Southeast Asia is a region that makes it pretty high up on a lot of travelers’ “must visit” lists. Known as one of the more affordable areas to travel that is loaded with crystal blue beaches, famously beautiful scenery, awe-inspiring temples, and cities that don’t stop, it has practically every aspect of travel a person could want to see.
Many areas of Southeast Asia are hot spots for tourists, which means you don’t need to know any Thai, Lao, or other local languages to get by. However, to make the most of your trip, it’s important to plan carefully and get to know a little about the area before making the flight. The following are a few tips to ensure you can see and do as much as possible on your travels.
Map Out Your Trip
The area consists of two different regions: mainland Southeast Asia and maritime Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asia is comprised of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and West Malaysia; maritime Southeast Asia consists of the Brunei, East Malaysia, and the islands of Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Timor-Leste.
While these countries all appear to be relatively close, the flights from one country to the next often take several hours. Therefore, trying to wing the trip and simply seeing where the wind takes you is not a good travel strategy. Before you book your flights, consider picking out a few specific cities or areas in each country that you want to visit. Be sure to book flights in an order that reduces the time you’ll spend in the air.
It’s also a good idea to limit the number of countries you’ll visit — especially if you’re only taking a few weeks of vacation. If you’re simply trying to hit every country just to check each off your list, you’ll miss out on a lot of what each country and culture has to offer. Each country in the region has distinct qualities that make it unique from the rest, and if you don’t take the time to dig into the culture for at least a few days, you won’t appreciate it as you should.
Therefore, to avoid the exhaustion that comes with traveling from one country to the next, pick a small handful of countries in Southeast Asia that you want to visit, and save the others for your next trip. This will give you a chance to relax and actually enjoy your travels.
Check Visa Requirements
Many people who travel to Southeast Asia do take the time to hit at least a couple different countries in the area. When deciding where you visit, it’s important to check the visa requirements of each country, as they can vary from country to country. Several Southeast Asian countries require a certain number of open passport pages or a minimum amount of time before your passport expires to avoid complications while you’re visiting.
Laos is one country that requires a visa to enter, and the visa you apply for depends on how long you’ll be visiting the country and the reasons behind your visit. It also depends on your nationality, as they may require different information from people of certain backgrounds.
The requirements for each country also changes on occasion, so even if you or a friend of yours has traveled to these areas, you should definitely re-check to make sure you know all of the requirements. If you’re worried about possibly missing something, consider bringing along small passport photos and some U.S. dollars just in case.
Nothing will ruin your trip quicker than contracting a preventable disease. After mapping out your trip, check the recommended and required vaccines for each country, and make sure to visit your doctor to get them before your trip. When traveling, the basic recommended vaccines include tetanus and rabies, as it’s not uncommon to run into stray animals or metal litter in the streets. It’s also a good idea to invest in a strong mosquito repellent to protect yourself from illnesses like malaria.
If your itinerary consists of more than a couple areas, it’s best to pack light to avoid carrying around a heavy bag everywhere you go. Consider only packing a few different changes of clothes and doing laundry whenever you get a chance to do so. Most Southeast Asian countries offer inexpensive laundry services in tourist spots.
The rest of what you pack will depend on what activities you’re planning to participate in. It never hurts to bring a small first-aid kit in case you need bandages, or a small flashlight in case you stay out after dark some nights. Hand sanitizer and tissues can always come in handy as well, especially if you’ll be spending lots of time outdoors.
If you’re planning on visiting temples and want to look your best, modest clothing that covers the shoulders and knees should be packed. Even when you’re packing light, however, it’s important to pack your personal essentials. In order to have the best time, you should pack the toiletries that will make you feel good about yourself, which means bringing hair product and your favorite beard trimmer. Although the trip is about your experiences, you’ll likely have more fun on your trip and taking photos if you feel comfortable with your appearance.
Plan a Variety of Activities
Depending on your interests, you may be looking forward to hitting every beach or visiting as many temples as possible. However, it’s best to vary the activities you get involved in at each location in order to take in as much culture as possible. Only seeing one aspect of the countries you visit can make your trip feel a little monotonous after a while. Instead, take in the diversity each country has to offer.
Even if you’re planning to stay on the beach throughout each visit, find fun activities to do while you’re there, such as going snorkeling, scuba diving, or learning to surf. Even if you’re not the best at these things, it’ll be a fun, new experience that will give you more of an insight to the ecology of each country than simply tanning on the beach.
Consider Alternative Transportation
In you’re traveling in the mainland region of Southeast Asia, you can add an extra dynamic to your trip by taking alternative forms of transportation, like local trains, ferries, and buses. These can give you a chance to see some of the countryside in these areas, and they offer more downtime than what comes with the bustle of flights and airports. As an added bonus, these options are usually cheaper than flights, which can help reduce the price of your trip.
Practice Ethical Tourism
Finally, do your due diligence about the tourist activities you’ll be participating in. There are some dark sides to the tourism industry, so make sure that you’re spending money on socially responsible ways — not on activities that involve the mistreatment of people, animals, or the environment.
Traveling to Southeast Asia is an incredible experience, and it can be even more amazing if you plan your trip carefully to avoid problems and to have as many positive experiences as possible. Allow the culture and scenery to envelop you. Do your research, plan your trip, and leave the rest up to the moment.