There is no refuting that South East Asia is the typical backpacking destination for that avid globetrotter who dares to challenge themselves. And it is even better if you are budget-conscious and are looking to squeeze as much juice as you can from that dollar.
Everything is a bit cheaper on this side of the world; a decent meal will set you back less than a dollar while transport to-and-fro major cities costs almost next to nothing. Unlike in the west, splashing your cash in a luxury hotel will only set you back a mere $60 to $100 per night. It is no wonder that every backpacker enthusiast will make sure that they set foot in this part of the planet at least once in their life.
That being said, here are some of the 15 things that you should have at your fingertips before packing up those bags.
1. As Usual, Familiarize Yourself with Your Visa Requirements
Depending on your native country, your tourist’s visa requirements will differ from country-to-country in South East Asia. For instance, if you are coming in from the US, you will only need a 30-day stamp to explore Thailand if you are staying for less than a month.
Cambodia, on the other hand, requires that all tourists should hold a visa-on-arrival ( costs about $30 ), same as Laos and Vietnam. Either way, research thoroughly beforehand on the immigration requirements of the destination countries that you plan on visiting. Don’t work under the assumption that your US ( or any other Western country) passport is going to cut it in every border.
2. A Good Grasp of Cultural Norms is Going to Save you ton of Embarrassment
As I mentioned earlier, South East Asia is one of the incredible destinations that has attracts droves of Western tourists every year. In fact, most countries in this region feature prominently in most travel blogs.
However, most of these tourists and backpacking enthusiasts will rarely familiarize themselves with the cultural expectations of the relative conservative S.E Asia. Just because you will come across dozens of scantily-dressed tourists in Laos or the Philippines doesn’t mean that you should strip down to a bikini too. Be aware that it is considered very rude, for instance, to visit temples while your knees and shoulders are uncovered. In other words, don’t be that obnoxious, ignorant tourist.
3. S.E Asia is a Part of the Developing World, Don’t Raise Your Hopes Too High
In the next few days, you are going to travel to some of the poorest parts of the world. Not all roads are paved; as a matter of fact, most are dusty/muddy and your hired SUV will most probably stall in the middle of nowhere. Don’t expect anything close to the 5-star treatment from hotels and resorts that you are used to in the West and a few locals will not always be welcoming.
In the rural areas, for example, you will come face to face with some of the most gruesome poverty levels you have ever imagined. From dilapidated floating huts and shacks to mammoth heaps of litter, the S.E Asia is not all about pristine beaches and lush tropical jungles. So, have an open mind and be ready for anything even as you seek to transverse an adventure-promising planet.
4. Beware of Tourist Exploitation and Traps
Without a doubt, tourism is one of the biggest industries in a good chunk of South East Asian nations. Almost all countries in this belt witness their fair share of an influx of foreigners all-year-round. This also implies that they are individuals here who have perfected the art of exploiting unsuspecting tourists hiding the under the guise of welfare organizations.
As much as it is an admirable trait to be compassionate, don’t visit orphanages or give money to urchins begging in the streets. Contribute to programs dedicated to training these homeless kids, instead. Which, of course, leads us to the next point which is;
5. S.E Asia is a hotbed of Sophisticated Tourist Scams
Unfortunately, as much S.E is the average backpacker’s paradise, it also harbors a myriad of ways of separating clueless tourists from their money. Whether it is something as seemingly harmless as being overcharged for a Tuk Tuk ride or as serious as being caught up in a drug trafficking scam, you need to have your wits around you at all times.
And while at it, try to research as much as you can beforehand about how much it would cost a local to travel from point A to point B before boarding any means of transportation.
6. Creating a Friendly Rapport with the Locals is More Helpful in the Long-run than it Sounds
As illustrated here, one of the best ways of keeping your expenditure down is by getting to know one or two locals. Not only will they help you learn a ton about the local culture but also show you a few hidden treasures in their community. And sometimes, if you’re really on a shoestring budget, they will be happy to offer some food and a roof over your head in exchange for a little assistance in their household chores.
7. There is no Hurry in Africa….oops! Sorry, South East Asia!
Unlike in the West where we work under strict schedules, deadlines and timelines, time means almost nothing in this part of the world. Everything, and I mean almost everything, is relaxed, slow and easy-going. Unexplained delays seem to be part and parcel of everything there is in S.E Asia. So give yourself plenty of time to kick back and relax. After all, you are on holiday, aren’t you?
8. Always Have Some Toilet Paper With You
Pit latrines, in place of conventional toilets, are an accepted trademark in most parts in S.E Asia. If you have never used one before, then you will have to contend with a number of issues, including; learning how to balance yourself over a hole in the ground and a severe lack of toilet paper in these makeshifts bathrooms.
Well, it is not that bad as it sound on paper. But make sure you always have some spare tissues with you whenever you visit these stalls.
9. It’s Hot and Sweaty in S.E Asia
Although it depends on the season, SE Asia countries are generally quite hot and humid. If you are from temperate parts of the world be prepared to sweat like you haven’t before. So, remember to stay hydrated by sipping clean water regularly and looking for a cool shady place to cool off for a few hours during some of the hottest hours of the day. And, oh! Don’t bother so much with the makeup either. You can survive the day by simply pulling your hair back to a ponytail.
10. You Better Learn Some Haggling Tactics
Just like in many parts of the developing world, haggling is a sort of standard practice in SE Asia. It is traditional for people to haggle over an item’s sticker price for a few minutes before finally settling for a deal. And since the vendors expect this, they will instinctively over-quote their merchandise to ‘make up’ for any potential haggling from a prospective customer. This implies that you risk being overcharged if you don’t bother to bargain or attempt to knock off a few cents from the initial price tag for almost anything you will buy here.
Speaking of which, as a result of this haggling culture, expect the streets to be noisier than expected even in the wee hours of the night. You might want to take a look at some of these sleeping earplugs that could come in handy in such situations.
11. Nobody Expects You To Book Your Guesthouse in Advance
Not unless it is an exclusive 5-star hotel, you can always show up at the gate, ask for a room and even haggle a bit over the rate before settling in. And that’s the beauty of SE Asia that excites many backpackers. There is nothing that beats showing up in a strange city, exploring it a bit and then later choosing a cheap hotel to spend your night in.
Additionally, being exempted from the hassle of having to book a room in advance keeps your travel costs down and your schedule incredibly flexible.
12. You’ll Have To Book a Room in Advance in You’ll be Visiting During Major Events
As much as there is no shortage of tourist guesthouses in most cities in SE Asia, most of them tend to be fully booked during major events such as the Full Moon Party. And if not that, it is always convenient and wise to reserve accommodation a few hours ahead of time if you know that you are coming off a long, arduous flight, train or bus ride. The last thing you will want is to wander around jet-lagged looking for a place to lay your tired self.
13. Street Food is Awesome…but to some Extent
While street local food can taste ridiculously amazing, you can also end up with a terrible-tasting dish on your plate if you buy from the wrong vendor. Just because it is a plate of Thai pad rice and shrimp served on the streets of Bangkok doesn’t mean that it is going to be wondrously tasty. Street food is simply not created equal but you can dramatically increase your chances of landing perfectly cooked meals by buying from food stalls that have a line up of eager patrons. Remember that you can always ask a friendly local for help while at it.
14. Transportation is Cheap but not Necessarily Comfortable
Buses and shared taxis are among the cheapest forms of transportation in parts of SE Asia. Depending on the distance you instead to cover, you can pay as little as some pennies to as much a few bucks at most. Nonetheless, brace yourself for a crowded, hot, overloaded bus or squatting with chickens as you ride from one city to the next. You can also try renting a bike for a few days if you want to savor the taste of true freedom and flexibility while exploring SE Asian cities.
15. There is more to Life than Backpacker Central
SE Asia is a backpacking haven, there is no denying this. However, there is more to it than the cheap booze, hostels, and transport or hippie parties. You can’t say that you have ever toured the amazing Thai Islands if all you did was get drunk in Sihanoukville and party in Khai San Road. Visit the temples in Angkor, instead. Or go for trekking up the hills in Thailand. In other words, challenge yourself by daring to step out of your backpacking comfort zone.
I would want to assume that you have learned at least one or two valuable things about SE Asia from this guide. This sums up some of the most important things that I wish someone had told me before I visited Cambodia and Thailand back in 2012. To those who have never been to this part of the world before, buckle up fellas, it going to be an interesting ride! And for those who have dared Bali, Indonesia or Halong Bay before, feel free to comment below and share some of the memorable. experiences that you gathered in this backpacking paradise. All in all, be sure to share this article with your friends in your Social circles. Cheers!
Lana is the founder of SmartHealthKick, where she and her associates dedicated to natural remedies, healthy receipt, healthy lifestyle, fitness and more. SmartHealthKick provide easy to understand health and nutrition advice that makes a real impact.