6 Things To Prepare For Before Backpacking Through Southeast Asia

Get ready for those infamous bus journeys.

There are lots of reasons we pack our bags and head to Southeast Asia in search of incredible travel experiences. And it’s no wonder – the region is an extraordinary, eye-opening and beautiful part of the globe. And while we can’t plan for every single thing (that’d be super boring) there are a few essential things to prepare for before setting out on the journey of a lifetime.

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Border crossings

When passing between countries, you’ll encounter a border crossing (obviously) which can sometimes be daunting. Ultimately you’re at the mercy of whoever’s in charge but the key is to follow orders and endeavour to not act like a clueless tourist (even if you feel like one). “The border crossing is part of the experience of travel. Enjoy the quirks of the moment. Most importantly, be patient and calm and expect to queue,” a senior director at Pacific Asia Travel Association told CNN Travel.

Also, you may also be asked for a small extra fee for getting you through, but it’ll only be the equivalent of a couple of dollars so just remember to save a little of the appropriate currency and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Burmese border. Photo: Jason Thompson/Flickr CC

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Infamous bus journeys

Organising travel between various places is simple enough, but if travelling by bus, be prepared for longer than expected journeys (and for departure and arrival times to differ from what’s stated). If you catch enough buses, you’ll soon realise that most companies have different definitions of “sleeper bus”. Some will have toilets, cabin-style beds and blankets, and others will only have seats and no onboard facilities. In other words, be prepared to stop in the middle of nowhere for toilet breaks. Bring earplugs, something warm, toilet paper, entertainment, and food and drink. And enjoy the rocky ride!

Photo: Jessica Rabbit/Flickr CC

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Language barriers

Learning “hello” and “thank you” in the language of each country you’re travelling to is well worth it. Keep an updated notepad on your phone of phrases that you hear regularly throughout your travels. If you can’t ask a local what they mean, ask your hostel – someone there is bound to know. Before you head to a market, a restaurant, a border crossing or a bus/train station get a few useful phrases down. For example, anything related to your dietary requirements, times of buses, directions. Definitely have relevant questions prepared too.

Photo: Ninara/Flickr CC

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Get ready to experience a range of different food

Let’s face it, you’ll be eating food that you’re not used to while backpacking through Southeast Asia. Couple this with partying, sleepless nights, heat and dorm rooms, and you may be at risk of getting sick. But remember don’t panic. Keep hydrated and out of the sun, get to a pharmacy for professional medical advice and get ready to ride it out. The best part? Once your body has adjusted to new foods and spices, you’ll get to enjoy Southeast Asia’s culinary delights to the fullest.

Fresh squid cooked at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand. Photo: Paul Arps/Flickr CC

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The art of bartering

Practically everywhere in Southeast Asia will give you the opportunity to learn the art of bartering. There’s generally an unspoken rule that the initial asking price of items at markets isn’t the one you’ll end up settling on. Have a little fun, enjoy the lively exchange and definitely approach it with an idea of what you’d be happy to pay in the end. And always keep it fair, fam.

Practice your bartering skills at the night markets in Bangkok. Photo: Karl Baron/Flickr CC

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Keeping the essentials with you at all times

Take a bottle of water everywhere. Stay hydrated, kids! And remember, you can’t drink the tap water. Toilets in Southeast Asia are equipped with toilet hoses, but rarely provide toilet paper so it’s useful to keep a roll on you. This said, do the right thing and throw it away in the bins provided rather than flushing it which may cause clogging. And finally – not an “essential” in the traditional sense, but something that’ll be hugely beneficial – download the app. It’s a godsend.

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