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Planning a Trip to Southeast Asia?

April 23, 2011


A few close friends of mine are planning backpacking trips to Southeast Asia and have asked for some travel advice. I spent the summer of 2009 traveling the incredible countries of Thailand and Cambodia. During the three month adventure I earned my TESOL certificate, volunteered at a Wildlife Friends of Thailand, dived with whale sharks and attended two Full Moon Parties (and that was just the beginning). Leaving your home county for a few months can be an overwhelming stressful- nothing helps more than being prepared. Here are a few pointers for first time travelers to SE Asia:

Scams: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Throughout SE Asia, especially in big cities, tourists are commonly harassed with offers of cheap cab and “tuk tuk” fares and deals so tempting it’s near impossible to say no. But say no, nicely. There are countless stories of travelers being taken to clothes and jewelry shops where they are forced to make purchases, and then the driver makes the tourist pay the gas. Use reputable forms of transport and always negotiate a price BEFORE the ride. If you take a cab, make sure the meter is on. After a day or two, it will be easy to spot the scam artists so you won’t have to stress about transportation.

Massages: Take advance of the amazingly cheap massages, manicures, pedicures and waxing. For most women (and men), Asia is a place to be pampered for next to nothing(compared to US prices). When you leave, you will miss getting Thai massages for about $5 an hour, so make sure to take time to relax and treat yourself.

Border Crossing: Chances are travelers will be visiting more than one country. Make sure to do your research about Visa requirements before making any plans. In Thailand, for instance, tourists are granted a Visa on arrival. When traveling to Cambodia, you can get  a Visa at the border. For Vietnam, however, you must get a Visa in advance. It’s usually quite simple to do, but knowing the laws can save time and a major headache.

Safety: Southeast Asia is extremely safe, but of course watch out for small petty theft. I took several overnight buses alone and never had an issue. Of course- keeps your wit about you-but you will find Southeast Asia has some of the most welcoming, warm hearted people you will ever meet!

Buddhist Temple, Thailand

Getting Around: Rent scooters! It’s the best way to drive around cities and suburbs, and to explore the country side. I came across the most amazing Buddhist Temple set deep back into the forest on a mountain. It was breathtaking! It wasn’t in any guidebooks and I would have never found it if I didn’t go off the tourist path. Some priceless advice: don’t go cheap withscooters, it could mean a big difference in the safety of the vehicle.

Most budget travelers could live on as little as $20 a day, but plan for more (just in case). The most important thing is to keep an open mind and have fun!

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