Below are some basic tips when traveling in Southeast Asia
- Bring US Dollars with you. You can pay most visas in dollars and USD is accepted in many countries, especially Cambodia. If you’re traveling to Myanmar then you definitely need to bring crisp dollars to exchange into kyats as there are no ATMs in the country. I didn’t bring enough dollars with me and I ended up having to take out baht from multiple ATMs in Bangkok, then exchange the baht into dollars for my trip to Myanmar, all while incurring ATM fees and getting a lesser exchange rate. For travel to Myanmar try to get the most new and crisp $100 bills you can find. As crazy as it sounds, you will get a lesser exchange rate for bills that are crinkled or creased so try not to fold them.
- Airport departure taxes – If you’re leaving by air from certain countries you will be charged an airport departure tax.
- Indonesia: They say it must be paid in rupiah, but we paid in USD (although you don’t get change back if you pay in USD so either make sure you have the exact amount or pay in rupiah). The international departure tax as of February 2010 is 150,000 Rupiah in Jakarta and varies at other international airports. The domestic departure tax in Jakarta is 30,000 Rupiah and also varies elsewhere.
- Malaysia: None
- Singapore: None
- Vietnam: None
- Laos: At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport, Savannakhet Airport, and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10. This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier. There is also a 5,000 kip (equivalent to approximately U.S. 60 cents) departure tax for domestic flights, which may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.
- Thailand: None
- Myanmar: Most forums say that you are required to pay $10 USD for the airport departure tax, but we weren’t asked to pay anything.
- Try to take out a lot of money on each ATM transaction so you can incur the least amount of fees as possible. All the ATM fees add up, especially if you’re taking small amounts of money out each day. For instance, in Thailand I think the maximum you’re allowed to take out per transaction is $300-$350 and in Laos the maximum is $100 per transaction. We would each take out the maximum amount and then take turns going to the ATM. Keep a record of each time you go to the ATM and then compare notes at the end of the trip to settle up.
- Try to book guesthouses in advance, especially if you’re traveling during high season. Whenever possible we tried to book our accommodation in advance of arriving because a lot of the good places are full most nights. We would usually do some research online (like travelfish, hostelworld or tripadvisor – reviews for hostels and guesthouses are usually listed in the hotels page under the tab “specialty lodging” or “b&b and inns”). If the place had a website we would send them an email inquiring about availability or if they were listed on hostelworld we’d book directly off the site. We found that we preferred guesthouses over hostels in most cases because they tend to be run by a family and are usually smaller in size. A lot of hostels cater to the gap year rowdy backpacker, which was definitely not our scene. We also preferred to stay in a triple room, which usually consisted of 1 double bed and 1 twin bed, 3 twin beds, or 1 double bed and 1 mattress on the floor. The price for a 3 person room was usually pretty similar to the cost of 3 people staying in a dorm, so we almost always chose to stay in a private room.
- If you are a US citizen, get a Vietnamese visa before you leave for your trip because they don’t have visas-on-arrival. This depends on how long you’re traveling for, and how long you want to stay in Vietnam. It is possible to get a Vietnamese visa at one of the consulates in another city (i.e. Bangkok, Vientiane), but it is much easier to get it ahead of time. For more visa information please see the Vietnam section.
- Bring extra passport photos with you.
- If you want to book flights online on Air Asia’s website, you may run into problems paying with a US credit card. My Citibank Mastercard was rejected even after I had called them to authorize the transaction. Mastercard said the problem must be on Air Asia’s side. However, Rosie used her Amex card to book flights on the site, and it worked fine. So if you run into any problems, try to book on somebody’s American Express card and then pay them back.
- To avoid theft try to be as vigilant as possible about watching your belongings and you should be fine. We traveled for several months and never had anything stolen. You will hear plenty of stories of people getting stuff stolen, but it’s usually because they weren’t cautious enough. For instance, when you’re walking down the street, make sure your small backpack is fitted securely and nobody on a motorcycle can come by and snatch it off your back. Take turns going swimming – don’t leave all your stuff unattended on the beach. There are also a lot of scams going on and Lonely Planet does a good job of telling you about well known ones in each country. If you sense that you’re being taken advantage of, then it’s ok to be firm back, without being rude. Also for female travelers, be cautious about sending mixed signals to local males. Sometimes friendliness can be misinterpreted as romantic interest. As 3 females we encountered no problems traveling together, but we did talk to some other girls who were traveling alone and they told us that sometimes they were afraid to be too friendly for fear of sending mixed signals. I think the best approach is to be kind and polite, but at the first sign of harassment don’t worry about putting your foot down.