Everything you need to know before making a budget trek around this colorful part of the world
With 11 countries making up the region — each with incredibly different histories, cultures and beliefs — you can bet that your journey through South-East Asia will be a memorable one. The last thing you want though, is to find yourself unprepared, especially when you’re roughing it with a backpack. Keep these words of advice in mind.
Plan your trips around the weather…
We all know that the weather in SEA is generally tropical. However, there are places that are naturally cooler — think, for instance, northern Thailand, where the mercury drops even further during certain times of the year. If you plan to be outdoors a lot in areas like these, plan and pack accordingly. In addition to microclimates, do also keep in mind the different monsoon seasons in the region.
Also read: 5 useful travel tips for female backpackers
…and the local calendar
It’s also essential to find out what’s happening in your destination of choice, as public holidays and festive seasons may affect your trip. For example, if you’re visiting Singapore and plan to do a lot of shopping and eating, you may want to avoid dropping in during the Chinese New Year period. Many businesses — especially Chinese food stalls and restaurants — close for days and sometimes weeks during this time of the year.
Figure out the best mode of transportation
You might want to think twice before hopping into a cab in this part of the globe. Traffic can be a major problem in cities like Manila and Jakarta, so don’t rule out other modes of transportation like the train, bus or even jeepneys (Philippines), tuk tuks (Thailand), and ojeks (Indonesia). They’re usually much cheaper, and make for an immersive local experience.
Be mindful of cultural norms
Be respectful of prevailing traditions and beliefs, and don’t disobey rules (written and unwritten). For instance, be sure to cover up appropriately when visiting religious sites; also, be careful with the hand gestures that you use, as something as innocuous as using your index finger to point may be considered offensive in some places. Don’t forget to research on dining etiquette, too.
Go local when it comes to food
The street food available in the region is phenomenal, and you’re only doing yourself a disservice if you insist on sticking to cuisines that you’re familiar with. It’s usually cheaper to go with local culinary options; plus, the experience of sitting at a roadside stall and slurping up a piping hot bowl of pho soup in Vietnam makes for a memorable experience. Speaking of sampling local delights…
Have some basic medication on standby
If you’re not used to certain ingredients used in local cuisine, such as MSG and spices, your body might react negatively. Prepare yourself for stomach upsets and other ailments by packing medicine like charcoal pills.
Learn some key words and phrases
The languages and dialects spoken in SEA can be overwhelming; what’s more, English isn’t widely used in certain countries. It’ll be helpful to memorize a few key words and phrases, particularly if you’re planning to venture out to more rural regions. Consider picking up a dictionary or language guidebook, or use digital apps like Google Translate.
Don’t forget to check visa requirements
Avoid frustration, anger and confusion by double-checking visa requirements (in countries like Vietnam and Myanmar in particular), as well as exit fees, prior to your trip. This way, you won’t have to waste time and money doing something you could’ve done much earlier back home.
Also read: The easy way to backpack across Thailand