White sandy beaches, exciting metropolises and culinary highlights – there are many reasons to travel South East Asia. Although many things can be organized spontaneously when being on site (like booking accommodations and activities), there are also several aspects which should be considered in advance. Here are my Top 5 of the most important things you should think of during the preparations of your trip to South East Asia:
1. Traveling only one country or a number of countries? The choice of the itinerary
South East Asia offers many fascinating countries with stunning attractions and landscapes. As most of the countries are geographically close to each other and easy to access, it’s common to visit a number of countries instead of just one. Is this a good option or should you focus on one country? Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for:
- Relaxation, Sun, Beach? Then you probably should focus on one country, for instance Thailand, as it’s the best way to combine all those things. There are beautiful islands where you can perfectly sunbath, swim and relax. If you want some variety, it’s really easy to do islands hopping by boat. In addition, it’s also possible to do a stopover in Bangkok as the majority of international and national flights stop in Thailand’s capital.
- Adventures and Exploration? Therefore, a round trip is the perfect option. Of course, it depends on your time budget, but it’s definitely possible as well as easy to travel several countries in South East Asia. A round trip offers the greatest way to explore various exciting cultures, traditions and landscapes. My round trip started with three days in Bangkok and then I traveled 3 countries in 6 weeks. This was absolutely feasible without having stress or time troubles. Soon you will find an extra blog post about my travel itinerary and personal highlights of South East Asia on this website.
2. What kind of entry requirements exist? Visa regulations
If you have to apply for a Visa or not depends on several factors such as your nationality or purpose of travel. However, travelers get a Visa on Arrival in most of South East Asia’s countries. It usually has a validity of 30 days and saves you from applying for a Visa in advance of your trip.
Two exceptions are Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma). If you plan to visit Vietnam, you need to apply for a Visa when staying longer than 15 days. Travels to Myanmar require a Visa in any case. All necessary information can be found on the websites of the embassies.
To enter a country, it’s necessary to have a valid passport. At this point, it might be interesting to know that there is an official Visa fee (usually 15-30 US $) but sometimes also a strange stamp fee. This one amounts between 2 and 5 US $ but I made the experience that sometimes you don’t need to pay it if you ask for a receipt. Another important information is that all Visa fees have to be paid in cash. That’s why I would recommend to get some US $ in advance of your travels.
I would also recommend to always carry a copy of your passport with you in case it gets stolen or lost. I also used to take a photo of my passport with all its Visa stamps and then send it to my own email address. It’s definitely better to be on the safe side.
3. How much time do I need to travel South East Asia? The time budget
If you’re planning a round trip in South East Asia, there is one question that often comes up: How much time do I need? Does it make sense to travel for that long (well from Europe at least) if I only have one or two weeks to spend there?
Well, of course there is one simple rule: the longer, the better. There is nothing better than traveling without time limits. As this is often not realistic, here are some recommendations if your time budget is limited:
My experience has shown: the less, the better. Of course, it’s possible to travel 5 countries in two or three weeks but then you only get a very shallow impression of each country. As well, there is the risk of getting into serious time troubles as you have to be on each destination on time. Everything is strictly planned and you will be very inflexible while traveling. That’s why I would recommend to focus on one (especially if you only have one or two weeks of time) or on a small number of selected countries. Then, you have the opportunity to do unplanned activities or to stay longer at a place you really like.
Another important aspect is the fact that the infrastructure in South East Asia is often way more different than it is for instance in European countries. As many countries have a dilapidated infrastructure it often takes 3 to 4 hours to cover a distance of 100km. Especially, when traveling during wet season you should expect delays as some streets are not accessible anymore. I also made the experience that some buses only leave when all seats are taken – no matter how long that might take. This is why, I definitely recommend to include plenty of travel time when planning your time budget or travel itinerary.
4. Are there special medical precautions I have to be aware of? Vaccinations
Basically, there are no vaccinations that are obligatory when entering a country in South East Asia. However, there are a few which are recommended by doctors:
Hepatitis B, Rabies, Typhus and Japanese encephalitis. These are just a few important ones which always might vary. This is why, I would definitely recommend asking a doctor in advance of your travels. As well, make sure to plan enough time for your medical precautions as many vaccinations have to be given several times in a certain period of time.
5. What do I need for traveling South East Asia? The packing list
One of the trickiest questions when traveling new countries is: What kind of things do I really need?
Well, it depends on how and where you travel. Are you traveling to one particular place where you will stay in a hotel? Then, it’s easy to bring a large suitcase with all your favorite stuff. Are you backpacking and traveling around? Well, then it makes sense to focus on the most important things as there is nothing more annoying than carrying a heavy backpack in a very hot and humid country. I spent 6 weeks in South East Asia and I only had a backpack which was absolutely fine. But no matter how and where you travel, there are a few things I would recommend to definitely bring with you:
- T-Shirts that cover your shoulders (it saves you from a sunburn plus it allows you to enter temples as it is obligatory to cover shoulders and knees)
- Long, light trousers (it saves you from a sunburn, mosquitos and it’s necessary if you want to visit a temple)
- A light rain jacket (rain can occur quite surprisingly in South East Asia)
- Mosquito repellent (!!!)
- Medicine against stomach problems
- A Torch (there are countless stunning caves which are very interesting to explore but also very dark)
I hope these 5 things help you a little bit when planning your next trip to South East Asia. Are there more important things to consider that come to your mind? Which experiences have you made? I look forward to read your comments.