Dreaming about traveling through the jungles and exotic islands of Southeast Asia but somehow feeling a bit unsure? I’ve listed the top 10 frequently asked questions that I get asked a lot to make it easier for your research. Inspired mostly by questions I come across in Girls Who Travel, a travel group on Facebook, I tried to answer these questions as best as I can based on my knowledge and personal experiences. Let’s get started, shall we?
1.) How much do I need?
How much money you’ll be spending is entirely up to you. If you’re planning on doing it in a budget, you can go as low as $30 a day, racking up to $900-1000 a month. Others have done $20 a day by substituting things around such as couchsurfing instead of hostels, hitchhiking instead of paying for bus rides, and perhaps working for free accommodations. Hostels are cheap, starting from $5/night for a dorm room. Food is even cheaper starting from $1 per bowl of flavorful noodle soup. Tours can start for as low as $8 per person. Southeast Asia is cheap, and regardless of what kind of budget or travel style you prefer, it’s widely available here for you. (READ: How To Backpack Southeast Asia For A Month For Under $1000)
FYI: Majority of Southeast Asia are cheap and very affordable. Singapore, however, will cost you a lot more than it’s neighboring country so chances are, you’ll be spending a lot more there.
2.) Is it safe?
Yes, it’s generally safe. Just follow your own standard precautions and avoid looking like an easy target and you’ll be fine. I felt completely safe, to be honest with you. There are some sketchy areas I find myself in, but travel smart and you shall be safe too.
FYI: Do research in your own terms about the areas you plan on visiting. For example, Vietnam has earned its notorious reputation for scams and pickpockets, so keep an eye out for that. (READ: How To Avoid Taxi Scams in Southeast Asia)
3.) I’ve heard the street food is good but should I trust them?
Majority of the food I’ve eaten while traveling are from the streets. The only reason I find myself in the bathroom a lot is because I eat a lot of spicy food and Thailand is ruthless when it comes to that. I’ve never gotten ill from the food in the streets. However, I do have a gut of steel and I’ve been living in Southeast Asia for years now so I’m very well adjusted. The best you can do is to trust your instinct. Avoid the ones that’s been sitting out for awhile. If it looks suspicious to you, then move on to the next cart. Keep an open mind though, because yes, the street food is AMAZING.
FYI: Contrary to Southeast Asia’s street food reputation, make Philippines an exception to this. If you want a decent meal, do splurge an extra dollar or two at a sit down restaurant. Street food in the Philippines, also known as carinderia (eatery) isn’t necessarily horrible, but it isn’t really good either. (READ: 15 Filipino Food You Need To Try)
4.) Do I need to take medical shots?
To answer this professionally as a nurse, yes. It’s always best to take precautionary measures prior to traveling. But to answer this as a traveler and as someone who has been living in SEASia for years, I’d say that I’ve been pretty fine and healthy without it. But do note that our immune system could be very different from each other. For example, I’ve been exposed to TB patients from nursing school but I’ve been very much free of the virus. However, I have managed to catch the varicella virus (chicken pox) for the second time, although mildly, outside the hospital. In other words, it’s either luck, or how strong your immune system is.
FYI: Whether you decide to take the shots or not, do load up on vitamin C and start building up your immune system before going on your trip. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and get a good amount of rest.
5.) When is the best time to go?
Now. But if you want a more practical answer, dry season all around SEASia falls on March-May. The most convenient time to go is during December-February as the weather is dry yet a lot cooler. June-October is wet season and most countries are visited by numerous typhoons at this time of the year.
FYI: Regardless of the season, majority of SEASia remains to be hot all year long. Some areas do get a cold, wintery season, such as northern Vietnam.
6.) Do I need to show a proof of an exit ticket in each country?
It’s at random. Regardless of the passport you’re holding or which airport you’re landing, I’ve come to believe that it really just depends on the customs officers’ mood. There are times I’ve been asked to show my return ticket and there are also times at the very same airport that they couldn’t care less.
FYI: Though it never personally happened to me, I’ve heard stories of airlines using this as a scheme to get you to purchase a return ticket from them. Supposedly, they won’t let you check in to your flight unless you have a return ticket.
7.) Where should I go?
Oh boy. This is the hardest question to answer because in all honesty, I’d go everywhere if I could. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are the famous countries to see when backpacking Asia because of the accessibility by overland travel. Temples, beaches, mind-blowing landscapes, diverse culture, and amazing food are just some of the reasons they make such a popular backpacker spot. Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia are also worth the flights. And lastly, I definitely wouldn’t miss a trip to the Philippines if you want a variety of the most beautiful Pacific beaches combined with an array of other activities to do. From waterfalls to jungle treks to everything in between, Philippines is the one. (READ: The ABC’s Of Backpacking Southeast Asia)
FYI: I’m kind of obsessed with researching about the places I want to go to. This way, it helps me figure out if I really do want to prioritize a certain place. However, I still like to keep an open itinerary here and there because I still welcome spontaneity.
8.) Should I tip or not?
It isn’t practiced in most countries here so it isn’t expected, but I find that they appreciate it if you do. Maybe it’s just my westernized mind that makes me feel like I must tip regardless of the practices (but I don’t always), but it’s really just up to you. I tip when I really enjoyed their service. I’ve never offended anyone by leaving a tip so I’d like to believe that they do appreciate it. In the Philippines, which is becoming more and more westernized, some places automatically adds a service charge to your bill. I also found out that when you tip a certain person at a restaurant, they are required to share it with the rest of the employees.
FYI: When it comes to other services such as massages, haircuts, waxing, etc., tipping is generally expected from you, especially if you’re a foreigner. Others would even blatantly ask for it.
9.) How much time do I need?
The more time you have, the better. I personally like slow travel, but because of circumstances, I’m forced to squish everything I want to do in a short period of time. If you don’t have a lot of time, I do suggest making the most of it by sticking to the places you want to see the most, and avoid doing so much traveling time in order to make the best of your trip. If you want to do a short backpacking trip, three weeks is a feasible time frame, although, you may be a bit restrained with time.
FYI: To save time, you can travel by overnight bus. This saves you money on accommodation too.
10.) What else do I need to know as a female traveler?
- Bring tampons because it’s difficult finding them here. Better yet, invest in a diva cup.
- Be warned that the food is great, so you may or may not gain a few pounds.
- Waxing services are extremely cheap here (starting at $15 or less) so no need to worry. You can find them in most major cities.
- Asian sizes are much smaller than western size. It’s annoying. And that’s coming from me, a small-framed Asian! If you’re on the curvy side, do bring bikinis because it’ll be hard to find reliable ones here.
- The humidity and weather in general could cause you to break out more than usual, and your hair will probably not be at its best, so be prepared.