After lots of online research and advice from friends, I thought I was as prepared for Asia as I could be. Here are some of the best hints and tips I would recommend for anyone thinking about travelling to Asia.
DON’T TRAVEL TO ASIA WITHOUT…
1. Learning to squat (especially girls). I am not only recommending this one because am a bit of a fitness freak, but I actually think that if you build up a bit of leg strength before coming out to Asia, you’ll thank me for it after! Carrying a big heavy rucksack around in 30 degree heat is no easy task, climbing up 1000’s of stairs at the temples in 30 degree heat, again, no easy task! Also in particular girls, as horrible as it is, when having to use some of the ‘toilets’ out in Asia, you are going to want the be able to hold a squat!
2. Learning to be blunt. Tuc-tuc drivers, taxi drivers, market stalls sellers, street food sellers are all out to try sell to you as you walk pass in the streets. If you show even the slightest hesitation before responding that you’re not interested they will get excited and assume that you want to buy or continue to ask you to buy a few more times. They seem to shout what they think is buzz words that will magically make you want to buy. ‘Cheap’ ‘good price’ ‘you buy, yes!’ ‘Buy now!’ If you don’t cut them off, they ll keep going and even follow you down the street in the desperate hope of a sale. Probably just me being me, but am not very good at making decisions and when I first went to Asia if someone offered me something my response was usually ‘uhmm….. No thank you!’ Or ‘maybe later thanks!’ big mistake! If you don’t want something, don’t show any interest by hesitating to reply or leading them on with the hope of a later sale! – you won’t get left alone. There was countless times we were followed out of shops, trying to be persuaded to come back in with cheaper prices or shouted at continuously down the street to buy something. After learning the simple technique of being blunt- just a simple ‘no thank you.’ Without even making eye contact, the hassling seemed to die slightly. It may seem very rude but if you don’t want the hassle then it’s your best option.
3. Learning to barter. Arriving in Asia at first, this was something I was never very good at. However, as you travel, you learn that the moment a market seller, taxi or tuc tuc sees that you are a tourist their price for their products or services immediately increases. They will start you at a much higher price- probably around double or even triple what you can actually get it down to if you barter well. They do this, thinking that as Westerns we have a lot more money than them, which in most cases is probably true as Asia is still full of developing countries with either very low or no set minimum wages. So just remember that they also need to make a living and barter down to a price that the product or service is worth and you are happy paying.
4. Anti bacterial hand gel/ baby wipes. For some reason, in Asia soap doesn’t seem as important. After some of the ‘bathrooms’ I have experienced out here, I would definitely say that having anti-bacterial hand gel and baby wipes have been a life saver. I once even offered a fellow kiwi traveler some anti-bacterial gel after she came back absolutely disgusted from having to use a port-a-loo (hole in the ground) and she was so happy, I thought she was going to cry – that’s how much it is needed after the bathrooms in Asia!
5. A good pair of walking shoes. Since arriving out in Asia we have been walking an average of 9km a day. So investing in a good well-fitted, comfy pair of walking sandals is definitely worth while. Out here, you walk everywhere: up temple stairs, mountain treks, through villages, along white sandy beaches and many more wonderful places. Don’t suck the enjoyment out of it all by having ill-fitting or uncomfortable footwear.
6. A good credit card or currency card. Unless you can afford to be hit hard by high foreign exchange fees make sure you do your research and get a good credit or currency card which won’t charge you for using your money abroad. We opted for ‘Halifax Clarity’ credit card which has been voted one of the best travel credit cards of the year.
7. A camera. Take photos, lots of photos! Whether it’s on a highly professional SLR camera or just your mobile phone camera, make sure you record all the wonderful sights you see. There’s nothing better than looking back through your photos and being reminded of all the great experiences you captured.
8. Bug spray/ repellent. You actually forget how annoying flies swarming around your food is, and how infuriatingly itchy those mosquito bites can be. Not to mention bed bugs! They are major problem throughout Asia, we even heard stories of boats being infested with bed bugs! So make sure you get that bug spray on and protect yourself from any nasty bites.
9. A good sized and well fitted rucksack. This one is pretty important to get sorted as your going to want to make lugging your life around on your back as comfortable as possible. I would suggest getting fitted for a rucksack that suits your body frame and also do a trial pack before you go! Make sure you can fit everything you need into your rucksack and actually carry the weight you plan on taking. The advice I struggled with most was not to over pack! I am almost 3 months in to my travels now and I still have clothes in my rucksack that I haven’t yet worn. I know now that you don’t need, 20 tops, 10 shorts and 5 pairs of trainers for traveling.
10. Getting yourself covered! Probably one of the most important things, make sure you take out travel insurance before you go. Since being out traveling, we have heard a good few horror stories of even the most minor accidents resulting in very costly hospital bills so make sure your insurance has your back! Also check the vaccines required for where you are traveling in Asia. Unfortunately, the jabs can be expensive to get, especially if your travelling a lot of Asia and require multiple doses. But after all, is it your health that you need to keep! And who can put a price on that?
Hope this advice makes your traveling around Asia that little bit easier, after long walks, terrible bathroom experiences, many encounters with the locals and lots of great memories captured!
-Travel! Just for the health of it.