Ah, Southeast Asia. A colorful and fascinating place, full of natural beauty, delicious food, ancient temples and bustling cities. Travel to this region is an adventure, but it may be a different experience than you’re accustomed to. With some tips for travel to Southeast Asia to help you prepare and pack, you can ensure a more pleasant experience with fewer surprises.
1. Carry bug spray and sunscreen with you at all times. If you have specific brands you like, bring them with you. It won’t be easy to find them there, especially outside of the major cities. If you have sensitive skin or are looking for all-natural options then you should definitely bring some from home. A hat may be helpful if you’re prone to over-heating or sunburn (and you can actually get some really lovely hats in most parts of Southeast Asia). Likewise, chafing cream can be a real relief in the heat.
2. Consider bringing some medicine with you. If you’re prone to motion-sickness, bring your own Dramamine. If you’re traveling a long distance and jet-lag usually hits you hard, bring a sleep aid and earplugs. The cities aren’t quiet and the rural areas tend to have noisy roosters. And it can never hurt to have a stash of anti-diarrhea medicine handy, even for the strongest of digestive systems. We definitely found Band-aids and antibiotic ointment helpful on our last trip as well! Just check the rules for the countries you’re visiting, as some are fairly strict about what kind of medicine you can bring in.
3. Pack your own travel-sized containers of toiletries. The complimentary versions offered by hotels are not usually very high-quality, and conditioner and body lotion are hard to find. Most hotels will stock shampoo, soap, disposable razors, plastic combs, and toothbrushes, but the quality will probably be different than you’re used to.
4. Carry a small pack of paper soap and a handkerchief with you. Most of the restrooms in restaurants and public places will not have soap or paper towels for hand-washing. Likewise, keeping a packet of tissues in your bag can also come in handy as many restrooms may not stock toilet paper.
5. Bring sturdy tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting dusty or dirty. You may think you’ll only need sandals since you’re headed to warm climes, but tennis shoes can come in handy for busy cities where the streets may not be very clean, dusty roads in more rural areas, exploring parks, climbing temple stairs and taking walking tours. Just don’t invest in a shiny new pair, as they’re likely to look quite used by the time your trip is over.
6. Women: bring a modest top and a long skirt or pants if you’re visiting temples. Asia in general tends to be more modest on top than most Western countries (no cleavage, especially), and many temples will not admit you if you have bare shoulders or your knees are visible. We know it’s hard, but try not to roll your eyes as countless men in shorts and tank tops breeze past you. It’s a different culture!
7. Book events in advance if you’re traveling during the high season, especially if you have your sights set on a particular tour or class. You should have no problem in the off-season, but anything that’s highly rated on Trip Advisor will probably book up at least a week in advance during the high season.
8. If you love snorkeling and plan to do quite a bit of it, you may want to invest in your own equipment. The quality and cleanliness of the equipment will vary based on your hotel/resort or the tour that you book, so it may be worth it for you to spend $50 on your own.
9. Get travel insurance for peace of mind, or check your existing health insurance to see if it covers you in case of overseas emergencies. You never know what may happen to land you in the hospital, from appendicitis to (God forbid) an accident. It’s easy to justify not spending the extra $50, but it could end up costing you a lot more than that if you need healthcare. Many policies also cover lost luggage, trip cancellations or delays, and emergency evacuation services. It’s just a generally good idea.
10. Expect to get ripped off a little bit, and try to be okay with it. We call it a “tourist tax” and build a little bit into every trip budget. Stressing out over whether every tuk tuk driver is charging you an extra dollar for your ride could really ruin your trip, while in actuality the financial impact is minimal (we get it though, it’s the principle!). A lot of travel books give you a range of what you should expect to pay, but this doesn’t always prove true (particularly if the guide book is a few years old). Use them as guidelines, but don’t be surprised if you are quoted more. To avoid surprises, agree on prices for things ahead of time: before you get in the car, before you put the shirt in your bag, and before the seemingly nice, smiley lady makes your coffee. Then hold people to it! A pen and paper can be really useful for writing down prices, numbers, times, and places. There’s less room for confusion when things are written down. And a lot of people can read English better than they understand the spoken version, especially when you account for the different accents all over the world.
11. If you’re going to take tons of selfies, bring a handkerchief or face-blotting paper! Most of Southeast Asia gets quite warm, and you don’t want a shiny face in all of your photos.
12. If traveling to Cambodia, be prepared for all of your transactions to occur in US Dollars. It’s so strange, but they use US paper currency and give Cambodia Riel for change equaling less than $1 or items costing less than $1. Almost as a rule, 4,000 riel = $1.
13. Likewise, people in Vietnam appreciate tips in USD and some transactions can even occur in USD so be sure to clarify that ahead of time. Bring small bills, especially singles.
Do you have any tips that you’d like to share? Leave a comment and help out your fellow travelers!