Southeast Asia is a region full of beauty and history and is of serious intrigue. The biggest draw to the area is that our currency has a great exchange rate. Our money can go a long way, so much so that travellers on a budget consistently choose it as their primary destination over Europe or South America.
Unlike perhaps more familiar places, the culture in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia can be significantly different and require an open mind and heart. So, if you’ve wanted to travel southeast Asia, keep reading to get some great tips in this short Travel Southeast Asia Guide.
The first thing you’ll notice after your long flight is just how quickly your expectations are challenged. When I arrived at Bangkok’s International Airport (BKK), I felt it immediately; the arrivals terminal had no air conditioning, despite the blazing temperatures outside.
I knew from that moment that things were going to be a little different from what I had been used to at home, but it’s exactly what I wanted, and likely what you want too. If you’re not prepared, the cultural differences when travelling southeast Asia will smack you right in the face, so don’t get caught off guard.
As I’ve just hinted, the entire region of Southeast Asia can get very hot. The area is considered to have a tropical climate, which means high temperatures year-round and persistent rainfall for large parts of the year. We’re talking an average of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) for the entire year, including the cold season; temperatures reach 97 degrees (36 degrees Celsius) during the summer months.
Therefore, you’ll need to pack plenty of warm-weather clothes, especially as some budget accommodations don’t have air conditioning. Yikes! I’ve been there, specifically in a 12 bedroom without AC, and it’s not pretty.
The food, oh the food. It’s so marvellously delicious, and cheap too! But if your stomach isn’t prepared for it, you will quickly learn the precarious situation you’ve put yourself in; picture a cramped toilet without AC and the worst stomach pains you’ve ever had.
When starting, definitely take it slow and keep to mild dishes. The locals know how delicate our digestive system can be and will recommend dishes with less spice. Don’t get me wrong; the food is one of the best parts you’ll experience when you travel Southeast Asia; you should try authentic food; do it once you’ve built up some resistance.
If you’re coming from a developed nation, the concept of bargaining for everything might come as a surprise for you. However, aside from food, nearly everything else can be bargained for, and chances are, you’re never going to get the same deal the locals do – it’s just the name of the game. So here’s what you can do: Practice your bargaining skills so that you’ll be an avid bargainer when you travel Southeast Asia.
All it takes is developing a bit of a poker face, and some charisma helps, too. I’ve personally brought down the initial prices many shopkeepers gave me by doing these three things:
- Ask for half the price they offer you. They know how good your exchange rate is and will try to milk you for it. Don’t let them!
- Walk away. If they don’t immediately call you back, giving you a better price, you can safely assume that the price they offered is pretty typical. Use that information when you inevitably encounter another vendor selling the same product a few yards away.
- Buy in bulk. Every vendor is going to give you a better deal if you purchase multiple items. This is a good strategy for beginning the bargaining conversation because they know you mean business and are worth their time.
My last tip is never to get caught up in the story they tell you; you aren’t there to sympathize; you want a good deal! So leave the emotions at home. Easier said than done, unfortunately.
Avoiding Scams as You Travel Southeast Asia
This is what your average tuk-tuk looks like.
You wouldn’t believe how often seemingly innocuous individuals are trying to scam you.
In Thailand, I experienced this on three separate occasions in one day. One primary example that’s pretty common is the Tuk Tuk Scam. Tuk Tuks are popular motorcycle/car hybrid vehicles run by the locals, much like a taxi. I used them plenty, and so should you, but the scam comes in when you’re offered a meagre fare.
They’ll lure you in by charging you the equivalent of 50 cents to get across town, which to the unprepared tourist seems like a steal. What then happens is they take you to different stops, such as the “tourist centre” or a tailor or a particular “Buddhist temple”, all of which provide the driver with a commission for bringing you there.
You’ll be pressured into buying whatever they’re selling, and even those of us with the toughest skin will feel uncomfortable. Do your research, know what a reasonable price is for what you want, including entrance cost and times for local monuments, and ignore the rest.
Absolutely Imperative: 99% of the time, if someone is stopping you and offering to help you “out of the kindness of their heart,” politely decline and press forward. They’re about to scam you one way or another.
Travel There Now!
There are undoubtedly unsavoury parts to be had when you travel southeast Asia, but now that you are aware of them, you’ll be a hundred times better off than the next traveller.
Of course, whether it be the high temperatures, the spicy food, or just different interaction with the locals, your experience is going to be a little shocking. But, that’s part of the beauty of travelling, it’s an essential part of learning about another culture, even its ups and downs.