The most important thing to know when you’re preparing for your first Southeast Asia travel experience is that you’re going to have an amazing time. Southeast Asia is a mesmerizing tapestry of culture, luxury, authenticity, beaches, food, extreme sports, and rugged adventure.
Focus on depth
A book of tips could be written about each of the ten countries in Southeast Asia. The geographical group comprises ten countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, and Brunei. However, it’s essential to remember when planning your Southeast Asia travel excursions that you don’t have to do it all!
When you’re on a Southeast Asia vacation, it’s not about collecting stamps in a passport, it’s about fully experiencing what each country has to offer.
If you have one month, choose two countries. Two months, add two more. Three, months narrow it down to only five and dive deep into the cultures and experiences, rather than skimming along the surface.
Now, if you’re Southeast Asia trip will be for less than a month, choose one country. Though from the outside we often think of these countries as single places, there are noticeable regional difference. For example, southern Thailand is famous for islands, its karst topography, and beaches, while the north is considered the cultural heartland of ancient Siam – each worthy of more than a week of your time.
Because you aren’t about to commit yourself to spending more time in airports than in the actual countries you’re visiting, make a list of what’s most important in your holiday.
At first, avoid naming destinations, such as Angkor Wat or Borno. Do you want to spend time in the sand, exploring cuisine, going diving, trekking, golfing, or reading a book by the pool? Once you’ve established your top three priorities for your Southeast Asia travel experience, then name your must-see destinations or monuments.
See where this is going? All you have to do now is see how many of these activities can be found in a country with a must-see destination when you’re on your Southeast Asia trip.
Keep it light
Hopefully, your Southeast Asia travel won’t take you into more than one climate, which will help keep your bag light. Heavy backpacks and roller suitcases become increasingly cumbersome for travelers who plan on being on the move, often adding stress to situations and making you feel more vulnerable.
Laundry is cheap to do on the road in most Southeast Asian countries, so don’t worry about packing extra jeans. Have one set of clothes for going out, one for the beach scene and one for trekking – that’s really all you’ll need.
And, to most people’s surprise, they have stores. Southeast Asia has gobs of well-stocked stores where you can find just about anything you forgot to pack. By starting off with a light bag with a little extra room, it’s easy to discover what you really need, and buy it there.
Get in my tummy
Street food is gold during Southeast Asia travel from bowls of Vietnamese bun cha to Thai-style fried chicken. There are so many ways to expand your culinary horizons. However, the reality of traveler’s tummy – a euphemism for having the runs – is a real possibility, but not only with street food.
Having a little local yogurt when you first arrive can help your body adjust to all the unfamiliar bits and bobs that are going down the hatch. Charcoal tablets can also help absorb what’s going on in your stomach if you’re really suffering.
That said, you don’t want to miss the street food. By honing in on stalls that are bustling with locals, you’ll probably be finding the cleanest, safest, and most delicious foods on your Southeast Asia trip. Though the definition of “delicious” might vary from country to country – Thai’s seem to be inordinate fans of deep fried bugs and chicken feet, while snake-blood vodka is a thing in Vietnam.
Home is where to stay
Unless you’re looking for a luxury resort experience, of which there are many to choose from for your Southeast Asia travel, take advantage of the surge in homestays in many Southeast Asian countries.
Homestays, where you often live and eat with a local family, provide authentic experiences off the beaten track. However, homestays vary dramatically, so do your research ahead of time and check what experiences other travelers have there. An alternative to homestays, but still a great way to connect with a local community, is Couch Surfing.
If this is your first Southeast Asia travel experience you might think that it’s impossible to see too many temples. However, it is possible and almost inevitable unless you’re careful. Temples throughout the region, from glittering Buddhist wats to Hindu temples covered in mythological figures, are a must-see – but you can’t see them all. Too often temple fatigue sets in and all the wondrous elements of these distinct structures melt away in the tropical sun.
So, plan ahead and understand why you’re going to see certain temple complexes before you arrive. This way, you can fully appreciate all they have to offer without a temple tantrum.
Essential tips for Southeast Asia travel
No matter how much time you have for your Southeast Asia travel, keep it as stress-free as possible. By not cramming your schedule and spending too much time in airports, you’ll be able to get a better taste for whatever country you decided to visit – especially if you’re brave enough to get involved in the street food scene.
Have any travel tips you don’t see here? Tell us all about them in the comments below!
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