Planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Southeast Asia is a fascinating region but it’s very different. Before you depart, be sure to read these 30 essential Southeast Asia travel tips that will help you travel around the region like a pro!
1. Pack Light
Pack light, especially if you’ll be traveling around Southeast Asia and taking public transportation. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to haul heavy luggage around.
Pack light cotton clothing as it is hot and humid in Southeast Asia. In most Southeast Asian countries, you can get your clothes washed and dried in hotels or laundries for just a couple of dollars. Also, it is easy to buy clothes at the street markets for very reasonable prices.
2. Pack Clothes for Temple Visits
If you are planning to visit temples in Southeast Asia, you need to know the dress code. The basic rule is to cover your shoulders and knees.
Therefore, make sure to pack an outfit that will cover your shoulders and knees — a scarf or shawl is very useful when you stumble across a temple that was not included in your plan.
3. Get Travel Insurance
It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance when you travel to Southeast Asia. You might have prepared well but your body may not be prepared for the Asian spices, high temperature, or way of life.
Southeast Asia trips also often include some adventurous activities, such as trekking and scuba diving, so it’s a good idea to have a policy in place.
4. Get Vaccinated
It is vital to get vaccinated against diseases and take necessary precautions for your Southeast Asia trip. Mosquito bites, upset stomachs, and malaria are common maladies affecting people residing in the tropics.
Many countries in Southeast Asia require specific vaccinations before you can enter them. Make sure to check their vaccine requirements and get the recommended vaccinations in advance.
See the detailed information about Travel Vaccines and Health Advice for Southeast Asia.
5. Be Smart about Currency Exchange
It is recommended to change your money in airports or banks where you can get a decent exchange rate even though you might need to pay excessive fees. You can also use local ATMs to withdraw the local currency as they will use the banks' exchange rates.
Be aware that many hotels offer a currency exchange service but they generally offer terrible exchange rates.
Every country in Southeast Asia has a different currency. Calculate how much local money you need so as to avoid having too much money left over that is not accepted in your next destination.
6. Take Some Cash with You
Visa and Mastercard branded credit cards, debit cards, and travel cards are widely accepted in major tourist destinations in Southeast Asia but you will still need some local money. You will need to have cash for street market vendors, taxi drivers, and smaller restaurants.
In rural areas, cards will not be accepted and ATM availability is not guaranteed so make sure you have enough cash to cover your planned expenses.
It is also necessary to carry some US dollars in cash too, as this might be required at the port of entry to pay the fee for your Visa on Arrival.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Bargain
It is normal to bargain in Southeast Asia. It is a way to engage with the local people and try to get a fair price. You can try to bargain with local street vendors or at the markets. Just remember to barter reasonably and always with a smile on your face.
8. Don’t Drink the Tap Water
Tap water in Southeast Asia is undrinkable so you should buy bottled water, which is cheap. You can always find cold bottles of water available.
9. Expect Squat Toilets in Most Places
Squat toilets are common in Southeast Asian countries. Expect to find these toilets in most places, such as restaurants, tourist attractions, and other public places.
These toilets require a bit of getting used to but don't worry as most hotels have normal Western-style toilets.
10. Take Your Own Toilet Paper
Toilet paper is rarely found in public restrooms in Southeast Asia. Carry toilet paper or tissues with you wherever you go.
11. Buy a Local SIM Card
If your current cell phone carrier doesn't offer an affordable service overseas, you can buy a local SIM card that will keep you covered. This could be very helpful for your long trip in Southeast Asia. SIM cards are cheap and the coverage is incredible, even in some remote places.
12. Respect the Local Culture
Southeast Asia is the perfect place for leisure and vacations but be aware that there is a very different culture. It is advisable to learn about the culture before you travel. Here are several common things you should know:
- Cover your arms and legs when you visit temples.
- Don’t stare at people praying.
- Avoid taking pictures of monks unless you have permission.
- Don't touch anybody on the head. The head is considered to be sacred in some religions.
- Avoid displaying your soles and take your shoes off at temples.
13. Be Wary of Scams
Travel scams exist all over the world and Southeast Asia is no exception. Here are some common scams in Southeast Asia:
- Beggars, monks, or kids walk around and ask you for money.
- Fares are overpriced when taking taxis or renting motorbikes. Agree on a taxi price before you get in.
- Scams occur when exchanging money with individuals on the street. Always exchange your currency in legal establishments.
- Scams occur when you’re offered cheap and VIP bus tickets.
- You might be told that an attraction or temple is closed when it actually isn't. Check it in person.
14. Try Street Food
If you want to taste authentic local food, find places where the locals eat. It is easy to find food streets and food stalls in each country in Southeast Asia.
Most of the restaurants won't look very safe but try to choose restaurants where the local people eat — the more people at a restaurant or food stall the better.
15. Don’t Overplan
It is necessary to have a planned itinerary before your trip but an unexpected challenge is often thrown in midway through the plan, such as a flight delay, a visit to an unplanned attraction, or overstaying at a beach you have particularly enjoyed.
Be sure to leave some unscheduled time in your itinerary for downtime and also for wandering around.
16. Try Local Transportation at Least Once
Trying the local transportation is a great way to experience the local culture. Tuk tuks, motorbike taxis, or tricycles are a great way to get around. They are cheap and they always make for an adventure while traveling in Southeast Asia.
17. Watch Out on the Sidewalk
You might think of it as an adventure as you weave your way across the lanes of motorbikes in some Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam.
Sometimes, motorbikes drive on the sidewalks and rarely stop for traffic lights. One trick is to be careful and follow the crowds to get across the roads.
18. Learn Some Phrases in the Local Language
There are different languages in different Southeast Asian countries. Most locals don't speak English.
Learning a few phrases of the local language would further enhance your experience in Southeast Asia. Learning how to say 'hello' and 'thank you' are a good start and the local people will really appreciate it. Everyone loves a foreigner who speaks the local language.
19. Don’t Worry Too Much about the Weather
The best time to visit Southeast Asia is from November to April (the dry and cool season) if you care about the weather. Even if you are traveling in the wet season, you don't need to worry too much about the weather as the rain often only lasts for several hours in the afternoon or at night.
You can still enjoy a good time as long as you plan well and make the most of your time when it doesn’t rain.
See our detailed information about the Best Time to Visit Southeast Asia and Tips for Traveling in the Monsoon Season.
20. Check Southeast Asia’s Travel Visa Requirements
Most Southeast Asian countries allow visa-free entry or a Visa on Arrival for stays ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months for certain nationalities. Vietnam travel visas are a little complicated but you can learn more about this here.
See all things about Visas for Southeast Asian Countries.
21. Don't Worry — Southeast Asia Is Safe
Generally speaking, Southeast Asia is a very safe place for travelers. It's rare to get robbed or mugged.
People are nice, respectful, and friendly. In fact, it's one of the safest regions in the world for female travelers, solo travelers, and families.
22. Always Carry Your Passport
If anything should happen to you, it would be essential for you to have your passport, especially if you are unable to get back to your hotel. You never know what could happen and it’s always better to be prepared for anything.
23. Get Off the Beaten Path
The top cities and attractions will definitely be on your must-see list but don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path a bit and explore some alternative destinations and sites around Southeast Asia.
The famous attractions are usually crowded, especially during the peak season. Don’t be afraid to leave the usual tourist routes and try something new and different.
24. Learn about Tipping in Southeast Asia
In most Southeast Asian countries, there is no tipping culture. It is not customary to tip in most situations.
Tips are rarely expected in restaurants and bars but porters or housekeepers in hotels and tourism providers, such as tour guides, are likely to be used to receiving tips.
25. Be a Responsible Traveler
With so many tourists visiting each year, cities are getting more and more crowded but much of Southeast Asia is inherently mired in poverty. You can help the local people when you make the right choices on your trip.
Don't give money to beggar children near tourist attractions as the money they make is often turned over to a boss or family member. If the children get money continuously, they will never be given a chance at a normal life.
It’s best to avoid orphanage tourism, hill tribe visits, or any activity that exploits children, ethnic groups, or animals. When participating in elephant tourism, make sure to carefully vet the organization and make sure they’re protecting the animals rather than harming them.
26. Book Your Flights Early
You can usually get the best deals for international flights to Southeast Asia and flights between countries in Southeast Asia by booking early. Start keeping an eye out for cheap flights as early as possible.
27. Don’t Underestimate the Jet Lag
Sleeping in a new bed is hard enough but when you add over 10 hours’ time difference once you’re in Southeast Asia, it’s all over! Leave yourself some time to rest and relax on your first or second day when you arrive in Southeast Asia.
28. Don’t Try to See It All
Traveling to Southeast Asia for the first time is very exciting and you’re going to want to see as much as you can. You need to know that Southeast Asia is a huge region filled with many bucket list destinations screaming to be visited.
Unless you’re staying in the region for a year, don’t try to see it all in one trip. See our detailed recommendations about How to spend your time in Southeast Asia: from 2 weeks to 3 months.
29. Get Used to Selfies with the Locals
In some places in Southeast Asia, the locals are not used to seeing foreigners on a daily basis. Do not be taken aback if they stare or ask to take photos with you.
30. Don’t Expect Anything to Be On Time
People in Southeast Asia are a lot more relaxed and don’t care about time as Westerners do.
Travel in Southeast Asia with Us
Traveling in Southeast Asia is a treat. Plan in advance and keep an open mind and heart. To make your first trip to Southeast Asia a great one, contact us. We’re here to help you tour Southeast Asia your way.