A few simple tips to help make your backpacking travels through South East Asia much more enjoyable.
1. Drivers physically driving on any side of the road.
There is virtually no traffic pattern, and cars will intertwine where ever they need to, just to get to their destination.
2. Crossing the street and having a heart attack every time.
It is a risk you always have to take and sometimes you'll be crossing with people, ducks, or roosters, but if you are going to go for it, make sure you follow through and cross. It's always helpful to wait for a group of people, preferably locals, and when they go you follow suit.
3. Being prepared to have to shower while standing over the toilet at the same time.
Bathrooms here are small, and showers and usually just thrown in there, usually over the toilet or around it, so be prepared to get flexible if you want to get clean.
4. Not drinking the water, or anything that's been washed with it.
While opting to switch to bottled water Instead of tap water is easy and obvious enough, make sure you are not eating fresh fruits and vegetables that have been washed with the local water. If you don't see a refrigerator in the restaurant anywhere, assume they don't refrigerate things, and probably use some dangerous chemical to keep it fresh.
Travel Tip: Pack some Imodium or Tums with you just in case you come across something that makes your stomach feel ill.
5. Using cash.
Cash goes way further. Even though we live in the digital age and the country you probably come from uses credit cards as their primary source of payment, most places in Southeast Asia prefer or only take cash. You will always get a better rate when you pay cash, and some places either just don't take card or charge a bank processing fee (usually 2.5 percent or so), to use your hard. Plus you'll be able to opt to eat at more local food places, usually for less money. Moral of the story: always keep cash on you. And if you fail to have their local currency, USD usually works, or you can exchange these easily for a decent rate here.
6. Getting used to paying for public restrooms.
If you come from the United States like me, usually public places such as parks, shopping malls, or fast food places such as McDonald's have public restrooms to use, free of charge. Here, most of the countries that offer these public restrooms usually charge a minimal fee, which is only cash. Another good reason why it pays to carry cash.
7. Eating food you just have absolutely no idea what it is.
But that is part of the fun traveling experience right? While most local places may not have the English translation listed on the menu, sometimes there are pictures to accompany the food selections. Pick the picture of food that you think you will like to try, or try some local street food.
8. Not eating at familiar fast food places, or shopping at known convenience stores.
Fast food places, such as McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, and 7/11 are more expensive here. Try to opt for more local cuisine places, and instead of using 7/11 as your convenience store, use a local market instead. You'll find the same products at a fraction of the cost.
9. Taking a bus.
Where ever you are going, you can usually take a bus there, for a fraction of the cost. Sure your journey might be longer, smellier, or bumpier but if you are really looking to budget your money, look for the bus option. Plus you'll get to see the countryside, and it'll really give you an idea of what the country is like, outside of the mega city you probably visited. Sometimes, the bus is the only or fastest way, when compared to the dismal train network South East Asia has.
10. People begging you for money.
Most of the countries you are going to visit are very poor. The economies of many countries in the region are not doing well, and they survive off of tourism. Therefore you will see many people begging you for money, or trying very hard to sell you something. My trick is too never pull out your wallet in front of someone, and keep it in your front pocket, and you should be just fine.
If they are really begging you and won't leave you alone, if you happen to have some spare coins in your pocket you can give it to them and try to scurry away. Beware if you do this, they may now want more and harass you further.
11. Using metered taxis, or setting a fair price with the Tuk Tuk driver before you disembark.
You may need to tell the taxi driver to turn the meter on, and make sure you do that as soon as you get in the car. Some companies will "forget to turn it on," or say it is broken, and then severely overcharge you. Make sure you have cash, preferably small bills, in case the driver pulls the excuse that he doesn't have change. If the driver doesn't want to use the meter, get out and find a new taxi. Trust me, I've just saved you a ton of money.
12. Learning basic words in that country's language.
I'm not saying to study the entire country's dictionary, but learning a few basic words such as greetings and pleasantries, will definitely enhance your ability to communicate, and gives you sense of culture. People may be more willing to help you if you greet them in their language, rather then not knowing a single word.
Until next time, XOXO.
This post originally appeared on The NYC Wanderer.