20 Tips For Surviving South East Asia
Travelling South East Asia is probably one of the most magical trips you'll ever take. Comprising of temples, street-markets, bars, beaches, travellers, locals, farms, mountains, bustling cities, humble rural areas, and plenty of Seven Eleven's, it's
Travelling South East Asia is probably one of the most magical trips you’ll ever take. Comprising of temples, street-markets, bars, beaches, travellers, locals, farms, mountains, bustling cities, humble rural areas, and plenty of Seven Eleven’s, it’s a sweet escape from reality. Backpacking between November and April is said to be the best time of the year (especially if you’re not to keen on chaotic storms and island floods), so when it comes to planning make sure you take this into full consideration. Whether you’re travelling from Thailand to Cambodia, coming through Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos, or whichever route you decide to take, I can guarantee you’ll have the best time ever. I know, I know, it’s completely daunting, and almost feels absurd that you’re going to be out in the wild (yes, the wild… okay, maybe like 70% of the time) with no parents, no itinerary (it’s the best and only way), and no effing clue. I’m guessing you’ve done your research. I’m guessing that’s how you’ve stumbled across this article. I’m also guessing you’ve came across plenty of articles telling you how to prepare yourself, but I’m also also guessing you haven’t come across an honest article on what to really expect. Now, I know I’ve named this ’20 tips for surviving South East Asia’, which it is, but it’s also kind of a breakdown of some things you must know before you go.
1. It smells. It does. It’s distinct and you’ll never quite smell anything like it. And when you smell it, you’ll know. Prepare to enhance your senses.
2. Pack a torch. Not for the reasons you’re thinking. Picture this – you’re sat in a cute bar on a street full of other just as quaint bars, and then the power grids blow… and you’re all just sat there in the pitch-black with your pints of Chang. Yeah, it happens. The electricity cuts all the time. So if you want to carry on your game of ‘gin’, have a lil’ light with you.
3. This one will hit hard. Are you ready? Okay. It’s not as cheap as you think. There, I said it. But it’s out, and it’s the truth. Before I left I was under the impression it was cheap as chips over there, which yes it is – but your money goes a lot quicker than you think, therefore resulting in an expensive X amount of months. My advice? Over save, it’s definitely better having too much than too little.
4. Toilet roll is limited. But that’s not always a bad thing. Because… bum guns and you’ll be welcoming them with open arms. Bum guns are the future! Honestly, I don’t know why we don’t have them over here. They’re super refreshing, hygienic and powerful – the perfect combo on a sweltering day.
5. You’ll probably know this one. Or not. We didn’t really think about actually having to T R A V E L. Long-ass journeys as well – I’m talking 15 to 20 hours plus. Coaches, trains, busses, night-coaches, night-trains. It’s tiring and can really get you down, especially if you’ve had a shitty night sleep. Pack a neck pillow, sleeping tablets and pro-plus and you’ll be tip-top.
6. Warm clothing is a necessity. I wish I knew this before I left, I must’ve put in then taken out about 10 jackets thinking “pfft, I’m going to Asia, I am not going to need a hoody”. Climbing Mt. Batur in Bali at 3am, is a sticky hike but when your sweat gets cold, and you’re 1,717 metres above sea level and the sun hasn’t risen yet. It’s cold.
7. Vietnam. If you’re planning on staying longer than 15 days (which I highly recommend if you want to do it properly), don’t risk trying to get your visa on arrival. We made that mistake and ended up having to stay three extra days in Kuala Lumpur and one too many days in Ho Chi Minh waiting around for a fast-track visa. It was highly inconvenient, and yes there were tears. Lots of them.
8. All the different currency is a total bitch. We got STA travel cards and lost so much money in the process of changing and taking money out in various locations. Most cash machines charge, and even though STA will tell you you can pretty much pay with card everywhere, you can’t. Especially not Seven Elevens.
9. If you can’t live without your phone or the outside world (even though you’re travelling to escape the harsh realities of home) SIM cards are the best because WIFI is abysmal. Now don’t judge me. Being able to have that little bit of connection with home wherever and whenever you want is bliss. Especially if you just want to upload a ‘how’s your Monday going?’ pic on Instagram to make everyone at home jealous. Muhahaha.
10. Do you like fried food? Of course you do! Do you like fried food with every meal? Of course you don’t. Get used to it though. You’re trying to save money, so you need to take full advantage of the free brekky at your hostels, but everywhere you go it’s fried eggs and a baguette. Or sometimes just sometimes, you might get a fruit salad.
11. It’s moist. Very moist. I guess with it being typhoon season when it’s British summer, it’s bound to be stuffy, sweaty and a soggy experience. My only word of advice here is really to just not give a shit about how you look. You got to leave all that behind in the UK before you board that plane. Just brush off that fuck-giving.
12. Be ready and willing to get run over almost every day in Vietnam. It’s just the way it is and it’s not going to change. Be alert and be ready to go, and when you cross that road, don’t look back.
13. If you’re blonde or ginger you’re basically a celebrity. So smile for the camera, because you’re going to get your picture taken a lot, a lot, a lot. A lot of Asians aren’t used to seeing fair-haired men and women, so they’re super amazed when you’re there with your pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. They’ll hold your hand, smile at you, praise you, stroke you, they’ll even bow down at you – it’s completely mental. But don’t be alarmed, just be cool and smile and bask in your new-found fame.
14. Tourist attractions are the best way for locals to get money out of you. They know you’re foreign, probably haven’t quite grasped the currency, and you’re willing to do whatever to get the perfect Instagram pic. There are stalls everywhere selling you the same junk when all you want to do is take in the beauty of Tegalalang Rice Terrace; just be polite, say “no thank you” and keep on walking.
15. Eat local! This is the best advice you’ll ever receive. The locals use only the freshest and finest ingredients all hand-selected from the early morning markets. The dishes are cheap and absolutely exquisite – what’s not to love? Malaysian Roti Canai is a must!! And if you visit Chiang Mai, Thailand you must visit the night market. I had the best Thai red curry soup with noodles, pork gyozas and a Chang for £1.50 and it was the best meal I ate. Chiang Mai is renowned for being the heart of food culture in Thailand, and I highly recommend a day cookery school (Sammy’s Organic Cooking School). And when you’re in Vietnam the banana pancakes with condensed milk are the one.
16. Finding a place to stay has never been easier with a helpful little app Hostelworld. This app is going to be your new Bible – you’ll live by it. Literally. But don’t be fooled by the cute pics of tastefully decorated, contemporary rooms, it’s not always as it seems. Read the reviews and check the amount of reviews compared to its rating, it’s the only way to gauge the true rating of the hostel.
17. Strays will melt your heart. Everywhere you go there’s an excessive number of stray cats and dogs and their little babies – it’s a heartbreaking affair. My sister actually tried to walk a dog to safety and it happily went with her, so sad. But also be careful because… rabies.
18. Medication is key. You are going to get ill, bloated, get the shits, heat exhaustion, eaten by mosquitoes, dengue, constipation and general exhaustion, and it’s going to be tough but you got this. Just drink lots of water and make sure you have all the necessary pills to pop when* you do get ill.
* I would say if, but you are going to get ill. Sorry.
19. And even though they aren’t classed as medication, earplugs are also a necessity, as much as Imodium… (okay that’s an exaggeration, but as much as paracetamol). And if you’re anything like us and end up staying in a hostel made of MDF, opposite a mosque then your earplugs will be your saviour at 5am.
20. “Same same, but different” – you’ll learn.
DON’T BE SHY, MAKE FRIENDS, DON’T WORRY, BE SEXY AND HAVE FUN!!
Cover photo created by Shauna Luckett