Southeast Asia is a region full of beauty, history, and as such, is of serious intrigue to many of us. The biggest draw to the area is that our currency has a great exchange rate and our money can go a long way, so much so that travelers 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 will require an open mind and heart. If you’ve been wanting to travel south east Asia, keep reading to get some great tips in this short Travel Southeast Asia Guide prepared by Journey to Travel.
The first thing you’ll notice after your long flight is just how quickly your expectations are challenged. When I arrived in 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 you travel 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 by and large 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° Fahrenheit (26° celsius) for the entire year, including the cold season; temperatures reach 97° degrees (36° celsius) during the summer months. 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 bed room without AC, and it’s not pretty.
The food, oh the food. It’s so marvelously 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 out, 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 definitely try authentic food, simply 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. 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. Here’s what you can do: Practice your bargaining skills so that you’ll be an avid bargainer when you travel south east 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 exact 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 to never get caught up in the story they tell you; you aren’t there to sympathize, you want a good deal! Leave the emotions at home. Easier said than done, unfortunately.
Avoiding Scams as You Travel Southeast Asia
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 fairly common is the Tuk Tuk Scam. Tuk Tuks are popular transportation vehicles that are a sort of motorcycle/car hybrid 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 ridiculously low 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 different stops, such as the “tourist center” or a tailor or a special “buddhist temple” all 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, figure out what a fair price is for the things 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 certainly unsavory 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 traveler. Whether it be the high temperatures, the spicy food, or just plainly different interaction with the locals, your experience is going to be a little shocking. That’s part of the beauty of the Journey to Travel; it’s an essential part to learning about another culture, even its ups and downs. If you’ve experienced any culture shock or want to give us some tips of your own, comment below!