Top Ten Tips for Travel in Southeast Asia

Carry A Dung Roll

Nobody ever warned me about this, but I will take the time to spell it out for you as bluntly as I can… work out those thighs, practice your balance, and get ready to poo in a hole.  Southeast Asia is the land of the squat toilet.  Love it or hate it, you will have no choice but to frequent it.  If you are unacquainted with hosing off your bum with a squirt gun, make sure to carry toilet paper at all times for those unexpected urges.

Know Your Food Safety

Speaking of toilets, if you want to spend less time in squat position, be extra vigilant with what you eat.  Buffets are best avoided, and any fruit or vegetables that have been washed in dirty water should be monitored.  Meat is a hard call, but when eating on the street, have a peek at the ingredients before you make your order.  Always drink filtered or bottled water and be careful with ice cubes in certain countries.  Traveler’s diarrhea is inevitable, but following these steps you may just nip it in the bud.

Research Your Visas

The first thing you want to do before heading to Southeast Asia is research your visas.  Most countries provide visas on arrival, but some (like Vietnam) do not.  Know what you should expect to pay, how many days you are permitted to stay, if it’s a multiple or single entry visa, and where foreigners are allowed to cross the border if you are traveling by land.  Always carry with you a photocopy of both your passport and the visa for the country you are traveling in.  Also, bring a baggie of passport-sized photos for each crossing.

Learn Basic Words in Each Language

In general, you can get by with rudimentary English most places in Southeast Asia.  However, knowing a bit of the language opens up so many doors.  Stumbling your way through “xin chau” or “kop kun ka” always brings a laugh to the locals, beginning a friendly dialogue that could get you a sweet bargain in the end.  It’s also just plain polite to make the effort!

Book With Air Asia

No, this is not an advertisement.  No, they are not paying me to write this (although I wish they would).  Air Asia’s prices speak for themselves.  It’s the cheapest way in and out of the region and everywhere in-between. Book your ticket to Asia from Europe, the Middle East, or Oceania.  The world’s top budget airline for the past two years and running, Malaysia’s AirAsia is the Queen of the Orient.

Dress Appropriately

Travelers complain about this, but understand that you are visiting another country with a different culture than your own.  You should act accordingly.  At temples, mosques, and other religious buildings, it is not appropriate to show your knees or your shoulders.  Pack a shawl or some pants in your day bag if you plan on visiting these sites.  Many Asians are too modest to say anything, so take the initiative yourself.

Bring American Dollars

You will need American Dollars to enter most countries in Southeast Asian.  I always thought this was old-fashioned, but it’s true.  They won’t accept any other currency – not even their own!  Also, it’s good to keep some extra greenbacks around in case you need to change money or find yourself in a sticky situation.  In Vietnam, most rooms are quoted in US Dollars and if you run out, the ATMs in Cambodia actually dispense them instead of Riels.

Be Patient

It’s so tempting to throw a hissy fit when your bus is running five hours late and the driver is chatting on the side of the road with his new friends over a cup of tea.  And, when you’re the fourth person crammed into a three-person seat in the minivan with you your luggage on your lap, you may just want to slap the driver with your sweat-soaked hand.  Stay cool.  This is not your country.  Remember that you are sacrificing efficiency for budget travel.  Outbursts only make many Asians loose face and when you crack their smiley front, things get ugly.

Don’t Plan Too Much

Sure, make a to do list of all the sites that you can’t miss, but leave the rest up to serendipity.  There is nothing worse than planning too much and finding out that your perfect, internet-researched plan of pre-booked destinations is an epic fail.  Do your groundwork, but leave the day-to-day decisions for when you’re on the ground.  You may find that your ideal beach getaway is actually a dump but the Dutchman you met in Saigon knows the perfect island off the coast of Malaysia.  Talk to fellow traveler on the road and heed their advice.

Support Sustainable Tourism

Traveling in foreign lands is not a rite; it’s a privilege.  We have an obligation to minimize our footprints and maximize our positive contributions.  When booking trips to rural communities, make sure a portion of the money goes to supporting the villagers.  When you buy items at the market, try and purchase local handicrafts and not shipped-in souvenirs from China.  A good way to save some money and give back is to volunteer.  There are several opportunities for English teachers, aids at orphanages, environmental protection and more.  Make your presence a positive one, both for you and the people you meet along the way.


Have some tips to add?  Feel free to share your comments below!

2 thoughts on “Top Ten Tips for Travel in Southeast Asia

  1. Don’t forget Beach On The Hill BBQ @ Chil-axn, already described by some as “the best beach in Cambodia”. With ocean and island views, sea breezes, awesome sunsets and the best BBQ Ribs & Sauce “Possibly, better than sex..” in Cambodia along with sand to squish between your toes, and Chil-axn Jungle, Island and Sunset Cocktails from just $1 and beer from just $0.50, what else could you want?
    Yes, this is advertisement. If you want to complain, come to do it in person/face to face and we’ll see if there’s really anything to complain about.

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