Can’t live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!
Guest Post: 10 Tips for backpacking Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is the place I still need to discover. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while but always other destinations, more exciting ones for me, come first (like Armenia where I am now). But when I eventually go there I will keep in mind these backpacking tips that Ewelina from Cracking the Oyster prepared for you and me. Hope you’ll enjoy this post as much as I did!
Southeast Asia is an unique, colourful and diverse corner of the world. It’s also one that first time visitors are often charmed by. However there are few aspects that may surprise you to the extend that it’s just better to know about beforehand. Here are few things that I have figured out while backpacking in SE for six months to help you enjoy your time in the region, and avoid a few of the pitfalls along the way.
1. Be aware of scammers
You will be fooled at least 3 times. Locals live off tourists and they have mastered taking the advantage to perfection. If you hear anybody trying to help you with a TukTuk (the easiest way to get around in the big cities like Bangkok, Thailand) get to the place you need to go – do not listen. 90 % times it is a set up in order to get you into the car when the driver will drive you around for couple of hours from one shop to another where he gets commissions for bringing tourists to. You will literally be made to get inside with no way of getting out of the vicious circle.
On many occasions you might be told that the temple where you want to go is closed and there is more grandiose one somewhere else. It is a scam again and you might end up in a place that is under construction.
Most scams are easy to avoid but only if you know about them beforehand. Take the time to research each intended destination individually. There are scams to watch out for. People who approach you because they ‘just want to practice English’ usually want to do much more than just practice English. Watch your pockets whether on a motorbike or walking. And of course like everywhere else keep your personal belongings near to you.
2. Put your hygiene standards on hold
Food-borne stomach bugs do happen in this part of the world quite often. Bottled water is inexpensive and available everywhere. By no means you should avoid eating from street food stalls. Street food offers some of the best tasting and most culturally satisfying experiences to be had. However, hand washing or sanitary facilities are scares and this should not surprise you when indulging on your street food.
You will somehow have to get used to the rule that dirt and bacteria, which aren’t visible with bare eye,is understood as not dangerous. Don’t get overly tense when you see a cockroach leisurely strolling next to your table while you are enjoying Dosa Malasa…or a humongous rat peeping at you at the wet market.
My advice would be just do not eat anything that isn’t cooked. Forget raw seafood otherwise you might spend up some time with a serious stomach bug (if you are lucky). And the secret is to always follow the locals and try to eat where they do, this guarantees the authenticity and hopefully will minimal the risk of food poisoning. Or simply scale-up and eat at one of the tourist oriented restaurants with an international twist. But be prepared it wont be authentic!
3. Leave all fears at home
Southeast Asia is very safe. You’ve probably heard some stories of protests in Thailand and of scary roads in Malaysia– but you’re really not in that much danger. Besides each time locals spot you (you hear calling Farang which means foreigner) they do insist on giving advice and warnings if they think it is dangerous. For instance when cycling from Thailand to Malaysia we were advised by many to take a train not to risk exposure to religious conflicts in the southern provinces.
4.Pack light – heavy backpacks are not a good idea
You really do not need to pack everything you think you might need for the occasion. In majority of places you will be able to get what you need and for much cheaper than you would back home. The quality won’t be as good and it won’t last to serve your grandchildren, when you finally have them, but at least you won’t have to carry things around on your back. Southeast Asia is hot, year-round. You’ll be sweating like crazy.Pack light, and don’t bother with fancy clothes.
Also refrain from packing towels or sleeping bags. Most places have them available included in price or for a small rental fee. It is way too hot in tropics to use sleeping bags anyway. Trust me you will end up sleeping naked anyway.
5.Invest in a kindle or take a tablet with you
We all love the feel of paper under the fingertips but it is a big ‘no no’ in the tropics.The micro-climate is overly humid and unimaginably hot, and paper will mold very quickly. You are better off getting e-books and pdfs of guidebooks or any other books you intend on reading. They are widely available online and what’s more important you won’t have to carry it all with you. In the hot climate any kilogram on your back counts!
6. Independent travel is simple in Southeast Asia
With extensive networks of buses and trains which needn’t be booked in advance you can put all upfront planning away and simply ‘follow your gut’ when you reach the country.
Of course you can choose to use one of many agencies that are available in pretty much any SE country (they advertise in English and are easy to spot). They can swiftly organize your transfer from point A to B in no time. This is how I reached KohPhangan from Bangkok.The agency organized route by train and ferry for the same day.
7. Book your accommodation in advance
Be it a hut for 5€ or 80€ hotel there is a great chance when you get there it will be all booked out. SE became very popular due to its climate and affordability so you meet different kind of tourists all year around. Plus during national holidays like Ramadan in Malaysia or Galungan in Bali many locals travel as well to celebrate in style. It is virtually impossible to know about all events happening so just to be sure you have a roof over your head plan some time in advance.
Roughly, a couple can sleep comfortably for €10 to €20 per night in most places. But the range is wide, and can go as low as a couple of euro a night in some locations to luxury options for those with more outsized travel budgets.
8. Be respectful of local dress etiquette
This is very important and can get you in a lot of trouble. Take of your shoes when entering temples and cover your knees and shoulders – this applies to both men and women. Particularly adhere to those regulations if a woman and decide to travel through orthodox Muslim parts of Malaysia.If a situation feels dangerous, it probably is. Use your judgment and your instincts.
9. Almost all is negotiable
Haggling is almost a custom and expect the prices to be purposely higher than they should be. There is a popular practice of not putting price tags on products so depending on many variables they are always different. Don’t feel shy to ask for a lower price. But of course within reasonable limits, haggling will feel ridiculous when you realize you are in fact haggling over 50 cents.
10.Choose the right time to go
High tourist season in this region is between December and February, as most locations are experiencing the cool and dry season. If you travel during this time, you’ll be competing with more tourists for accommodation, but options will almost always be available due to the volume of choices. If it is authenticity you are after I would recommend low season, also my favourite time. Travel during the low season and you’ll encounter more heat and more rain, but cheaper rates and fewer tourists.
Ewelina is a travel, food and lifestyle writer and photographer. She a proponent of life changing experiences and incorporates Eastern philosophy to Western culture in her writings. As a certified Yoga teacher, natural medicine practitioner and holistic nutritionist she shares thoughts, insights and photographs on well being, countless culinary adventures and numerous places experienced during travels on her website: www.crackingtheoyster.com You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest
Is Southeast Asia on your bucket list? Or maybe you’ve already been there?
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