We don’t think that we’re the most adventurous type, we’re big planners (BIG) but as we begin our four-month-long trip around South East Asia, we decided to ‘just wing it’ for the first three weeks. It can’t be that bad, right? Well, yes and no – here are some of the lessons learned that we want to share.
1. PRINT YOUR DOCUMENTS. Handing in a piece of paper confirming your identity, flight/accommodation reservation, visa etc. will come very handy in Asia. We’re very much reliant on our phones back home and we certainly can do so much as most transactions are accepted online but don’t expect the same in Asia. Don’t get me wrong, online transactions DO work here, but as a foreign visitor and to be on the safe side, photocopy your passports/visa/other forms of ID/bank card, print your flight and accommodation reservations and other relevant travel documents.
2. AIRPORT TRANSFER. It wasn’t at all a bad experience but when it’s way past your bedtime and you just arrived in a foreign country, situations are blown out of proportion. We would usually organise an airport transfer beforehand but of course, this time we didn’t. In some of the places that we visited, life can be really tough to earn a living and we get that but it’s still overwhelming when you’re sitting at the back of the cab trying to have a normal conversation about the weather and how to say ‘thank you’ in their language – then all of a sudden, it shifts to selling tours and activities and offering their service as ‘your’ driver for the rest of your stay. We even had one experience where, en route to our hotel, we had to stop by the ‘taxi office’ only to be sold tours and pretty much wanted to plan our week for us. At no point, that we ever feared for our safety but it can be worrying for some.
3. DON’T COMMIT. So how did we get out of the ‘shoddy’ tour operator? We repeatedly said that we’re first-time visitors wanting to relax and enjoy the sceneries of their country, in particular the island that we’re staying and that we had ‘friends’ waiting for us at the hotel and we don’t know what their plans are yet. We asked for their business card and said we will get in touch once we knew more and then that was it, off we went. We were both pretty tired that we genuinely forgot to tip the taxi driver (he even asked us for it as he dropped us off) but on second thought, to be fair, I don’t think he deserved it.
4. GOOGLE MAPS. Unless you have roaming on or bought a local sim with data then researching where to go to eat, for example, needs prior thought and research – most places should now have access to the internet, so do it before you leave your accommodation. This was a slight challenge for us at first as we LOVE to walk – but as much as we would like to, we understand that it’s not the mode of transport that is common in Asia. Most people will drive or hail a cab. So once we get on the cab, we lose our connection – I found out that google maps can still estimate my location (it came up as a grey dot on the map, rather than blue), although it may not be exact, it was a good way for me to track whether we’re going the right way or not. Also, some of the roads might not be accurate, we tried to walk to a restaurant for lunch one day and ended up lost and drenched in sweat, we gave up and hailed a cab.
5. ASK EVERYTHING. We used to just get to our accommodation and have most of the stuff planned out, not that we do a lot of things – most of the times we just want to relax anyway, but we’ve never had to really ‘venture’ out on our own without reading up reviews etc. Reading up on forums and reviews are certainly very helpful but we found that asking the staff about:
– Where’s the best place to eat the local cuisine?
– Can we walk from A to B?
– What’s the minimum cab fare for short distances?
– Which tour do you recommend?
… just to name a few, gave us the best experiences to date, the staff have been very helpful and they look our for our safety all the time. We also managed to get a great deal on a private tour through the hotel, yes, our own car and managed our own itinerary with our very own guide/driver!
6. TAXI. The only other alternative to this is a private chauffeur service (or hire your own motorbike – which we do not recommend). Always book your taxi through your accommodation as much as possible, if you have access to the internet then use Grab or Uber, just be wary of cabs that do not have meters – as soon as your jump in, insist on the meter, if not – you might be surprised to be given a set far as soon as you arrive at your destination, you can still negotiate but best to avoid this from happening!
7. ANIMAL ATTRACTIONS. We’ve only just started our trip but we have both realised that treatment of animals to perform or for public viewing vastly differs and it pains me to only realise this once we were actually on one of the tours with questionable practices. We encourage everyone to do their bit and research before signing up for the next city tour with a monkey/tiger/elephant show or any other animal show for that matter. Ask questions as to the name of the ‘sanctuary’ you will be visiting. Ask about what the show is about – if the animal is expected to perform anything outside of its normal behaviour e.g. ride a bike or play an instrument, or is kept in unnatural enclosure and/or chained, then best to skip it. We love animals, but after seeing how much people are willing to exploit these animals to make a living it is time for us to stand up for the animals and be their advocates. Yes, it was adorable and fun to see them perform but we were guilt-ridden after realising the unknown as to how the animals are actually cared for. They are used for entertainment at their own expense. I didn’t want to make this is negative post but please, make a conscious decision when parting with your money to see the local animals. Boycott elephant trekking, Skip the monkey show, Forego the tiger feeding and photo ops and spend a day at ethical sanctuaries or conservation parks instead. IF you take the time, a quick 5-minute search, I’m sure you’ll find one. Stop supporting unethical animal attractions.
As a final thought, the last three weeks have been relatively hassle-free, we didn’t have any expectations setting out on this big trip and determined to keep an open mind at all times. By no means, we intend for this to be negative but wanted to share some tips for other fellow travellers who may find it difficult and frustrating at times and yes, it can be! It’s a shift, different and out of our comfort zone but this is what we signed up for, we’re just glad that we have the opportunity to travel for an extended period of time. We are learning so much every day, about different cultures and about ourselves as well.
There is no greater education than travel – Jon Butch
STAY SAFE and HAPPY TRAVELS! x