If you are travelling to Southeast Asia, here are 12 tips to help you make the most of your time in this breathtaking, wonderful continent.
1. Check your visa requirements
There’s nothing worse than having your journey end or hit a major bump before you even begin. Your passport should have at least six months’ worth of validity left, and each country has their own sets of requirements. If your destination requires a visa, be sure to check if you need to apply for a visa before entering the country or if they offer it upon arrival. Here is a handy list on visa requirements in Southeast Asia.
2. Eat local street food
Trust us, hit the streets in Southeast Asia for your next meal. Street food is a cheap and delectable way to experience the local culture. From hawker stalls to night markets and street vendors, each country has their own delicacies and twists. Think Taiwan’s bubble milk tea and fried goodies, Hong Kong’s stinky tofu, or Vietnam’s humble bowl of pho! The explosion of flavours will get any traveller hungry for more.
3. Visit an indigenous tribe
Southeast Asia is a brilliant tapestry of culture, colours and traditions. Visiting a local tribe gives you an insight on the unique customs, habits and beliefs of ethnic groups that inhabit hard-to-reach regions. In Vietnam, you can stay with Black Hmong tribe amidst the beautiful mountains of Sapa.
4. Get off the beaten track
You probably know the UNESCO Heritage City of Melaka in Malaysia, but did you know that there is a delightful Hakka village near this city called Machap Baru, famous for its green tea delicacies? Guidebooks can only tell you so much about a destination. Take a closer look and you can definitely find many lesser known places and hidden gems in Southeast Asia.
5. Look out for special events
The festive celebrations and spiritual traditions of Southeast Asia are unlike any other in the world. Imagine streets lined with brilliant decorations, temples coming to life with captivating rituals, performances, shopping sprees and partying.
It definitely shows you the fun or cultural side of each country! In Thailand, you could get into a 3-day nationwide water fight during the Songkran festival in April. In Malaysia, there is the Thaipusam festival held within several Hindu temples. And don’t miss the lantern festival of Hoi An in Vienam!
6. Admire the temples
While temple hunting may not be for everyone, it is still worth visiting at least one of the temples, shrines or pagodas in whichever destination you choose. The Angkor Wat Temple Complex is an inspiring must-see if you head to Siem Reap, Thailand. Countries like Indonesia and Myanmar are also dotted with beautiful temples that showcase the spiritual and religious beliefs of the locals.
7. Bargain at the local market
Don’t be afraid to haggle for lower prices at the local markets in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. You’d be surprised by how much you can save from it.
The trick to doing this is to look neutral as you make the offer, decide how much you are willing to pay, and start with a low but reasonable price. Continue negotiating until you get to a fair price. Sometimes the seller might cave in if you choose to walk away. That being said, it is good to research beforehand on what can or cannot be haggled.
8. Keep an eye on your health
Food poisoning can happen anywhere with poor hygiene practices or lack of sanitation. Be mindful of food and water hygiene; you can do this by observing the way food is handled and the general atmosphere of the eatery. You may want to bring along a basic first aid kit, and invest in a travel insurance that would cover you in case something unexpected occurs.
9. Travel the alternative way
Zoom on a motorbike across the vast landscape of Vietnam. Ride a boat along the Mekong River in Laos. Thread through the traffic on a tuk-tuk. Catch a bus in Cambodia. Take a slow ride across Penang, Malaysia on a trishaw.
The large variety of alternative travel methods in Southeast Asia rewards brave souls, challenges your perceptions and teaches you in ways you never imagined.
10. Embrace Nature
From the limestone cliffs of Krabi, Thailand to the spectacular Ha Long Bay of Vietnam, beaches of the Philippines to the forested jungles of Indonesia, Nature reigns supreme in this continent. Let the sublime beauty of Nature capture your heart and mind – and you’ll return home feeling more energised than ever.
11. Be a responsible traveller
Being a responsible traveller is about respecting the local culture, wildlife, environment and the community. Learn about the country’s culture, language and religious beliefs. Wear culturally appropriate clothes, especially when visiting a sacred site. Choose local brands, local businesses and shops that do not promote exploitation of workers or animals. Adopt environmentally-friendly practices when you are travelling.
At the end of the day, you will be leaving a positive impact on the community while minimising your carbon footprint.
12. Slow down
There is so much to see in Southeast Asia that a few days here isn’t going to cut it. Rather than trying to squeeze everything within a short period of time, go slow. Take your time in a few destinations to fully immerse yourself in the culture. Make the most of your travels not by going far, but by going deep.