So… you want to venture to Thailand, Cambodia, or Bali, eh?
Well, my friend, you’re in for a TREAT. Having explored all three of these destinations for weeks to months on end, there is a bit of wisdom I’ll gladly share with you so you have the most glorious experience ever.
First, there are basic rules for traveling that will serve you will if you adhere to them.
Too often we forget to take care of basic ‘maintenance’ things like:
- Printing off the trip itinerary
- Having a RETURN itinerary (they will make you purchase one in the airport if you don’t have one)
- Checking the visa requirements beforehand (Google them)
- Knowing what to pack (I’ll enlighten you on SE Asia below)
- And planning your hotels/hostels + airport transfer ahead of time.
- Knowing the currency exchange (Google it)
- KNOWING HOW TO BARTER (seriously)
- Knowing how to do a visa run!
But don’t sweat it, the bolded ones I’ll delve deeper into below so you’re prepared for your trip.
1) Get A Return Itinerary, Even If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going
Ah, bollocks. Shelling out a couple hundred extra dollars when you’re not sure you want to leave is a pain. in. the. butt. Am I right?
But guess what? I know a trick that will save you HUNDREDS of dollars and make you a super savvy traveler in no time.
When I travel to a new destination, I know that I need a return itinerary (within the specified visa time frame) or else I will not be entering that country.
Which is why I book a one-way flight TO my destination, and then book aseparate one-way flight to another country (unless you need to go back to your home country, which some countries, like Costa Rica, require).
The site I use is orbitz.com because they have 24-hour cancelations for FREE.
That means you can (ahem I’m a naughty bird) book your flight from, say, Nairobi to Mumbai, India (what a trip!), then cancel that flight 10 minutes after booking and printing it so you still have plenty of time to figure out when you really want to leave Africa (if you ever do).
That’s what I did for my latest trip.
(Just keep in mind, the longer you wait, the more your price fare increases!)
In regards to South East Asia, let’s say you’re traveling to Thailand. Simply book a return ticket (you’ll have to purchase one eventually, so this, at least, gives you an idea) or a ticket to another destination, like Singapore. Singapore, however, falls into the ‘visa run’ category, which we’ll get to later.
2) Know What To Pack
I am notorious for packing way too much. In fact, I once stood in an airport for 45 minutes going through my ‘goodies’, giving away things like Natural Medicine textbooks, yoga mats, and Windows tablets to a very gleeful Balinese supervisor (health nut, much?)
It made me feel good and he was super pleased God had answered his prayers for these fine items. So it was a win-win.
BUT, if you want to avoid awkward encounters like that, follow the basic rules: Pack simple (a couple pairs of shorts, a swim suit, a few t-shirts, a pair of pants, a backpack, a notebook, your laptop, a book, and hygienic items.
Also know that you can purchase ANYTHING you need overseas, including clothes, shoes, hygienic items (Q-Tips are my bitch), soap, laundry, etc…
A common mistake (or maybe I’m the only one who does this) is to try and take your house with you because you feel like you’re going to a remote island in a 3rd world country without running water.
There is contrast: there are 5-star hotels and billionaires in these South East countries, and there are people living on less than $1 per day (which is more common). What you need, however, you will find.
3) Know Where You’re Staying And Plan Airport Pickup / Transit
This one is easy. Thanks to the bounty of sites like Air BnB, Hostelworld (my favorite), and booking.com, you can find a nice place (within your budget) and stay there for a few nights.
Why a few nights? Because, guaranteed, you will find cheaper long-term accommodation if you just look around (look to ‘Bartering’ tip #4).
Thanks to my friend Jack, I found a place in Ubud, Bali for 4 million per month. That’s less than $300, and it was a gorgeous village (private) overlooking a rice paddy on the outside of the town.
I rented a bike for $18 a month, and just cycled everywhere I desired to go (though I did get scraped up a few times). It was an adventure, and it was affordable and worth it.
But basically, use the sites I mentioned above to book a place for a few nights, and take advantage of the shuttle they usually offer. If you don’t, when you get to the new country, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the taxi drivers yelling at you to pick them.
And they’ll up-charge you at least 400 – 500%. Which leads to…
4) Know How To Barter In SE Asia
It is part of the culture to barter for goods and services in Asia. It just is that way.
If it makes you uncomfortable, get over it. Because guaranteed, everyone will try to charge you (white, most likely, foreigner) 500% more than the good or service is worth.
So, here’s a basic rule: Whatever anyone offers you, divide it by 4 and barter for that.
Here’s an example:
I wanted a taxi from the Denpasar airport the other day to my hotel (Solaris Hotel in Denpasar, Bali) which was 1 mile away.
The taxi drivers swarmed me (I usually prepare pickup but didn’t care this time), and when I said, “Your price?” tried to usher me to a private location where we could barter.
Don’t do that. Stay where the rest of them are, and make a show of it. I get dramatic when I barter.
So, I showed the address where Solaris Hotel was, and said “How much you charge?” (broken English is better when you communicate, as you don’t speak their language – remember that).
When I was adamant they tell me then and there, one driver said, “200,000 rupiah.”
That’s when I, automatically, know he’s charging me WAY too much (that’s a bit less than a 1-hour ride to Ubud, so 1 mile is WAY less than that)…and go “tsk tsk, Nooooo” and turn my head to seek out another driver.
They know they’re asking too much, so they say, “Okay, how much?”
And I say: “30,000 rupiah.”
I know that’s too little, now, but they get the idea that I’m not easy and going to be swindled.
So it goes back and forth until, finally, they either agree to between 50,000 – 70,000 rupiah, or I walk away and find another driver.
IF YOU WALK AWAY, they usually chase you. That is step #3 for bartering.
When they seem like they won’t go ANY lower, say, “Okay, thank you” (kindly), and slowly start walking away.
99% of the time, they ALWAYS chase me.
So, rule of thumb:
- Whatever they offer (and ALWAYS get the price before you get in a cab or a tuk tuk), divide it by 4. If they won’t budge, divide it by 3.
- Barter, get dramatic and make a show of it.
- Walk away. That usually does it, and you should get your asking price.
Voila! That easy.
It took me a long time to get used to bartering, but it’s like a game… And if you get the hang of it, it can actually be quite fun!
5) Know How To Conduct A Visa Run!
Cambodia, Thailand, and Bali all have a 30-day visa (not one month visa, be aware), which means you’ll either need to find an agent and extend your visa (which can be an arduous – but worth it – process) or, you need to book a trip to a nearby country which can be a fun adventure!
Luckily, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia border Thailand, so it’s an easy 2 or 3-day trek; (8 hour bus ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia, for example) stay a night, and then bus back to your place.
Or, perhaps you’re venturing to SE Asia to teach English or something. (I lived in Thailand for 5 months running/setting up a plant-based kitchen in a holistic cancer clinic). If that’s the case, you’ll likely get a Business Visa through the country you’re working with, and that’ll be 3 months minimum (which is nice).
if you’re on your own, take my advice: Book a bus, train, or flight to a nearby country, explore it for 3-5 days, and then venture back to your destination of choice (if you’re not in a hurry) and get another 30 days to live abroad.
There are many articles to assist you with the process. When in doubt Google It!
Finally, just have faith that it will work out and have fun!