If you’re a newbie in what comes to travelling Southeast Asia (SE), you’ve arrived safely my friend. Because if like me, you love to immerse in culture authenticity to its fullest, spend wisely your money with a bit of splurge, dream with 30º as your sea bath temperature, value an honest smile as the most generous customer service sign, wish all-inclusive deals would burn in hell, understand the non-verbal pleasure of a real foot massage and believe that Anthony Bourdain should be the only one using the #foodporn, you’re ready to visit Southeast Asia (SE). Didn’t I tell you before that it feels like my second home? So, I’ve been travelling quite a lot to those countries, with loads of previous preparation, seriously digging into the culture, must do’s of each area and gathering all the useful and needed resources to take most advantage of a trip to Southeast Asia (SE), so let me unveil the first 8 top travel tips collection.
#1. Early birds
Ok, I mentioned previously that I like to be in control which means love planning stuff to know in advance what to expect, or at least, pretend to. Meaning that (for a trip in August) I always start with my own itinerary draft (February), then flight booking (March), moving onto accommodation reservations (April) and then start planning my activities’ route and food journey (May/June), only booking them onsite. The earlier you start making your hotel reservations, the better prices and choices you get, as well as your negotiation power builds up. I always got amazing deals! Hot tips: I only book in advance the main flights and accommodation (this last always with free cancellation policies though) – the hotel choice plays a huge deal for me, might not be the same for you so adjust accordingly. It’s crucial to keep a light itinerary so you can add last minute onsite stuff – you never know how much you might fall in love for a place – and give room for any delays throughout your trip, that will guaranteed happen.
#2. Must pack items
There is stuff I always carry with me no matter what. During long flights, it’s mandatory to keep your body and skin hydrated so I always drink tons of water (sometimes infused) or green tea, use face sprays (my favorite is Avène Thermal Spring Water), always have some extra moisturizer to avoid skin cracking, a really comfortable pair of sneakers (the type that can be ruined after a trip), basic first aid items for any emergency and a universal plug adapter. Hot tips: The most efficient mosquito repellent I use is the roll-on type however it’s a bit sticky, being always better to let it dry for a while but if you’re in a hurry, choose the spray repellent for clothing – this way you avoid to put it directly on your body being equally efficient. Pack lightly though and leave your heavy clothing at home cause you’ll buy loads of it anyway for at least a quarter of the price.
#3. Kick-off from a hub
The main airports are Singapore Changi Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The cheapest one is definitely Kuala Lumpur’s, to fly in and out. Hong Kong’s is also quite cheap to travel in from Europe but to go out is usually quite expensive since there’s only one airport and the low cost travel companies pay high rates to land there. Although, for western standards, the air tickets from Hong Kong are still pretty inexpensive – such as the 70€ starting price for a 2 hour flight to Philippines. However, from Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok the prices begin at 20,00€ per ticket. Hot tip: The best you can do is pick a main airport hub, stay for a couple of days to get a feeling of the city and then move to your desired destination. This way, you have some time to recover from a long flight which can be quite exhausting and slowly fight jet lag.
#4. A pleasant long-haul run
#EmiratesChangedMyLife. Yes, it really did! I can tell you that my experience began already during the online ticket reservation with their excellent customer service and was kept all the way till I land. They bring to life the it’s not about the destination but the journey sentence – check it for yourself. After my first long haul flight with them to Singapore I didn’t want to travel with no other company. It was an entertainment rollercoaster. But money speaks louder sometimes and on my last trip to Bangkok, I gave it a try to Turkish Airlines which was also ok but far from Emirates experience. Hot tip: In case your stopover at Dubai Airport is superior to 3h30, you get a free meal at one of their innumerous restaurants, just ask for the voucher at any desk counter. You won’t find this info advertised anywhere but do take advantage of it.
#5. Save vs. loosing the face
In western countries, we stick with let me be honest here moments all the time and even praise straight forward sincerity but to save someone else’s face, it’s highly appreciated to keep the real truth to yourself in case it’s negative, since you would only unnecessary embarrasse someone. Give or lose face is one of the most important (if not the most) soft skills you need to learn when going to Asia. The concept of saving face is turning the spotlight to other than you, through a low-profile way, even when it’s arguable, it’s about reputation, honor and respect. One spends the entire life building face. While loosing face is comparable to the walk of shame. Hot tips: Just think: what are you actually going to win from saying the cruel truth? In Asia – an enemy. So, it’s up to you. No need to keep it real all the time, allow people to gain face through you. This is an extremely noble act and very much appreciated. You can save face in all aspects of your trip, by praising the food, complimenting someone, valuing any effort – such as a good price for a bargain. And read between lines, a nervous giggle from the person you’re talking to might mean an imminent loss of face. It’s key to remain patient and never loose your cool throughout this face process, especially in public.
#6. Fly high and low-cost
AirAsia is a low-cost airline company and my pick choice to book flights within SE countries. Last year, they were flying to 88 asian destinations so you get how important they are. Despite the unbeatable cheap prices, their service is strongly consistent for a low-cost company – I never had any common low-cost troubles such as flight delays, disjointed planes, baggage loss, poor customer service or unexpected bankruptcy (it happened to me twice with other flight asian companies!). Even if last minute, they always offer kick-ass flight prices. Hot tip: 90% of the times I choose to fly, within the same country, oppositely to other longer and wasting commute times such as train or night bus rides. It’s cheaper, convenient and faster. The other 10% I leave it to boat transfers (when choosing an island) where the journey and landscape are quite nice to be missed.
#7. All in low season
But if like me you hate high season pricing and extremely crowded places, give it a go, embrace your adventure spirit and choose to travel during low season. I always do it when it’s possible and weather wise, the worst that happened to me were short downpours which can be quite refreshing since it’s always hot and humid. Hot tip: The price difference is ridiculously good (sometimes less 60%) and you might get the golden opportunity of staying at that top notch luxury bungalow you’ve been dreaming of facing the sea with killer views – the type that will make you work like there’s no tomorrow thinking on your next year vacation.
#8. Street local food, the chef’s menu
Eating street food is like eating at the most privileged area in a restaurant: the Chef’s table. It’s like real time cooking peep show. And if you fight for it in your country, why are you so afraid in asian ones? That’s a privilege, my friend. Give it a try to different tastes, smells and textures and if you end up hating the food anyway, at least you got a great instagram shot (#JustPretending). The food is ridiculously cheap – starting at 2,00€ for a dish. There’s no better way of knowing a culture as stalking a local to its favorite street food stall. And if you testify some chit-chatting with the owner or no-need-menu attitude, you’re in the presence of a real habitué. Hot tips: If you don’t want to be arrested for stalking someone, go to the busiest booth. I can guarantee you that a local’s stomach is any different from yours – although you secretly believe it is. If they can handle, you can do it too. Please leave your food anxiety at home and don’t order pizza and pasta all the time. Would you order chicken curry in Rome? You get the point.
Next week I’ll share the other 7 tips, stay tuned and start planning 🙂 here’s a sneak pick… Bargain like royalty (…) always offer at least 50% less of the given price and start from there. Don’t rush, be calm, don’t loose focus and show some confidence, otherwise, you’ll be ripped you off!
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