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Inside Tips for 1st Time Southeast Asia Travelers

By Vera Zhao (odyssey@tangdynastytours.com), Odyssey Product Manager
Published on April 30, 2015
So you are leaving for your first time Southeast Asia tour, or at least you are thinking about it seriously. Before you go, there are a few things you wish you knew. Many of these sound tips are obtained from the personal experience of Odyssey guests (huge thank you to them!), whose words are truly helpful and advisable. 

Cambodia travel tips*Tips are applied to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar only


Packing 

  • Stout walking shoes and hiking sandals are good in tropical climes and help manage to climb historic sites, as ancient ruins are very common in your itinerary.

  • Long sleeve or shawl for ladies - make sure you have them as you could be denied entry to temples.

  • Good quality sweat resistant sunblock, sunglasses and sunhat - the sun is relentless.

  • A waterproof shell to survive the wet monsoon season and cold evenings. It also keeps warm when you have to stay in fiercely air-conditioned interiors for a few hours. 

  • Swimming gears, you don’t want to miss these lovely beaches and fantastic pools especially in Vietnam and Thailand, do you?

  • Wet wipes other than hand sanitizer as the latter gets sticker at temperature of above 30 degrees Celsius.

  • A money belt to store small bills and other valuables if wanting to get rid of heavy backpack. 

  • Student stationery is great gifts to kids you meet in rural area. 

Things to pack when traveling CambodiaOdyssey guest Lois Alpert and his wife donated books and pencils to an orphanage in Siem Reap.


  • Leave extra space in your luggage for you’ll hunt amazing souvenirs (tailor-made clothes in Hoi An or paintings in Angkor)!

Time to pack your bag and leave for Southeast Asia.


Be aware that…

  • Remove shoes, socks and hats when entering temples.
As temple hopping tops the highlights of most Cambodia tours and Myanmar trips, I should mention that before stepping into religious sites, you must take off your shoes as well as socks. Some of the places allowed a support bandage but not others. This can be difficult for anyone needing orthotics or suffering from neuropathy since you are literally walking barefoot for miles, cumulatively, on concrete or tile. 

  • Street food maybe not that dangerous.

“The street food in SE Asia looks great! But are they safe?” We have been receiving questions alike from customers who want to have an adventurous experience while worrying that their tender Western stomach would get upset. My advice is:

- Pick shops/stalls that have constant traffic. The trash or chits on the ground and a line-up is strong evidence. 

- Take it easy at first and resist the attempt to devour a lot. 

- Avoid raw and half-cooked food. Watch the ice, fresh fruits and salads. 

- Sign up a food tour with Odyssey to try street stalls and open air restaurants that we thoroughly scrutinized the food quality and safety procedures. 

Vietnamese street food tour"Drinking Bia Hoi(draft beer) and eating salted crunchy rice pancakes in Hanoi. The bill was about $1.30." (Photo courtesy of Odyssey guest Jim Cooper)

  • The scotch may taste different.
If you randomly walk into a bar in the street and order your favorite brand of scotch – wait, why it just doesn’t taste right? Bear in mind that many of the typical brands are regionally produced with local ingredients. Consider it’s a good opportunity to try some local brews. NOTE: this is unlikely to happen in upscale hotels and restaurants though. 

  • Prepare yourself to encounter squat toilets.

Let’s face it - sometimes going to the toilet in Southeast Asia is not like at home. If you have a full day’s activity outside of your hotel room, you will come across an Asian toilet whether like it or not. Carry some tissue is a good idea as there may be none to find but a literal hole in the ground. Again, this only happens in remote areas, while in the city center it’s easier to find a Western toilet with the help of Odyssey tour guide. 

  • Pharmaceuticals and others

- Aspirin for common cold and flu, antihistamines for allergies and itches.

-       Imodium, just in case diarrhea ruins your day.

- Strong Deet, as the perpetually humid and warm clime in SE Asia hatches mosquitoes that are always looking for a free meal. 

*We are not allowed to suggest vaccinations as a travel agency. Therefore you must consult a general practitioner before heading to SE Asia.

Watch out for these!

  • Beggar and fingersmith
If you pull out the wallet to help the ubiquitous beggars in the street, you’re probably supporting a system that keeps children out of school and adults live on begging. Ignoring would be a nice "no thank you" for an answer. Really feel like doing something to help the community? Make donation to an orphanage or a school. Some Odyssey guests have donated more than 20 pump well in Angkor and we must say it has brilliant effect! 

Besides, watch your pocket and don’t put your iPhone or any valuables on the table.

  • Scams
Some business mastermind may lie to you for anything it takes to get your money. In this case, my previous article on how to avoid scams in Vietnam may help. 

  • Bribery/tip at airport customs or borders
We have heard about stories that officers of airport customs or border in SE Asia delay your entry for a small amount of cash. Though it rarely happen to Western visitors (mostly happen to the Western Asians or the Asians), it doesn’t mean you’ll never encounter this foul act. Even if you won’t be rejected to enter for saying “no” firmly to the corruption, it is suggested get your visa done before leaving instead of applying visa on arrival. It may cost more but it prevents an unhappy experience at the beginning of your trip. 

Money advice

  • Everything is negotiable 

Unlike in the West, haggling in SE Asia is acceptable and it is fair for both the vendor and you. Normally, the locals offer inflated prices and expect negotiation on the deal, so if you don’t haggle, you’re overpaying. This rule doesn’t apply to items sold with price tags in bigger malls though. 

Haggling in Southeast AsiaHaggling may be a foreign process but both you’ll enjoy the interaction just as local vendors and shop owners do!  (photo: Odyssey guest Geoffrey Higges and Carole-Anne Fooks)

  • Exchange currency wisely 

Do it in legal establishments like hotels and banks. The calculators of individuals on the street could have been fixed to show wrong amounts. US dollar is widely accepted in urban region but you still need some local money in the remote areas. Always decline damaged bills as they are uneasy to spend and make sure the amount is right before walking away. 

Travel with kids

  • They are popular with the locals. 
It’s inevitable that your color-haired and blue-eyed kids will garner an unusual level of attention. People away from the touristy places show great adoration and want to interact with them by pinching cheek or rubbing head. Talk about this with your kids in advance for any possible situation and step up if you feel the behavior is aggressive.  

travel Cambodia with kidsOdyssey guest Alison Hestermann’s little boy received warm welcome while in Cambodia. 

  • Learn the lingo.
The best way to encourage your kids to enjoy the journey more is learn some basic phrases together, e.g., "thank you", "please", "no", "sorry", "no problem" and some numbers in the language of your destinations. I am sure you will have a fun experience in this. 


So far I hope you find these tips great information for your upcoming Indochina journey. Share the article to help other travel fellows - I appreciate that too! Lastly, and as usual, I’m reachable at odyssey@tangdynastytours.com for any SE Asia travel queries. 

About the author, Vera Zhao
Vera Zhao is the product manager at Odyssey Tours. She has been in the line of Asia travel for 10+ years and stacks up helpful tips for tours to China, Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Read more tips by Vera Zhao >>

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