South East Asia is the wild west of backpacking territory. A place to eat spiders, shoot AK-47s and stress over the notorious lack of reliable internet service. This 2001 baby can vouch that Asia can have you falling in love or tearing your hair out. It fluctuates. Frequently.
1) Get a SIM from the airport
Duh, right? But without a SIM you immediately make your trip ten times more stressful than it needs to be. They should cost around £5 for 7 day coverage but this varies with country and package. Having a SIM will allow you to access maps, make phone calls and use some vital apps.
2) Download Grab
Grab is one of those vital apps – picture an Asian twist on Uber. The benefits, however, are much higher than using Uber as opposed to taxis at home. In less touristy areas, language barriers can pose a difficulty in communicating destinations. In more touristy areas, it is often hard to gauge a fair price on a tuktuk or taxi ride. Grab solves both of these issues. The driver knows exactly where you want to go as you enter your destination in the same way as Uber and the prices are standard for tourists and locals. Grab also offers safer transport for solo or female travellers as all drivers are registered.
3) Always double check dress code
Whilst travel influencers on Instagram may have us believing different, many outfits are simply not suitable. Do your research before to stock up on clothes that fit the standards and that you would keep a picture of. Otherwise risk having photos of Angkor Wat with you in the forefront sweating in an oversized T-shirt and elephant pants. For the sake of emergencies, a sarong or scarf can be bought cheaply abroad and kept in your bag. On a more serious note, dressing appropriately reduces the risk of unwanted attention and is more respectful of local customs.
4) Download the Google Maps app
Just in case you skipped number 1, with the Google Maps app you can download maps to get directions offline. You will need to do this connected to Wi-Fi but once set up is truly a lifesaver when lost with no signal or data.
5) Get a Netflix account
Crossing the Cambodian-Vietnam border by bus from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Ming took 16 hours. There were no power sockets, entertainment systems and the aircon kept cutting out. Downloading films or episodes on Netflix means you can pass the time much more enjoyably. Better yet, it requires no data or Wi-Fi.
6) Get creative with charging
Following on from 5, 16 hours is a big demand on battery life. Especially when your phone holds all the information you need to safely get to your next accommodation. This is when creativity comes in. If possible, don’t just rely on a portable charger. Plugging your phone in to a laptop with a USB charging cable can give you an entire 7 extra precious hours. Try to maximise the value of anything you travel with.
7) Use a currency translator app
Throughout South East Asia, exchange rates can get complicated. In Cambodia £1 is equal to approximately 5,326 Cambodian Riel. This gets even messier when the country also uses US dollars, as you could be given completely different currency as change from a purchase. Ignorance to this could make you vulnerable to stall owners returning incorrect change and isolates you from being able to haggle in markets. Budgets become much more difficult to keep tabs on too when you are confused as to how things match up. Having a currency translating app to hand can easily alleviate you of these worries.
8) Copy everything that holds any value
For safety precautions, forward booking confirmations to a close friend or family at home. If things go wrong, you know that your whereabouts can be roughly tracked down. Additionally, keep both paper and picture copies of all-important documents such as: your passport, insurance details, visa, vaccinations and bankcards. You never know when you might need details quickly.
9) A DSLR camera is a worthy investment
Phone quality pictures may be satisfactory for some, but for the majority of us they just don’t cut it. If you are heading abroad for a long period of time you might be interested in investing in a cheap camera. I bought my Nikon D60 second hand for £160 and it was the best money I’ve ever spent. Travel is an investment in yourself – why not document it as best as possible.
** The left picture below was taken with my Nikon D60, the right was with my Samsung A11**
10) Raid a pharmacy at home
Medication could be sparse or completely unavailable in pharmacies overseas. For girls: stock up on tampons, contraceptive pills and Canesten. In general, antidiarrheal medications are a good idea – especially if you have concerns about street food. Certain vaccinations may be required long before you leave so make sure to book in an appointment with your GP a few months prior.
11) Have a Google Translate app
The value of being able to translate between languages instantly does not need explaining. Of course, with a SIM, you are able to use data to reach google translate online. However, downloading an app to use offline is a fantastic backup.
12) Be wary of online visa applications
Scams for visa applications online are unfortunately rife. UK citizens also don’t necessarily require one for countries in South East Asia, depending on their reason to visit and duration of stay. A website to trust for UK citizens is gov.uk – it offers up to date guidelines and links to reputable visa application websites.
Talk to locals and find out lesser known attractions in the area. Check Airbnb for experiences not just accommodation. Remember that TripAdvisor is your bible and don’t forget your money belt and personal alarm. However, most importantly, don’t forget to just stop and breathe. Inevitably, things will go wrong. However, 99.9% of the time these incidents are entirely fixable; I was robbed during a massage, had a border-crossing bus booked for the wrong date, danced on stage with lady boys and had my boyfriend delivered naked to after he drunkenly mistook our hotel room door for the bathroom door. The point is, all of these events turned out ok. Take in everything and allow yourself to enjoy whatever comes your way.