So you've booked your flight, stocked up on more guidebooks than you can feasibly carry in your 60 litre back pack and are raring to go. You've read our previous ‘Ultimate’ travel guides and are clued up on what to pack and which insurance to purchase. However, Asia is a very unique place to travel and the panic begins to set in as you realize you don’t have a clue what to expect from this fascinating continent. Fear not, you have come to the right place.
Please read on for some top tips for backpacking Around Asia.
Before you hit the road…
Alongside booking your ticket, purchasing travel insurance, sourcing visa information and ensuring that you have enough validity on your passport, vaccinations should be one of the first things that you organize before backpacking around Asia. Be sure to leave at least two months before the departure date to arrange vaccinations at your local travel clinic, as some injections require a certain space of time in between doses to ensure they are fully effective. There are no official vaccines required for Asia, however, there are many suggestions. Read up on your Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis and Typhoid (A and B) as soon as possible - deciding what injections to get can be a confusing and daunting process. It essentially comes down to how much peace of mind you are willing to pay for. You should take in to account whether you will mainly be spending your time in cities or rural areas, whether you will be coming in to contact with livestock and whether you will be travelling to Malarial areas. For example, only some areas in Thailand and Vietnam present a risk of Malaria.
Check out this interactive map guide from the NHS to get up to speed: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Travel-immunisation/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Do your research
Before touching down in Asia it is advisable to research the local customs and traditions of the particular countries you are visiting. Often, there is certain etiquette to be observed and failure to do so could result in offending the local people without knowing why. Never a pleasant experience. In Thailand, for example, it is considered offensive to show the soles of your feet. In Japanese culture, gesticulating with chopsticks, or using them to skewer food is seen as very rude.
It is a good idea to learn some of the local language before arriving to a country. Even the basics will help you get by in Asia and will earn you some respect from the locals, often saving you from being over charged and/or ‘scammed’.
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Read up on Scams
Speaking from personal experience, it is advisable to read up on unfortunate ‘scams’ that occur frequently throughout Asia. Despite being home to some of the most welcoming people you will ever encounter, it is no secret that multiple tourist scams occur daily. Many travellers report incidents involving fake Government tourist agencies, bogus tour companies, duplicate ‘copycat’ hotels, gambling cons and ‘tuk tuk’ driver scams. Stories of fake transport tickets, cash point hold ups and gem stone scams are fairly prevalent on the traveler circuit in Asia.
These are particularly prolific in India and South East Asia (namely Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). There is no need to be afraid but please be on your guard.
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On the road
Keeping in touch
We are fortunate enough to live in a technologically wonderful world where keeping in touch has never been easier. Online applications such as Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, Snapchat (all the kids are using it) and good old fashioned Hotmail allow us to keep in touch with our friends and family and serve to ease any feelings of detachment from your life at home. Many first time visitors to Asia experience a certain amount of ‘culture shock’ and keeping in touch with loved ones can help to ease this slightly.
Generally when travelling in Asia, Wi-Fi is fairly common and often free of charge. However, when travelling further ‘off the beaten track’ to more remote areas, Wi-Fi coverage will be very limited and often non-existent. It is a good idea to let friends and family know when you are heading off into the jungle or to a secluded desert island for a few days.
You can expect good Wi-Fi coverage when travelling round the established traveller loop of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. It is wise to be prepared for a lack of internet connection in remote parts of India and China
Top tip: Something to bear in mind is the Facebook ban that the remaining communist countries attempt to enforce - some more rigorously than others. You can expect issues accessing Facebook in China and Vietnam. Don’t fret, there are ways to get past these bans such as accessing Facebook’s mobile site: www.m.facebook.com or using a proxy server, for example: https://12345proxy.com/.
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Consider teaching English
Depending on the duration of your trip, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) can be a fantastic way to fund some of your travel, extend your stay or simply enrich your experience. TEFL is in enormous demand in Asia with some of the front runners including South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.
In these countries you can make a fantastic wage, live a comfortable life and even save up some money. Japan and South Korea are favourite teaching destinations but opportunities here tend to be a lot more ‘by the book’ than Thailand and Vietnam. If you would like to try teaching in these countries, you can earn a fantastic living but it will need to be above board, requiring a work permit and a signed contract. In both Vietnam and Thailand, there are many opportunities for casual work, offering cash in hand and no contract requirements.
Less developed countries often present fewer opportunities for paid work but if you are in search of a rewarding experience, volunteering in Cambodia, Laos and Nepal are all popular options.
Top Tip: Don’t have time to take on a teaching job during your trip but would still like the experience? ‘Big Brother Mouse’ is a scheme in Luang Prabang, Laos where travellers can drop by whenever suits them to help locals of all ages practice their English skills. All in, a very rewarding experience.
Asia has some of the best street food in the world. It is important to be aware of food hygiene and safety but please do not let this hamper your experience of the magnificent cuisine that Asia has to offer to its visitors.
Eating in Western style restaurants in Asia can be expensive. Not only can eating on the street with the locals save you a lot of money, some of the best food in the world can be found on the streets of countries such as Malaysia, India, Thailand and Vietnam. Indulge yourself but do be prepared for an occasional bout of the famous ‘traveler’s diarrhea’ and have some rehydration sachets at the ready!
There is an abundance of tropical fruits available for dirt cheap prices throughout Asia. Make the most of it – eat your 5 a day and keep your immune system fighting fit. If you're on a budget, you can also check out TTH's guide to eating well on the cheap.
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This one won’t be hard. Admittedly, Asia can be a tough and tiring place at times. Simple tasks such as buying a banana or trying to get a taxi can be impossibly challenging and there will be instances where you will lose your cool. Try to minimize these by reminding yourself of the amazing experience you are having. Asia is a wonderful continent and from its paradisaical white sand beaches to buzzing cities and rugged mountain landscapes, this is guaranteed to be the trip of a lifetime. Stay safe and enjoy!
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