as coastal parts of Indonesia, you’ll also want accommodation with mosquito nets over your bedding – especially if there’s any unscreened areas in your room. Insect screens are not really a thing in Asia.

Some parts of Asia have malaria so consider bringing anti-malarial tablets with you – so do your research. You need to start taking anti-malarial tablets a couple of days before arriving in the malaria area and up to four weeks after you leave.

10. Don’t forget to pack a hat and sunscreen

Don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen in South East Asia and cover up as much as possible. That sun can be brutal at any time of year.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

11. Be prepared for torrential downpours in the wet season

Every afternoon about 3pm, the skies would open over Indonesia and I’d be drenched from head to toe in seconds. A rain jacket didn’t prove much help but I’m glad I had a waterproof backpack cover to protect my camera.

12. You can’t drink the water

You can’t drink the tap water in South East Asia. Also don’t brush your teeth with it. Bottled water is readily available from convenience stores. Aim to buy bottles that have a plastic seal around the lid. Better yet, be environmentally friendly and bring water purification tablets with you. Add one tablet per one litre of water and wait half an hour before drinking.

13. You can eat the street food – just be careful.

Street food is very common throughout South East Asia and it’s super cheap and delicious. You’re best off buying street food that’s cooked in front of you. Avoid cut fruit, and unless you have a strong stomach, also avoid fresh juices as vendors will often use local water to mix it.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

Many major South East Asian cities host night markets – which are usually a great place to pick up some souvenirs and also street food.

You will also have the opportunity to try the local food while travelling on local buses or trains. Vendors regularly hop onto buses and trains peddling anything from fruit to samosas.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

14. You’ll need to learn how to barter

Bartering is expected in places like markets throughout South East Asia so don’t be afraid to bargain on the price. Ask for the vendor’s best price and then start haggling. If they’re not coming to the party, they probably will once you start walking away.

15. Get used to selfies with locals

In some parts of South East Asia such as the Indonesian island of Java, the locals don’t see foreigners much so you may be asked for a selfie with the locals – or people may even start taking photos of you like you’re a celebrity. Most of this is harmless and the locals are genuinely excited to meet a foreigner – but beware of your personal possessions at all times – and also that once you pose for one photo, you may get a number of requests from other locals around you.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

16. The people are some of the friendliest I’ve met

I met some lovely locals through South East Asia – from the staff in my hostel to people who met me out and about and were curious about where I was from. Once I had a tour bus driver rescue me from a torrential downpour in Indonesia and introduce me to all his passengers. He then bought me lunch and refused any offer to let me pay, and then dropped me off outside my hostel!

Some locals are also keen to talk to you to practice their English. If you get the opportunity, take half an hour out of your day to have a conversation with a local to help them with their English and learn about their country.

17. Tuk tuks and motorbike taxis are a great way to get around

If you only need to go a few kilometres down the road, then tuk tuks are your best friend. And the price is totally negotiable! It’s also pretty easy to get a motorbike taxi – even if you have luggage. But don’t expect a helmet. You can usually get a good idea on prices for tuk tuks from your accommodation so you know when their price are too high.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

18. The traffic is chaotic – and traffic lights are often ignored

Simply crossing the street can be an adventure in South East Asia as you weave your way across lanes of motorbikes. Vietnam was definitely the most hectic place I encountered in South East Asia. Basically the trick is you have to learn to weave through the traffic. The motorbikes rarely stop for traffic lights!

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

19. Take your shoes off at temples and dress appropriately

Be respectful at any temples you visit across South East Asia. That means taking off your shoes is a must. You’ll also find most temples will need you to cover your shoulders and knees – both guys and girls. So no singlets – and ladies, a long skirt is preferred over pants and at least have your shoulders covered, but it’s better to cover up to your elbow.

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

20. Some monkeys are just plain scary

Sometimes the monkeys you encounter in South East Asia will not be cute, but vicious and scary. Do not eat food or take out any food from your bag around any wild monkeys as they can turn aggressive and steal your food.

21. Beware the really fast taxi meter

I discovered this one in Vietnam – the taxi meter that seems to go up really fast even though you’ve hardly gone anywhere. And the taxi driver just laughs when you say you’re going the wrong way when they start taking the long way! Aim to set a price before you go – and show the taxi driver you know the way by using something like the Maps.me app on your phone. If you find the meter is going up too fast, ask the driver to stop and get out. There’s plenty of taxi drivers out there – it’s not hard to find one and hopefully the next one won’t be so shady. 

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

22. You will be heckled outside the airport – so have an exit strategy

As soon as you set foot into the arrivals area you will be set upon by taxi drivers wanting your money. If you really want a taxi, make sure you go to the official taxi rank or many airports have a taxi desk where you can prepay your fare. In many South East Asian countries, key destinations have a set price at the airport. If you don’t want a taxi, avoid eye and keep walking. You should have a plan of how you’re getting from the airport to your accommodation such as by public bus or transfer, so know where you need to go before you reach the arrivals hall.

23. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Buses will run late, flights will be delayed, food poisoning is highly likely, and lots of little things will go wrong in South East Asia. The main thing is you’re safe and you have your passport and trust me, you will manage to get through everything else. If things go wrong, ride it out, don’t stress too much and call it an adventure.

Pin these traveling Southeast Asia tips for later:

23 Journeying Southeast Asia Tips You NEED to Know

This is a guest post from. She has travelled to more than 60 countries across six continents and has an unquenchable thirst  to explore. The outdoor adventurer and public relations specialist from Australia loves nothing more than exploring the great outdoors, and currently travels at least six months of every year around the world.

 

2017-07-08T00:54:28+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

10 Comments

  1. Stephanie June 21, 2017 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Great tips! No 23 is so important; if you just come there and think everything is the same as at home…you will have a difficult time.
    Because most things are different…and that is not a bad thing :)

  2. Ryan Biddulph June 22, 2017 at 3:33 am - Reply

    Hi Lisa,

    Excellent. I have lived in SE Asia for a good 3 and a half years of the last 6. All apply so darn well. The humidity, the traffic/diving situation, and the super friendly folks. I’d add to embrace face-saving culture. Especially in Thailand. Learn to smile and let things go, and never ever ever try to embarrass someone. At best you will be ignored, at worst, you may get jumped LOL.

    On a side note I count 4 images above where I was in the same exact spot. How cool! 2 Ubud Bali shots – I ran through the rice fields on that very path and on that street for my daily cardio – the Yangon and Bagan shots.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    Ryan

    • Rachel Jones June 22, 2017 at 5:12 am - Reply

      Hey Ryan, glad you feel the same as her! A lot of these are similar to India where I live, too. How fun you were in some same spots, I hope it took you back there!

  3. thepetiteexplorer June 22, 2017 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Changing your money is such a good one! I ended up stuck with so much money I couldn’t change, especially from Myanmar!

  4. Deepak Acharya June 23, 2017 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Bitter truth :) Pertinent points

  5. Mao June 24, 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing all these helpful tips! It’s all about setting the expectations right before your trip. Gotta love how taxi drivers tell you that another bus wouldn’t come for another hour. That happened to me in Mexico.

  6. Nitin Khanna June 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Helpful tips shared by you. It helps a lot while planning trip for Southeast Asia. You just aware from many things and point no. 23 is really important to remember. Thanks!

  7. Monique June 28, 2017 at 6:20 am - Reply

    Great advise! The cut fruit one has gotten me once before :( :(

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