The Ultimate Guide to Southeast Asia

Post by: Lucy Buchholz (Follow on Spotted Places @Lucy.Buchholz)

 

We all crave adventure, so whether you’re a hiker, a beach lover or a wanderer, traveling South East Asia (SEA) will certainly give you and unforgettable experience. But whatever you decide to do and however long you decide to go for, you may need a few tips to help you along your way. So here you will find the Ultimate Guide to Traveling South East Asia.

Southeast Asia cruise photo

BUY A ONE-WAY TICKET

Plans change, period.

One argument is that you can save a few extra pounds by getting a return ticket, but you’ll waste the money you saved getting back to the original airport, especially if you’ve moved onto a different country. It’ll probably be a hell of a lot of hassle and quite time consuming too.

A return ticket also restricts whether you want to extend/shorten the length of your trip. Plus, it’s way more exciting knowing you have a one-way ticket… (Just make sure you put enough money aside to get home).

Create a bucket list

You will get swamped with the amount of stuff that you want to do in SEA, so it is realllllllly important to know what you want to do. You want to avoid visiting a place, leaving, and then realizing there was a really cool temple, monument or activity that you missed.

 

Work out a budget

Your budget will determine what kind of traveler you are – most young travelers are on a limited budget, so they aim to spend around £20-30 per day. From this, you can work out how much to need to take with you/how long you will last on the money you have. You also have to consider traveling around, extra activities that may cost more, those heavy nights out where you blow a week’s budget, visas, and general things like this.

 

Get your jabs

I know this can feel pointless and expensive, but honestly, getting ill will not only ruin your experience, but it can be life-threatening and cost more than the initial injections. Some people say they’ll ‘be careful’ but there’s no such thing.

 

Is rabies worth it?

I always get asked whether I think the rabies injections are worth having – yes, I definitely do. A close friend of mine hadn’t had the vaccines because she was only traveling for 6 weeks, she got bitten on Monkey Island, Thailand and had to spend the rest of her trip searching for hospitals and getting her bandages changed. It’s not worth it, folks.

 

Get *good* insurance

Standard advice and, like the jabs, it feels like you’re just throwing money away. But in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll need a good, reliable insurer that won’t try to con you with its loopholes.

 

Get a light, reliable backpack

Your backpack will become your best friend, so you want to make sure you get one that won’t break or tear easily. Getting a light backpack will allow you a little extra weight when traveling by plane (it’ll also help your back!). It’s a good idea to have extra compartments so you can separate items. You ideally want to be able to lock all your zips up so when you do have to part with your backpack (on buses or flights) so that it’ll be safe from others.

traveling Southeast Asia

What to pack

Don’t go overboard

You will pick up a lot of stuff on your travels as things are so cheap – pack light so you don’t have to leave belongings behind.

 

Pack solids

Solid shampoo, conditioner and deodorant are great and totally under-used. They’re cheap, compact, travel friendly and they can last a super long time.

 

Take the real essentials

Deet and sunscreen. They may just seem like added weight, but you will need them, trust me. They’re also often cheaper and of a better quality in the UK.

 

Cover up and stay cool

You’ll need to have clothes that cover your shoulders and knees to enter some temples and holy places, so it’s a good idea to take a couple of outfits. Females who want to stay cool without wearing long skirts or trousers can get shawls or scarves. These are lightweight, cheap and easy to buy in pretty much every market. Clothes that are baggy, light in color and made of cotton will keep you cool and covered from the sun.

 

Waterproof jacket

A waterproof jacket will definitely be needed in SEA. You can pop it in the side of your backpack and forget about it until it’s needed.

 

Water filter bottle

These can be fairly expensive (around £30) but if you’re ever out of bottled water they’ll allow you to drink from the tap (and in some cases, streams and waterfalls). They can save you money in the long run and will protect you from any nasty bits found in tap water.

 

Cooling spray

Take little bottles of cooling spray with you, which are typically £1 for 3 or 4, 50 mL cans. These are by no means a necessity, but they make you feel super refreshed after a long hike on a humid day.

 

Sleeping travel bag slips

These are perfect to protect you against any grossness when you’re sleeping somewhere that doesn’t have the highest cleaning standards. Whether it’s a hostel or a sleeper bus, you’ll have a little barrier against you and the worn out sheets.

beaches of Southeast Asia

GENERAL TIPS

Asian time
The lovely people of SEA are usually very relaxed, which can more often than not mean they’re late. There is no point getting worked up about this as it will get you nowhere – you just have to get use to it!

Keep a flexi-route

So many people go with ridged plans, but I personally would never recommend this. There will be some places that you like more than others, so the amount of time you spend in a certain place may change. You may meet people you want to travel with or find out about another place what you want to visit, which could throw your plan out of the window.

Learn certain phrases

Quite a few people recommend learning phrases such as ‘hello’ and ‘sorry’. I focused on learning phrases like ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’, simply because I found this a little more helpful.

Always carry toilet paper

This is basically rule #1 of traveling Asia. You will pee in gross places, so at least be armed with a roll.

Keep an extra lock

You may need an extra lock for securing your belongings in hostels as you may just be given a cupboard and a hinge. Some places will sell these but they’ll make you pay through the nose.

Cross the road with locals

The street can be absolutely manic in SEA, so to avoid getting mowed down by a scooter, wait for a local and cross with them!

Be respectful, firm but polite

Many people are quite persistent when they’re trying to get a sale. This can get seriously annoying, be it’s important to remember that this is their culture – be respectful, firm but polite.

Whitening cosmetics

Quite a few Asian products will include whitening agents, so just be a little careful what deodorant you buy if you’re trying to get a tan!

Be animal friendly

PLEASE DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS OR VISIT TIGER SANCTUARIES. They’re cruel, period. There are lots of places where you can meet elephants, take them for walks, bath them, etc. For example at Into The Wild, Chiang Mai, Thailand. You don’t need to ride them, but you do need to respect them.

elephant in Southeast Asia

Avoid taking pictures of policemen

Sometimes they can get a bit touchy about being in pictures – like we all do I guess. I have heard of people being asked to delete their pictures or even hand over a memory card.

 

Camscanner app

This app is great and totally free. It lets you scan pretty much anything, so you’ll always be able to have a spare copy of everything, from your passports and boarding cards to receipts.

 

Have blank pages and 6+ months on your passport

A lot of countries will want you to have at least 6 months on your passport which is pretty standard. You’ll also need spare pages to receive stamps and visas. Some visas, such as China and Laos, can take up a whole page.

 

Keep US dollars

US dollars are accepted in quite a few places and they’re exchanged very easily, so they’re always handy to help you get out of sticky situations.

 

Research scams

There are quite a few different scams that go around SEA. They differ between each area; so spend 15-20 minutes doing a quick Google search to make sure you know how to spot a scam.

 

Learn how to haggle

There is definitely an art to haggling, and you will definitely want to master this once you’re in SEA. My main advice is to set a maximum price in your head, start by offering half of this, and do not go over. For more tips on how to haggle, visit How to Haggle Like a Pro.

 

Hail the ‘gram

Nothing inspires me to travel more than stalking an awesome blogger’s profile and ogling at their pictures. It will also give you some great ideas on where to go.

southeast Asia beach

SAVING MONEY

Sleep in non-air conditioned rooms

These will suck, and I will always recommend paying an extra few pounds if you’re not trying to save money, but they can help you stick to a tight budget.

 

Check out double rooms

Sometimes double rooms can be cheaper than two singles. So if you’re travelling with a friend, check it out!

 

Couch surf

This is a great way to meet new people and to stay for free/a low price.

 

Eat with the locals

There will always be cheap places to eat; you just have to know where to find them. They typically don’t come with the amazing view where you can sip cocktails on the beach, but they will have great, authentic food and are commonly where the locals eat.

 

Drink local beer

Each country will have it’s own beer. These are sooo good and so much cheaper.

 

Try the Street food

The street food is usually safe, contrary to popular belief. You can buy a meal for pennies, so it’s a great way save your budget. Personally, I didn’t like eating it too much, mainly because I was never sure which meat I was actually getting…

 

Go solo from tours

Having a tour guide is a great and easy way to see the sights, but it’s also more costly and it somewhat takes the adventure out of exploring! However, sometimes you need to be part of a tour, for example when visiting Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, so it’s just about doing your research.

 

Keep drinking to a low

If you’re more interested in getting out and about and seeing the culture than getting smashed every night, I would definitely avoid drinking too much. Too much alcohol will break any budget, even if the beers are only £1.50.

HOW TO AVOID GETTING ILL

Avoid tap water

This relates back to my ‘get a filter bottle’ tip. Although in some areas may be okay to drink, I would always avoid the tap water unless you can filter it.

 

Drinks with ice

Most ice is safe as it comes from factories where it has been cleaned and treated correctly. If you want to be super safe, avoid it all together, but I don’t really think there is a need to do that.

 

Take Imodium

You will 100% not regret having these handy in your bag if you feel ill. It’ll save you running around looking for a pharmacy and then trying to figure out what you need from someone who likely only speaks broken English.

 

Berocca and Dioralyte

These little pick-me-ups will help you feel better, faster. They’ll replenish your vital vitamins that you may have lost to get you back on the road to recovery.

 

Malaria tablets

I met so many people that either didn’t take them or just stopped. What’s the point? Malaria is literally the last thing you want to get from your trip around SEA, and that is not being dramatic. They’re quite cheap and can save your life – don’t be a fool.

 

Hand sanitizer

You’re going to be touching loads of icky stuff as you’re walking around, whether its merchandise in shops, public transport or just money. If you’re eating food, clean ‘em first.

 

…but keep your immune system up

A lazy immune system is never good. By being overly cautious with germs you’re actually just making things worse for yourself – use sanitizers in moderation.

 

Wipe cutlery with a napkin

Some people don’t like doing this because they think it’s rude, but I just think they don’t understand the word ‘subtle’. It grosses me out thinking about how clean the cutlery really is in restaurants in the UK, let alone SEA.

 

Laxatives

So some people can’t stop going to the toilet and others can’t seem to go at all. Laxatives are pretty common and easy to obtain. Just make sure you read the packet (or Google the drug if it’s not in English) and have a clear schedule. You don’t want to be running to the toilet if you’re on an overnight bus or visiting Angkor Wat.

 

Diving shoes

These protect you from sea urchins (as well as other things). You do not want to stand on a sea urchin, period.

 

DEET

Deet and insect repellent will reduce the amount you’re bitten and therefore reduce your chances of getting ill. Even if you are still covered in bites, you’ll be covered in less if you deet-up!

 

GETTING AROUND

Walk

Walking lets you discover things that you may miss if you were in a tuk-tuk or taxi, like a cute little flower market or a cheap but delicious-looking café. When I was in SEA I would walk anywhere that was 3 miles or less, which would take under an hour.

 

Get an offline map

These are handmade by God. For those who don’t know what an offline map is, you download a map of the city you’re in (when you have wifi) and it’ll let you see where you’re going, how to get there, how long it’ll take, etc when you do not have internet. I used Lonely Planet and Maps.me, which saved my life quite a few times.

Always use a taxi meter

Unfortunately, some people may try to over charge you, so always make sure you use a taxi meter so the price is non-negotiable.

You’ve been before… many times

I always tell people that I have been before and that I am familiar with the area. This means you’ll be less likely to have a taxi drive that goes rogue to charge you extra, because they’ll think you might catch them out. If you’re particularly worried, you can track where you are going with an offline map to see if they’re taking the more scenic route.

 

Agree on a tuk-tuk price

Some tuk-tuk drivers will hurry you in and charge you a crazy amount when you arrive at your destination. You obviously don’t have a meter in a tuk-tuk, so haggle a price, and if you don’t like it, walk away and wait for another one.

 

Know how to get to/from the airport

Taxis are always going to be the most expensive option. There will be plenty of other options depending on where you’re landing, it’s just a matter of Googling it beforehand.

 

Use the underground/metro

Just like the underground, these are fast and effective ways of traveling about. They’ll differ in every city, but in quite a few you can just get a card that works like an Oyster card.

Scooters

scootering in Southeast Asia

Take photos of your bike

Getting a scooter can be a dodgy business, so it’s best to cover your back. The scooters may be a little beaten and scratched, so take photos of your bike before you set off to prove the condition that you got it in. This way, you can’t get blamed for any damage that you didn’t do.

 

Lock it up with a separate lock

So companies do a scam where they give you a lock, follow you to your first destination, wait for you to leave your bike, and then steal it as they’ll have kept a spare key to the lock they gave you. For this reason, it’s good to have a spare lock because it’ll deter them.

 

Know your insurance

If you have an accident, you’ll only be able to claim if you’re following the rules of your insurance. This could mean you need to wear a helmet, appropriate footwear, and that you’re not intoxicated. (This may sound obvious, but the first time I hired a bike the guy said to me, ‘If you’re going to drink and drive after dark, just avoid the police…’).

sunset in Southeast Asia

Night buses, trains and boarders

Keep your valuables

Night buses and trains usually have low crime rates, but I have known people to be pick-pocketed in their sleep. Keep passports, money, technology etc on you at all times (not in bags where someone could have a rummage if you fall asleep!).

 

Take Rescue Remedy

This is for people who are particularly nervous or anxious. Driving in SEA isn’t the same as the Western world, so it can take a while to understand what is ‘normal’. Rescue Remedy will help to calm any uneasy nerves, but it won’t knock you out like sleeping tablets. Although sleeping tablets may seem like a good idea, they can make you feel droopy and dull your senses.

 

Lay at the bottom

If you feel particularly sick or nervous, I would recommend lying at the bottom, as it’ll be a little smoother than if you lay at the top.

 

Inflatable pillow, slips, eye mask and earplugs

I LOVE inflatable pillows, especially when traveling on sleeper buses. Sometimes you’re given a pillow, but it’s a bit… gross, to say the least. Slips are also awesome, because if you ever have to sleep anywhere that isn’t the cleanest, you can literally just slip into it, and feel relatively protected. Eye masks and earplugs will obviously block out any unwanted light and noise, which can be hit and miss on overnight buses.

 

ALWAYS carry cash*

*and keep it in a safe place. You never know if you’ll need a little extra cash for an emergency, whether its to buy a new jar of Nutella or to get you through a border. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

Don’t argue with Border Enforcement

Sometimes you may be charged a little more to get into a country, but unfortunately, this is just one of those things. I’ve had friends who have argued with officers, but it got them absolutely nowhere and they were just asked to wait in a room for hours. It’s normally only a couple of pounds, so the best advice I can give is to pay up.

When you return

Share your stories

The best way to inspire people to travel is to share your stories. Traveling is such a great way to meet new people, to learn new skills, and to make some lifelong memoires.

Keep up the travel bug

Travelling SEA is most probably going to make you want to go back and/or see the rest of the world. Everyday life can stop you from concentrating on traveling, but make sure you keep your travel bug alive!

You can connect with Lucy here: 

Spotted Places :  @Lucy.Buchholz

Instagram : @lucybuchholz

Blog : Wanderlust Lucy

Lucy Buchholz

Lucy Buchholz

Hi, my name’s Lucy and I’m an editor from Ipswich, Suffolk. The first country that made me fall in love with travelling was Australia, when I was seven years old. I later moved to Brisbane to study at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), and have since traveled Australasia, Asia, Europe and regions of North America – South America is next on my list!

 

For more travel inspiration from Lucy’s travels check out her Instagram!

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