Sunday, 10 January 2016

17 practical tips for travelling round South-East Asia

Did I mention I went to South-East Asia yet?

Yeah I kept that one quiet, didn't I?

My two-month long sojourn was not only my first time in Asia, but it was my first trip eastwards in any way, shape or form. And although I'm fortunate enough to have done lots of exploring of Western Europe, South-East Asia was a whole other kettle of fish. Or a kettle of noodles, if you will. (Wait a minute, why would you have fish in a kettle? Answers on a postcard please. Or in a comment. You know, whichever.)

So it's safe to say I learnt a lot.

I can't speak for the whole of South-East Asia, but I backpacked my way through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia so saw a fair amount of different cultures.

Here are some of the things I learned which I hope may be useful to anyone heading off to South-East Asia themselves (and you totally should).

1. Use hand sanitiser, like, all the time. Srsly. Standards of hygiene aren't what we're used to in the western world so you're gonna want to keep applying that shiz all day long. You can buy it out there though, so no need to pack ten bottles of Boots' finest.

2. Avoid dogs. There are dogs running round ERRYWHERE and as cute as they are, all it takes is one unfortunate incident for you to end up with rabies, ma friends. And that brings me on to...

3. Sort your jabs in plenty of time. Having booked my trip only a couple of months in advance and what with spending one of those months in Brussels, I found myself in quite a sticky situation and had to go private for all my jabs. I erred on the side of caution and chose to have more than the pure essentials but they set me back about £500 which is not so fun. Speaking of money...

4. Get a Revolut currency card. Or a Caxton card. These babies are awesome for when you're travelling through various countries - my Revolut one was fab as I managed everything from the app and could transfer myself more money from my UK account in seconds. 

5. Check visa restrictions carefully. I miscalculated and ended up having to pay a fine at Bali airport because I'd stayed in Indonesia one day too long. Sure, it wasn't the end of the world and was nothing compared to what I feared (the Thai prison in Bridget Jones 2 sprang to mind) but it was a pain.

6. Keep your money in separate places and never have more than £100 worth of cash at one time. One of the girls I was travelling with got about £1,000 worth of money stolen from her hotel room. Awful awful awful.

7. Take pictures of the items you send for laundry. This is a great tip from my guide, Masha: before giving in your dirty clothes to be washed at hotels, take pictures of each item. That way if something doesn't come back you can show a picture rather than trying to describe it and get around a language barrier.

8. No spice = a bit spicy. I learnt this the hard way. Granted, I am someone who is really rubbish with spice, but so often I would ask for something without spiciness and it would end up burning my mouth off.

9. Only drink bottled water. Except in Singapore. Bottled water is much cheaper out there, worry not.

10. Only eat fruit that you peel yourself, unless you're served it in a restaurant. Best to stick to things like mangoes (mmm), bananas (mmm) and oranges (mmm) as you don't know what could be on the skin. And if you do buy something else that you think should be OK, best to give it a good wash first.

11. Loo technique. Pretty much all "toilets" are holes in the ground, or "squat loos" as we called them. When using squat loos, crouch as low as you can, keep your feet as wide apart as poss and control your wee so it doesn't come out too fast and splash all over you. It takes some practicing but on the plus side I now have thighs of steel. Kinda.

12. Backpack-packing technique: pack your clothes in plastic bags or wallets inside your backpack - I organised mine by item (e.g. one bag for tops, one for shorts, one for undies) which makes packing and repacking all the time simple.

Leaving the UK with what I considered to be a tiny bag
13. If you aren't Asian, prepare to be stared at, waved at, photographed, filmed and generally treated like a bit of a celeb. It was insane.

14. Get Tiger Balm. It is a lifesaver. I'd never heard of this magical balm before my trip but apparently you can find it in the UK. Whilst good for all sorts of problems, we all found it most effective for soothing mosquito bites - I've never known anything to make them go down so quickly!

15. Get the Xe currency app. It's free, works offline and super useful for converting currencies so you know how much (or most likely how little!) your pad thai is costing you.

16. Learn how to cross the road. I never quite mastered this. The drivers don't stop for anyone waiting to cross. It's only when you step out into the road that they slow down. You have to be gutsy and it's blimmin' terrifying.

Crossing the Equator is easier than crossing roads
17. Leave space in your backpack. Struggling with what I considered to be a lack of luggage space ("But WHY can't I take my huge suitcase!?"), I packed my backpack (which was not even my backpack, thanks Amber) to the brim when I set off. This was an error. You're going to want to buy a load of elephant trousers, trust me (see picture above). 

And at the end of the day, HAVE FUN!

I loved my trip so much - everyday I learnt loads of new things about interesting cultures and everything was so different to everything I knew. Travel really is the one. The question is, where should I go next?

Do you have anything to add to my list?


  1. Ahhh I love South-East Asia - it takes everything in us not to just go back time and time again! Some great advice in here :)

    1. I feel ya, Sarah! Thank you so much :)


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