outheast Asia is a fantastic place to travel – there’s just so much to see and do, so many people to meet and so many cultures to learn from. Compared to certain other parts of the world, it can also be pretty cheap (if you don’t mind not staying in 5-star accommodation all the time, that is). And just to help you in your exciting SEA exploits, here are 10 travel tips from yours truly and the other friendly contributors of SEAYSS.
1. Cheap air travel
There’s no need to take premium (and expensive) airlines if you don’t have to. Once in Asia, there are budget airlines such as Air Asia, Tiger and Jetstar Asia to help you get around. It’s easy to book these flights online, and you get to save money too!
Personally, I prefer Air Asia. I’ve had booking trouble with Jetstar, and their hotline can be a real pain. I’ve never tried Tiger, but I’ve been told that you can’t do online check-ins with them, which might be a hassle if you use that sort of stuff.
2. Don’t set your plans in stone!
Because it’s so easy to get budget flights around SEA, there’s no need for you to plan your trip down to the minute before you get here. You’ll find that things can be more exciting and fun if you keep it fluid and go with the flow, hanging around a place if it interests you more, moving on if you’re seeking something new.
3. Don’t eat at 5-star restaurants; some of the best food are on the streets
Street food in SEA is pretty ace. In fact, some countries like Thailand and Laos are known for their street food. It’s cheaper and are probably also much more authentic than their 5-star counterparts; after all, the atmosphere and environment are part of the authenticity!
But do pick your street food stall carefully – some are more reputable than others (and also cleaner)…
Even in countries where there isn’t so much street food anymore (such as Singapore), there are still hawker centres and food courts where you can get authentic local dishes for much cheaper than you would get in a restaurant. And they tend to taste better too! (See ‘Singapore: The island of noms‘ for some recommendations.)
4. Build friendships, and you could get free stuff next time
It’s true – make friends, get contacts. It’s a really simple way to make travel in SEA easy. SEAsians generally love to entertain guests, and will happily show you around their favourite spots; some of which aren’t in the guidebooks! Sometimes you can even stay with them in their homes, which saves you money (always a good thing). Staying with friends and having them show you around is also a great way to get an insight of how the locals live.
5. Footwear: flip-flops/sandals could be handy
It’s good to have a sturdy pair of shoes, of course, but you’ll find that flip-flops come in very handy, and that you might end up wearing them more than your “travelling” shoes.
Flip-flops are lightweight and simple, easy to put on and kick off. Also, SEA is no stranger to rain, and flip-flops are the best for wet weather – much more comfortable than walking around in soggy shoes!
6. Don’t believe the locals when they say the food is “not spicy”
Many of the contributors in our team have fallen prey to this in Thailand. When Thai people say “it’s not really spicy” or “it’s only a little bit spicy”, be prepared for sweat, tears, flushed cheeks and incinerated tastebuds. We don’t joke. And don’t try to be a hero if you’re not sure!
7. Ask the tuk-tuk driver for the price before you get on
This is a pretty basic thing, but it’s surprising how many people have fallen for this. Unlike taxis where you just get in and then settle it later (which, come to think of it, might not always be what happens in certain SEA cities), you really have to settle the price for the tuk-tuk (in countries such as Laos and Thailand) before you get on. You can haggle, too, and it really comes down to your skill. No matter what happens, you’ll probably still be paying more than a local (another benefit of having local friends!) but you can at least make sure you don’t get completely ripped off.
8. Don’t give children money in villages
When travelling in SEA you might go to remote areas to visit villagers. The children might be mischievous and cute, but it doesn’t really help them to give them money. Or candy. The former inculcates a “gimme gimme” attitude that aid workers discourage, since the idea is to help them learn to be self-sufficient. The latter just wrecks their teeth.
Should you feel like you would like to give them a gift to remember you by, look out for places like Big Brother Mouse (in Laos). Big Brother Mouse sells children’s books at a low price for you to pick up and take to the villages to distribute to the children. This way, you get to give them a present and help encourage literacy!
9. Keep an open mind
You might come across a lot of strange things in SEA, be it food or customs or even the people. Keep an open mind and just chill; give everything a chance (within reason) and you might be surprised by what you find!
10. JUST ASK!
If you are lost or if there is anything at all that you would like to know, just ask! Most SEAsians are pretty friendly, helpful people. There’s a lot that you can communicate through gestures, smiles and a few shared words. And sometimes you might come across something extra, even.
So what are you waiting for? Come to Southeast Asia!