I’ve visited South East Asia a few times now on trips and to me there is really something special about this part of the world, that keeps bringing me back!
Its quite amazing for such a small region (when compared to other parts of the world!) how different things can be between countries. So far in this region I’ve visited Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore*, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
I’ve noticed although each country varies in the culture, language, history and traits, there are some things that are relatively common throughout the entire region that if you are planning on travelling to this area you should be aware of.
*Its worth mentioning that although I have visited Singapore (and absolutely loved it!) for this post I am generally going to disregard it, as it is generally the exemption to everything about the region!
#1 – When compared to Western prices, its very cheap!
From my experience in the region I found overall costs to be as follows; Singapore is at the top with prices comparable to the UK and can be even more!, Malaysia is quite a bit cheaper for most things except booze which was comparable with UK prices, then Thailand is cheaper than Malaysia. Vietnam and Cambodia similar to each other, but cheaper than Thailand and Laos is cheaper than all of them!
To give you an idea of how cheap it can be in SE Asia, on Ta Hien Street (aka Beer Street) in Hanoi, Vietnam, you can get a beer from a keg for 10000 Vietnamese Dong, this works out to be around 30pence! In Siem Reap, Cambodia you can get a plate of Cambodian Lok Lak in a restaurant for around £3!
In terms of accommodation, in Bangkok, Thailand you can find a hostel bed for around £5 a night or a private room for around £20! Hotel prices do tend to be a little bit more expensive, however you can still find cheap decent hotel room for around £30 a night! Communication is even cheap in the region too! In Laos I picked up a 3 day SIM card with fast 4G service for 10000kip (not even a £1!)
The point I am trying to get across is that generally unless you spend your entire time in the region in Singapore, as a western tourist you will most likely spend significantly less money, when compared to the same things at home!
#2 – Most methods of transport and infrastructure are… questionable!
One thing that can give you a bit of a shock from the moment you leave the airport is both the standards of driving in SE Asia and also the state of some of parts of buildings and power lines etc. in the towns and cities you will go to.
When you are travelling by road most driving is pretty erratic and you can expect; tailgating, sketchy overtaking, overcrowding of vehicles, vehicles with no seat belts, people using their phones while driving and people riding scooters without a helmet!
Methods of public transport such as trains and public buses, although are generally clean..ish! are very rarely on time! Although being from the UK, late public transport is hardly a new thing to us! In Hue, Vietnam we waited 2 hours for the overnight train that will take us to Hanoi! My advice is just to follow how the locals respond to it, if they are not worried, then you don’t need to be either!
#3 – You pay more as a tourist and many sights have turned into tourist traps!
Although the region is generally cheaper for things such as food and drink, as well as accommodation, you will find that you will spend a fair amount of money on attractions and going to places!
Not every attraction in SE Asia is expensive, however certain very popular ones tend to be priced really expensively for foreigners and unfortunately due to their popularity, have turned into major tourist traps!
For example, to visit the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, it is a minimum of $37 per person to visit (or free if you are a Cambodian national)
A popular thing to do in the complex is watch the sunrise over the main Angkor Wat temple, however the unfortunate reality is a sea of hundreds of people all with their phones and selfie sticks out all trying to get the same shot! also you will struggle to even get a shot without getting hounded by sellers trying to sell you coffee!
#4 – Religion is especially important to most people!
Throughout South East Asia, you will find that people take their own religious beliefs very seriously. The main religious majorities in the region are Buddhism in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam region and then Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia. Christianity is also found in the Philippines.
Apart from when I visited Malaysia, I haven’t really had much exposure to Islam in South East Asia, unlike Buddhism which I found was visible everywhere! From the temples, the monks walking the streets in their bridge orange robes to even small spirit houses outside of peoples homes and businesses.
Whilst it is good to understand and learn other peoples religious customs (even if you don’t necessarily agree with them) always remember be to respectful of them and don’t do anything to offend!
#5 – Expect a bit of necessary bribery here and there
Out of all the countries I have visited in the region, I found corruption to be very common in Cambodia!
Speaking to a local, he informed me that bribes are actually beneficial to both parties and in the event of something like a motoring offence its cheaper for the offender just to pay a bribe than the official fine, as its always cheaper!
Unfortunately this bribe culture is being felt by tourists as well as locals in the country, when you leave the country you will be asked quite firmly for a ‘departure fee’ which just goes straight into the officials chest pocket! its only $2 so hardly worth getting worked up over!
Its worth mentioning that although it may sound like I am complaining about these things in this post, its not the case! These details that I have mentioned, they make the region what it is and part of the reason why I keep visiting it!
I hope these pointers have been useful and have you given you a bit of a head start to the culture shock you will get if you visit the region!
If you have visited the region, what were the things that shocked you the most when you visited? Let me know in the comments below!