This is a contributed post for the travel category on my blog. Enjoy! 🙂
Travelling through Southeast Asia can be an amazing experience, but you need to be prepared for a few things you will not be used to. You may have an idealistic view of riding past lush green rice fields, visiting temples, meeting wildlife and enjoying the street food, and that is all fine. Just be ready for the things that you may find a bit strange.
You Need Cash
You need cash to pay for most things, and American dollars and Euros are the most readily accepted foreign currencies. As things are cheap in Southeast Asia, plenty of the lower denomination bills are the best option. These will be fine as you move from county to country, but if you have been using the local currency, make sure you change it to dollars or euros before you move on.
Don’t Expect Schedules For Public Transport
Although most places have timetables for their buses and trains, the buses usually do not leave until they are full, even if that is more than an hour late. It can be hard to get a seat on the trains or the buses, and quite often you will have to stand for the whole journey. The best chance of getting a seat is to get on at the terminus the journey starts at. Even then you should not expect the comfortable seats of a UK train or bus.
Apart from public transport, there are taxis, motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks for your convenience. These are brilliant if you only need to go a relatively short distance. The way they drive may frighten you as little, but just hold on tight and you will be fine. The traffic may appear chaotic and red lights be ignored, nut getting around this way is all part of the fun of travelling in Southeast Asia.
It can be wise to agree a price with the taxi driver first, as their meters go up very quickly and they are not averse to taking the longest route. You will find lots of taxi at the airports touting for business, but they usually have a taxi desk where you can prepay the fare to your destination.
Insect Repellent Is A Must
Insect repellent is vital if you want to ward off the mosquitos. Unfortunately, some of them carry malaria and you should have some anti-malarial tablets with you at all times. You need to start taking these a couple of days before arriving in Southeast Asia for them to work effectively.
An insect net over your bed at night is a good idea, but they are not very common in this part of the world.
There are of course hotels you can stay in, but many people travelling through Southeast Asia prefer to buy or rent a kl property, for example, of their own. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that if you move just outside the huge cites, property becomes very cheap to rent and buy. The locals are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and will more than willing to help you settle in. This then becomes a perfect base for the rest of your travels.
The inhabitants love to have photos taken with travellers, so do not be at all surprised to have lots taken in just a day. It can make you feel as though you are famous, but it is just part of their amiable character.
When you are out and about you will have to get used to using squat toilets that usually do not have the luxury of toilet paper. It is wise to carry some tissues with you as well as some hand cleaners as most of the public toilets have no hand washing facilities either.
Pack A Hat and Sunscreen
The climate of Southeast Asia is very hot and very humid. You will be sweating within a couple of minutes of stepping outside and should wear light cotton clothing wherever possible. The sun can be severe all year round and you should wear a hat to protect your head, and put plenty of sunscreen on.
Then the weather can change really quickly. You can suddenly find yourself in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, and be soaked right through in just a few minutes. It is far too hot to be venturing out in a rain jacket, but it could be useful to have one handy, maybe in the bottom of a bag.
Drink And Food
Southeast Asia is famous for its street food, which can be really delicious and something everyone should try. It is very cheap, but you are best to buy food that has been cooked while you watch to make sure they do not put anything in it that you are allergic to. The language barrier sometimes can mean this does happen.
You will also get the chance to try food while you are travelling on trains and buses, as vendors often get on them offering their delights for people to buy.
Never drink water straight from the tap and do not clean your teeth with it. Bottled water is readily available and a much safer bet. Just make sure the bottles you buy are sealed before you use them. Avoid fruit drinks when you are out, as they are often mixed with tap water.
Most of the large cities host night markets where as well as many wonderful souvenirs you will find more street food to test your palate.
You will be expected to barter for anything you buy in a market so learn the knack of saying no, and getting the prices you are being asked for reduced.
Respect The Culture
Every country has differences in their cultures, and you should respect the traditions of whichever one you are in. For instance, if you visit a temple make sure to remove your shoes and cover your knees and shoulders, no matter what gender you are. Men should not wear vests and ladies skirts should be as long as possible.
Although you are there just to explore the temple, follow whatever rules each one has.
Don’t Get Stressed
The extremely friendly population of Southeast Asia is very calm and relaxed. You could do much worse than following their lead. Things will not go as you planned from time to time, but do not let yourself get stressed over the little things that do not really matter. As long as you are safe and have your passport, everything else will be a minor problem that will be solved or will soon pass.
Watch The Wildlife
You will see lots of wildlife while you are travelling and with some, it is obvious you are better off viewing them from the window of your chosen mode of transport. However, there are some that will fool you, so beware. Small monkeys can look really cute and cuddly but they can very quickly turn nasty and aggressive. They will think nothing of taking food from your plate, or rifling your handbag, usually for more food or things that sparkle.
You have to remember that as beautiful as they are, they are wild animals that have not been taught any manners.
Southeast Asia is a wonderful part of the world, just do not expect to be able to spend the time you are there as you would in Europe and you will thoroughly enjoy the experience of travelling around it. It is becoming ever more popular with people who want to see something more of this planet than the huge cities of the West, and that is a trend that is likely to continue.