We'll admit: we were really nervous to travel to Southeast Asia.
Not because we were worried about our safety, but because we knew it would be different than anything we had ever experienced before. We were planning to visit countries with unfamiliar food, cultures, languages, and landscapes, and we were at a complete loss at where to start planning.
We kept thinking, “How do we even begin to prepare to visit places we know nothing about?”
Luckily, dear traveller, we took extensive notes from our experiences and the advice given to us, to make YOUR time preparing for this breathtaking area of the world a little bit easier!
Southeast Asia is comprised of the following 11 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Whoa, that’s a lot of different places!
These countries are vast and there’s so much to explore, so we’d recommend 1-2 weeks for each country that you visit. Transportation can be slow from one spot to another, so account for that in your planning.
We had a bit more time, so we decided to pick 4 countries to travel to from January - April 2019 so that we could explore and learn about each country’s culture as much as possible before moving on to the next one.
We considered the following factors when planning our route:
Weather (monsoon seasons, temperature)
Types of experiences available (hiking, snorkelling, festivals, food)
Cost (accommodation, activities and transportation prices)
Transportation options (ferries, buses, trains, flights etc.)
Recommendations from other travellers in our network (advice, places to avoid etc.)
After researching and chatting with others we decided on these 4 amazing spots (individual guides, budget and stories coming soon!):
Thailand- amazing food, beautiful islands, peaceful culture
Cambodia- historical sites, rugged countryside, gorgeous beaches
Vietnam- incredible motorbike trails, challenging hiking trails, vast landscapes
The Philippines- friendly people, turquoise waters, amazing surfing
How to prepare:
Purchase travel insurance. Contact the insurance company you already have to see how you you are currently covered if you leave your home country. We needed additional insurance so we chose World Nomads and used the free quote generator to decide what plan made the most sense for the type of travel we wanted to do.
Visit a travel doctor at least 1 month before departure with an outline of your travel plan so that they can recommend vaccinations, medication etc. Your first visit is usually a consultation so that you can review their recommendations with your health insurance to see what’s covered before purchasing.
Determine if you need a special travel VISA for visiting this country. You can do so by visiting your home country's government website. Canadians can visit this government travel advisory website and filter for the countries you want to visit (example: Cambodia).
Book your flights. Search for your flights using incognito mode (let's you search in "secret" so that prices won't increase as you look) and watch flights on skyscanner.com. For best results, try to book at least 8 weeks in advance, and be flexible with your departure and arrival location and dates.
Check-in online with your country’s embassy for the dates you will be travelling (usually attached to the link described in point #3). They will contact you with the information you provide in the event of a national emergency or natural disaster.
Determine your daily budget. SE Asia can be inexpensive, but things can add up if you’re not mindful of what you’re spending on accommodations, drinks and food on a daily basis.
Book your accommodations. For affordable/budget friendly accommodations, we used Hostel World and Booking.com (make an online account for booking.com - it will give you rewards for frequent use!). Read the reviews VERY carefully and aim for a score of 8.0 or higher for best results. Note: Depending on the season and where you are going, you can often book a place to stay on the day of, but you might not get the best location or price!
Determine how you want to use your phone while you're travelling. Contact your service provider about travel plan options. If you have an unlocked phone like we did, get a SIM card when you land at the airport. Airports offer special tourist data packages and they are very helpful. There is WiFi available in some places as you travel, but having data on our phone SAVED us when we were in remote areas and needed a map.
Download a currency converter app for your phone. This helped us tremendously to ensure we were making smart purchases on-the-go.
Download the Google translate app for your phone. Most people in touristy areas speak English but having this was helpful when conversing with locals if we couldn't explain ourselves well. Not everyone can read the text on your phone if you show them, but there's an audio option you can play for them as well. Note: You can also download a language on the app (example: Vietnamese) so that you’re able to translate even when you are offline.
Make photocopies of your passport and identification, and give to a family member/ loved one before you leave. Keep copies for yourself and hide them in your backpack as backups. Life happens, things can get lost etc. and this tip is to help speed up the process if you need anything replaced at an embassy.
Want to read more about travelling to Southeast Asia? Check out our additional post:
Coming soon: individual guides, budgets and stories for Southeast Asia!
-Greg & Krystal