Travellers have been exploring Southeast Asia for a century and it has become the place to go for many university students and mid-career professionals. There are now many routes through the region known as the traveller trail, because of the ease of transportation throughout the countries.
The region is a popular destination because it is moderately safe, inexpensive and the weather tends to be good most of the year. Whether it is Vietnam, Indonesia, or Malaysia there is an abundance of activities to enjoy alongside stunning natural and historic attractions.
Here are my top travel tips for travelling through Southeast Asia:
Planning and key destinations
Planning in Southeast Asia is the key to any trip, whether you are a first-timer or an experienced traveller. Typically in Southeast Asia travellers will fly into one country, trail around and fly out of another country back home, with internal flights in the region to take them from country to country. Internal flights are relatively cheap and many tickets can be amended cheaply. There are plenty of amazing sights in the region, so make sure you have done your research and have planned a route that takes in these attractions, such as Angkor Wat, Ha Long Bay and Bali to name just a few.
Budgeting is essential
The main draw for travellers and students is the price; it is super cheap compared to western prices for food, accommodation and transport. If you are very budget conscious you can manage on budgets as low as $20 a day. Some countries are more expensive than others and as a rule of thumb Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia are among the cheapest countries to explore, while Singapore and Brunei are generally the more expensive.
Research local events
This comes under planning, but one thing worth considering is trying to tie in your itinerary with some of the biggest events in the calendar. Whether it’s Thailand for Songkran in April or Laos for the Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in May, the events can provide focus for your trip and can also be relatively inexpensive highlights.
Outside of some major cities most countries have fairly limited public transport, and it isn’t always the ‘luxury’ transportation they may promise. Just be prepared to be cramped in to a bus with 100 people or on an overnight train through Vietnam sleeping on a wooden bed; be flexible and you will be fine. Island hopping in the Philippines and Thailand can be done inexpensively by ferry. If you are brave the roads in most of Southeast Asia are perilous at best, but it is a cheap alternative to buses. Just be prepared to drive defensively!
Book some accommodation
Book hostels in advanced that you know will be busy such as hostels close to the Full Moon Party in Thailand and any major events in certain locations. Most you will be able to simply turn up to hostel but don’t try your luck every time or you may be sleeping on the streets… Budget wise, you will be able to find hostels that will offer beds for under $10 a night typically, and you can even get private rooms for around $20 dollars a night. You can really stretch the budget in Southeast Asia since this region offers nice accommodation that can be quite inexpensive – in Koh Phi Phi you can get a 5* hotel for under $50 a night.
Understanding the cultural norms
Southeast Asia is a favourite amongst many because of its varied and different cultures across the region, but it is so important to understand these cultural differences whilst you are in the countries. It is also important to understand the do’s and don’ts of each destination you are visiting, such as their views on conservative dress, or if businesses are closed on certain days of the week or for upcoming holidays. One of the more obvious cultural differences you may encounter is food in Southeast Asia. Do not fear the street food! While some items may be a bit bold for conservative palates, skip touristy restaurants and do as the locals’ do and eat street!
Don’t get stuck in a rut, research the visa requirements for each country you are visiting. Attempting to explain to a Vietnamese border authority that you don’t have the right visa isn’t the easiest way to travel. Most countries in Southeast Asia will issue a visa on arrival for UK travellers, usually for 30 or 60 days, with the main two countries that do require a visa in advance being Vietnam and Myanmar. Make sure that you research the visa requirements (and entry and exit fees) for all of the countries on your itinerary in advance, just to avoid any mishaps. Bali charges an exit fee so remember to save some dollars for the way out. Don’t spend all your money on wine…
Enjoy new experiences!
There are always opportunities for things to go wrong but if you plan, stay organised and research before you go it cuts your chances of anything going wrong. Be smart about your safety and just remember the cultural norms so you aren’t left out in the cold. You are guaranteed to meet a lot of other travellers, students and backpackers in Southeast Asia so be friendly and open to changing plans on whim to partake in a new adventure.
So go on book that flight and have one of the most incredible trips of your life!