Every millennials I’ve befriended on facebook, followed on twitter and on instagram have this obsession of backpacking Southeast Asia someday, solo or with their bffs, partners or parents (yep, parents)! Not only millennials, but most of my colleagues are bugging me for tips for their first ever take on backpacking Southeast Asia.
Questions like, what’s it like over there? Do they have ATMs? Do they have internet? Do they have cellular services. How to commute over there? How do you say thank you in Thai, in Malaysia, in Manila? Is it safe to go?
Southeast Asia, also commonly referred to as IndoChina, is a subregion located, of course, bounded by India in the East, China in the North, Australia in the South and West of New Guinea. This region is a beautiful melting pot of cultures from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It is best to slow travel across these countries to embrace its characteristics and immerse in the Asian way of life.
For the first timer, a handful of tips to get you going with your itinerary planning and building up your self-confidence in booking that airline ticket for a flight across the Pacific, Atlantic ocean or the Philippine seas should get you going. So here we go.
It’s mostly cash everywhere so prepare crisp US dollar bills
If you’re not from the US, consider opening a dollar account for more convenient travel instead of exchanging PHP (for Filipinos coming from the Philippines) to USD then to other currencies. This is best if you plan to travel to several different countries with different currencies. It is safer and lets you take advantage of the strong USD exchange rates.
Credit cards come in handy, sometimes
Bring your credit card if you have one. This is for emergency cases only not for mindless shopping and bar hopping! Credit card can save your butt in cases when you run out of cash or run into problems with your bank.
Safeguard your travel documents
Always secure and have your passport handy, especially when border crossing and visa application. It is best also to have a photocopy of your passport and important IDs tucked in your backpack somewhere. Just in case your passport is misplaced or stolen, you still have proof of your identity to present when reporting your lost items at the police station or at the embassy.
Do your research
Research. And research more about the countries that you want to include in your travel plans. Read a lot about the culture, traditions and way of life. Research also about the weather, money matters, transportation, communications, embassy locations, safety and travel advisories issued by your countries, tourist scams and of course, budget.
Must Read: Mastering the Art of Itinerary Planning
Be a local for a day and dress down and you avoid being a target of scams. Plus the hot and humid weather across Asia is more appropriate to shorts and basic cotton tank tops.
When visiting shrines and temples, you need to dress appropriately though. The rule of thumb here is to make sure your shoulders and knees are covered. So a top or blouse with short sleeves and a skirt that is past the knees should be good.
Have a print out of your hostel accommodation
Locals across Southeast Asia speak in a tonal language. Though basic english is widely spoken by the locals, understanding the english words is another story. Ive had countless anecdotes of taxi drivers bringing me to the wrong hotel because of misunderstood pronunciation.
The sure-fire way to work around this is to have a print out of your hotel accommodation. Just show the printout to taxi drivers or tour guides and they will know where to bring you back. Or if you don’t have your print out with you, ask your hostel receptionist to write down the hostel name in the local alphabet characters and english alphabet and you can show this whomever you are giving instructions on where to take you back.
Bring your own water bottle
Water is not served is most eateries and restaurants across the region. Water bottle are sold averaging in 1-2USD but this cost can really add up especially if you are staying for a long time in one country. You can refill your own water bottle in your hostel before you leave for the day. Bringing your own water bottle also saves you money and makes your trip environment friendly.
Street food can be fun or not
Street food is a culture across the region. Quiet side streets are converted into one big street party featuring a spread of fusion of flavors. Street food are fun, delicious way of getting to know the local food culture and a cheaper alternative to bar hopping.
A bit of warning though, its not for the weak of tummies. I had a Canadian bunkbed neighbor in one of my stays in Krabi, Thailand who was hit with a stomach flu due to bad choice of barbecue and oysters for dinner the night before and she had to stay at the hospital for most of her Thailand holiday. So be careful when making your choices from the buffet spread and make sure they are thoroughly cooked.
Keep an open mind
Most locals across the southeast asian region are shy and soft-spoken. Do not mistake this for being rude or think they are impolite if you don’t normally hear them say “excuse me” or “thank you”.
Don’t feel bad if you’re shoved around in cramped trains or buses during your commute. It is simply not common here to say “excuse me”. It is just who they are. Simply get out of their way and smile. Nope, you don’t get your smile back either.
Always be alert and vigilant of your surroundings
Always put safety above everything else. Always be vigilant of your surroundings. If something does not fit or you don’t feel good about something or someone, get out. Your safety should be your topmost concern.
There have been numerous tourists who were victimized, one way or the other, by scams, stolen passports and gadgets, solo travellers who were raped, mugged or worse, killed. Don’t let this scare you, instead use this warning to raise awareness that you are most vulnerable there and that you can do something about it.
Looking for hotels in Bangkok, Thailand? Bangkok is a good starting point for most backpackers that plans to roam around Southeast Asia. Bangkok is an energetic, vibrant city that is friendly to budget travellers too!
P.S. – If you are travelling to Southeast Asia soon, consider booking through the links in this article. Using the links doesn’t cost you any extra, and it helps keep the site free, fun, and community supported! If you have any questions, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
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