We have travelled and volunteered for four months in several parts of Southeast Asia: Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. While all these countries are different from one another, we also found they had a lot in common. We have put together seven tips worth knowing for those interested in this itinerary.
1. Leave Silence Behind
Peace and quiet don’t belong to this part of the world. Between the calls to prayer from the Indonesian Mosques, the wild animal sounds from the jungle in Thailand or the loud Cambodian pop music, earplugs are a must.
2. Learn Your Base Vocab and Phrases
Tourists have been visiting Southeast Asia for years now. Still, only a few local people can understand or speak fluent English. It is highly recommendable to learn words and key lines. Not only is this a way to show respect for the culture, but it will also help you mingle.
3. You Better Like Fried Food
Most yummy street foods or traditional dishes are fried, stir-fried, deep fried. Not the healthiest. Still, the high temperatures of the oil kills bacteria and viruses, making the food relatively safe. Rice or noodles are always an alternative but the tendency is to fry those too, so make sure to specify how you want them.
4. Respect Your Ruler
Locals tend to highly respect the people in power, whether they like them or not. Freedom of speech is often restricted and death penalty is still present in many places. If you wish to talk about politics, mind your tongue.
5. Hands Off Your Partner
For religious and cultural purposes, people in Southeast Asia are generally prudish compared to Westerners. In fact, the carelessness with which we tend to openly display affection is what seems to shock them most. So, lovers…if you wish to hold hands in public, get a room!
6. Don’t Forget Your Cash
When pulling out money, commissions are extremely high. For this, it is advisable to withdraw a decent amount of cash at a time. In addition, most places don’t accept credit cards and in remote areas it is difficult – sometimes even impossible – to find ATMs.
7. Download These 6 Apps
- Couchsurfing: sleep for free and hangout with people. Public trips will increase your chances of finding a friend or/and a couch.
- WhatsApp: talk to the world. Most people use it and it works well even when the wi-fi doesn’t.
- Google Maps: don’t get lost. Download offline maps.
- Grab: avoid taxi scams. Move around cities by car or scooter, aware of the fares.
- AirAsia: best flight connections for great deals. It’s sometimes cheaper than buses or trains.
- iCurrency: save money. Know the exact current exchange rates.
Translation Apps are a plus. For a full-immersion and unforgettable experiences, check out workaway.