My trip to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia – comprised of eleven countries of extraordinary diversity in religion, culture and history – is one of the top travel destinations on the planet. The storied region has been popular with travellers since the late 1960s when Westerners began making backpacking journeys across the neighbouring nations, and today remains a leading tourist hub. With stretches of white sandy beaches, fascinating temples and jungles teeming with wildlife, this part of the world is rich with culture and natural beauty. Combined with energetic urban centres and arguably the best street food known to humankind, it is no wonder that millions of international visitors flock here annually. While Southeast Asia is a legendary destination for budget travellers, it isalso home to plenty of luxurious resorts, shopping and world-class restaurants, offering something for everyone.
I visited Southeast Asia in springtime as a group of four 20-something friends (two males and two females), and spent time in the area for several months leading up to the humid rainy season. Having just graduated from university, we were ready to see the world and drawn to the vibrancy of the region that had been illustrated so beautifully through the travel tales of many others who’d been before us – not to mention the affordability.
Our adventure began in Bangkok
Starting in Thailand’s bustling, colourful and stiflingly hot capital city of Bangkok, we were greeted with friendly faces and plenty of laughter from the local Thai people, who were very familiar with English-speaking tourists. After getting acquainted with the Thai culture and recovering from our jet lag, we boarded a bus up to Chiang Mai, located in the country’s mountainous north. Here, we explored night markets, sampled delicious regional cuisine and visited some unforgettable elephant sanctuaries before eventually taking a flight down south for island hopping. From here, we visited several of the Thai islands – while all stunning, our group fell in love with Koh Tao (translating to ‘Turtle Island’), an underrated natural wonder and scuba diving destination that, to our delight, was far from the boisterous full moon parties of the nearby islands.
Each country in Southeast Asia has unique customs, cultures and cuisine
After our Thailand trip came to a close, we stopped in Cambodia (the Angkor Wat temples are an absolute must-see), Malaysia, Vietnam and even further east in Hong Kong as we made our way back to Vancouver. While every Southeast Asian nation had its relative similarities, they were, for the most, part wildly different: each with their own unique set of customs, cultures and cuisines that were equally captivating to explore. In general, travelling the region came without many issues: because Southeast Asia is so heavily visited, a quick Google search or conversation with a fellow traveller would swiftly offer up solutions to any obstacles or language barriers we faced.
Tips we learned for smooth travelling around Southeast Asia
Avoiding tourist traps:
Like all popular destinations, though, Southeast Asia has its fair share of tourist traps – we aimed to eat at restaurants where locals were also dining, and listened to the advice of hotel and hostel staff for tips on getting around.
We felt safe travelling as a group of four, but were sure to stay on high alert – at the end of the day, much of the region is made up of developing countries, and with that comes a whole set of concerns (the roadways and streets in particular, filled with speeding cars and scooters, could be very dangerous and accident-prone).
Respecting the customs of each country
To further ensure all went smoothly during our travels, we made an extra effort to be respectful of local customs: for example, wearing conservative clothing in religious settings and greeting local people in their native language.During our stay, we learned that while Southeast Asia is not always the picture-perfect travel destination that some vacationers seek, that is part of the adventure that comes with visiting this magical region.
Looking back on my trip
Looking back, I am grateful I made the decision to book a consultation appointment prior to leaving for my Southeast Asia trip. Since I had little to no knowledge on the health risks associated with travelling to the area, doing so enabled me to feel comfortable and informed while guaranteeing my health was in check before departure. In addition to receiving the recommended Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Japanese Encephalitis vaccines, I also confirmed that I was up-to-date on all my routine vaccines (such as Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Tetanus) and took an oral vaccine, Dukoral, to prevent traveller’s diarrhea. The travel clinic also equipped me with emergency traveller’s diarrhea pills in case of a severe bout of food poisoning (which was a very real possibility, but thankfully did not occur) plus malaria pills for my stay in certain destinations in Thailand.
One day, I plan to return to Southeast Asia – until then, I’ll live vicariously through my memories of this breathtakingly beautiful, complex part of the world.
Article by – Christina Pears
Photos by – Christina Pears