5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Travelling Southeast Asia

August 2, 2016 by Helen Winter

“If there’s one place you have to go, it’s Southeast Asia.” That’s what my friend told me, and never being one to turn down friendly advice, I packed my bags and hopped on a flight to Thailand, then onwards to Vietnam and Cambodia. What she didn’t tell me though, was what I should expect from this corner of the world. Now, with my experience behind me, here is what I’ll remember for next time:

Apparently Southeast Asia is hot? (image: Helen Winter)

Apparently Southeast Asia is hot? (image: Helen Winter)

It gets hot (I mean, really hot)

I know what you’re thinking, ‘well, duh, it’s Southeast Asia’, but hear me out on this one.

Of course I was aware that I was heading to a warmer climate and I had my bikini and sun cream at the ready. But, being British, I couldn’t stop myself from packing for cooler evenings and cooler days. Cooler evenings and cooler days that never came.

Soon after arrival I realised that the weather really only permitted for loose dresses, airy trousers, and thin shorts. The long-sleeved top, pair of jeans, and thick kimono I had packed was never even unfolded, let alone worn. So, if you think you need something ‘just for the evenings’ then you’ve already told yourself you don’t need it.

Top tip? Despite everything I’ve just said, if you are planning on heading to northern Vietnam it is much cooler than the rest of Southeast Asia, so do pack warmer clothes for there.

Street food (image: Helen Winter)

Street food (image: Helen Winter)

Street food will not make you ill

I was unbelievably paranoid about getting food poisoning whilst travelling Southeast Asia, to the point where I didn’t enjoy my first few meals. Which is a shame, because food in Southeast Asia is beyond incredible.

If you’re worried like I was then all I’ll say is try not to be; I didn’t get ill once during my three-month trip and I ate a lot of street food. Ultimately, it all comes down to good old common sense. I made sure the area or the stall looked busy, I aimed for places where I could see the food being cooked, and I only ate the meal if it was piping hot. It’s definitely worth overlooking fancy restaurants for a street food experience; the food tastes better and is much cheaper.

Go make-up free! (image: Helen Winter)

Go make-up free! (image: Helen Winter)

There’s no point bringing your entire make-up bag

We all want to look our best for those holiday snaps, but there’s really no point bringing every item of make up you own – it’s just too hot!

I tried to wear a full face of make up for the first two days of my trip but it melted off within an hour. Instead, I gave my skin a break from foundation, blusher and concealer and embraced no make-up days, which actually helped improve my skin hugely. If I did want to dress up, I just used eyebrow gel and some mascara which was all that was required.

One of the beautiful dresses Helen (left) bought in Southeast Asia (image: Helen Winter)

One of the beautiful dresses Helen (left) bought in Southeast Asia (image: Helen Winter)

Leave some suitcase space for clothes shopping

I’m always scolding myself for overpacking but when I went got to Southeast Asia I was particularly hard on myself. Just five minutes at a market in Southeast Asia and I was wishing I had come with an empty suitcase. The stalls are filled with bright tie-dye dresses, beautifully patterned sarongs, baggy trousers with mesmerising prints, and colourful handbags, all at a cheap price. I actually threw out some of my packed clothes so I could fit in more new clothes, but I wish I had just taken less in the first place.

Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi everywhere (image: Helen Winter)

Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi everywhere (image: Helen Winter)

Wi-Fi is everywhere! So forget buying a Sim card.

Sim cards are handy when travelling, but I found that I could just hook up to Wi-Fi via my smartphone. The Wi-Fi may not always be the best but it is free and available in almost every café, bar, restaurant, hotel, and even on the beach if you’re close enough to a building. In fact, you may have to turn your Wi-Fi off so you can resist the urge to spend your entire holiday uploading photos to Instagram.


Speak to one of our Travel Experts about planning your epic holiday around Southeast Asia, or choosing one of our tailor-made Journeys to Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam.


You might also like:

Cambodia’s Secret Paradise Island: Koh Rong Samloem

The Ultimate Way to See Thailand in Two Weeks

About Helen Winter

I'm a passionate (see: obsessed) traveller. I love to explore a new country on foot; whether it's through the narrow streets of historic towns, or along ambitious hiking trails in a national park. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @winter_wanders