I didn’t know what to expect on my first trip to Asia, other than gorgeous water. And I’ve got to say, I’m in love with Southeast Asia at this point. Thailand was always a dream (I mean… you saw “The Beach” right?) and finally getting to go was such an intense life goal. I’m not exaggerating, I almost cried when I saw the water for the first time. But, like anything worth doing in life, I learned a lot while I was there! Next time I go to Thailand, or anywhere in Asia, I’m glad I’ll have these lessons so that I can share them with you! So, here are my 8 Southeast Asia tips for first timers.
The Short Version
- Bring something modest to wear
- Eat the street food
- Check your sunscreen to make sure it’s actually sunscreen
- Do the sunrise version of the excursion
- Research animal ethics and don’t ride elephants
- Bargain with vendors
- Get your vaccines and bring some meds with
- Know the weather patterns
The Long Version of 8 Southeast Asia Tips for First Timers
There are going to be a million tips across the internet I’m sure, but these were the ones that stuck with me the most and that I feel like I learned the most from. If you’re going to be traveling to Southeast Asia for the first time and want a couple of insider tips, keep reading.
1 – Bring Something Modest to Wear for Temples
This might sound obvious but I wasn’t even thinking about it when packing and I had countless sundresses but nothing with sleeves. So, definitely pack at least one outfit that covers your shoulders, or a scarf. The scarf you can simply wrap around your shoulders while visiting temples, which is what I ended up doing. This worked like a charm if you’re trying to pack super light.
And also if you’re not considering any temples, you definitely should! That’s one of my best Southeast Asia tips for first timers! Want to know why? Check out my temple trip in Phuket, Thailand.
2 – Don’t Be Afraid to Eat the Street Food
This is actually a huge regret that I didn’t get to do. My husband has a sensitive stomach and was scared to do it, so I didn’t either in camaraderie. But after more research, often times street food is less likely to make you sick because you can see it being cooked all the way through. So if you’re nervous, pick a vendor with constant traffic and try it out! Southeast Asian food is wonderful, and I’d go back and visit just for the food if that was all I could do.
3 – Make Sure You Recognize Your Purchased Sunscreen Brand
This is incredibly specific but… DO NOT BUY SUNSCREEN FROM YOUR HOTEL IF THE LABEL IS IN A LANGUAGE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. This is in all caps because my god did we get scorched. It said it was 30 SPF but it ended up not being waterproof and we got so sunburnt after frolicking in the sun and water all day. There are plenty of places to buy brands you recognize, and if you’re nervous about it, just pack your own or buy it at the airport.
4 – Do the Sunrise Tour of That Thing You Want to Do
Booking an excursion? Do the sunrise version; maybe the best decision we made for our Thailand trip was booking the sunrise version of a day trip out to the Phi Phi Islands. I’ll literally never forget the beauty of that morning, and I truly think a sunrise SOMETHING is one of my better Southeast Asia tips for first timers.
5 – Research Animal Ethics of Any Animal Excursion
Southeast Asia has a million different ways to see and interact with animals, but a limited amount of them are actually ethical or good for the animals themselves. Absolutely look into sanctuaries in the area you plan on staying in, and try to avoid any tourist traps like circuses, etc. My experience at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was incredible, if you want to know more about what to expect at an ethical elephant sanctuary.
6 – Bargaining With Vendors is Okay
This is expected behavior on behalf of the vendor. Don’t insult them of course and don’t try to get away with any items for free, but you can definitely bargain a little bit for whatever you’re looking to take home.
7 – Check Vaccine Requirements and Bring Some Medicines
Depending on what countries you’ll be visiting, you may need specific vaccines to enter. Discuss with your physician which vaccines of the recommended vs. required you’ll need based on the type of trip you’re doing. For example, my husband was a little paranoid and got an extra vaccine that was over $1,000 USD that I did not, because the vaccine wasn’t really relevant to the type of trip we were doing. So, talk with the doctor about your travel plans and find out what is required/recommended.
Also, it’s a good idea to bring some additional over-the-counter meds just to be safe. I’d recommend a painkiller (Aleve, Ibuprofen, pick your poison) and some Immodium in case your stomach gets bothered.
8 – Know the Weather Patterns
Wet, dry, and hot seasons are VERY different in Southeast Asia and will change your first trip to Asia drastically depending on when you go. So make sure to plan your trip with that in mind. We visited Thailand in April during hot season and yes, it was hot, but it was fabulous.