A Guide to South-East Asia & the Far East

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Asia is one of the biggest and most diverse continents on the planet, and is host to many fascinating countries and amazing places.

The land popularly referred to as ‘the East’ (by ‘the West’, at least) covers such a broad range of geography and culture that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to see it all (but it’s certainly worth trying!).

On this page we’ll be looking at the countries of South-East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma) as well as the Far East (China and Japan).

Unmissable Highlights

  • Traverse the canopy walkway in Taman Negara national park, Malaysia
  • Go kayaking in Krabi, Thailand
  • Take a Thai cookery class in Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Visit The Angkor Wat, Cambodia – one of the wonders of the world
  • Get a suit tailored in Hoi An, Vietnam
  • Take the slow boat down the Mekong River into Laos
  • Spend the day ‘tubing’ down the river in Vang Vieng, Laos
  • Go surfing in Bali, Indonesia
  • Visit Tiananmen Square in, Beijing, China and contemplate recent history
  • Travel by Shinkansen (‘bullet train’) in Japan

Getting Around

Getting from place to place in South-East Asia and the Far East is fairly easy (if time consuming) as public transport links are common and well-suited to travelers

Public transport is cheap everywhere except for Japan, and train journeys are often worth taking over flights just for the scenery alone (if you have the time, of course).

If you intend to fly a lot around this region, you might want to consider getting Oneworld’s ‘Visit Asia’ airline pass which allows you to fly to over 50 cities in the region.

For one-time flights, airfare between the ‘discount triangle’ of Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong is often fairly cheap.

Throughout South-East Asia you’ll never be too far from a taxi (whether it’s in the form of a tuk-tuk, a car or a motorbike) to take you to where you want to go. With taxis, if the vehicle has a meter, make sure it’s switched on. If not, be sure to agree a fixed price for the journey before you set off.

In Thailand (especially on the island of Koh Phangan) you’ll see a lot of westerners riding around on motor bikes that they’ve hired for the day. Hiring one of these motorbikes can seem like a lot fun and a great way to get around, but they’re pretty dangerous (especially as most companies don’t provide you with a helmet) and generally best avoided.

According to the Commonwealth Office, an average of 38 people die every day riding motorcycles in Thailand.

The Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What to Expect

Culture Shock
During your time in Asia you may be confronted with a level of poverty unaccustomed to those from the western world (especially if you visit Cambodia and/or Vietnam).

In Cambodia I witnesses blind, limbless and disabled beggars – all of which seemingly without a means of earning money. It is impossible not to feel pity and sadness for these people, but whether you give them money or not is entirely up to you.

You may also encounter child beggars as you travel. Be careful of giving them money (however tempted you may be), as you’ll probably be unintentionally rewarding them for playing truant from school.

If you really want to help out an area, a better way would be to donate money to the local school or to an orphanage via a charity.

Whenever you enter a new place (particularly one you’re not familiar with), it’s your job to make sure you don’t offend the locals through your actions. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but whenever you enter a temple (or some kind of religious place) make sure you’re dressed appropriately and try to remain (reasonably) quiet and respectful.

For more information, check out this page on respecting other cultures.

What to Expect From the Locals
From virtually the second you arrive in South-East Asia, you’ll find that many of the local people will either be trying to sell you something or amazed and interested by your presence in their country (which one largely depends on how rural an area you’re visiting).

After a while you may grow tired of being propositioned continuously. If this is the case, when walking make sure not to break your stride and slow down (as this will encourage salesmen) and offer them a polite (yet slightly dismissive) responsive.

In addition to entrepreneurial locals, you also need to watch out for tricksters, thieves and scammers. Although these people are rare (as most locals you’ll meet will be honest, hard-working people), they can ruin your trip if you let them. For a detailed list of travel scams (and how to avoid them), check out this article.

For more information on how to interact with local people abroad, check out this article.

Drugs
If you travel for long enough in Asia, you’re bound to be offered drugs at some point (as you would wherever you travel). In most countries within South-East Asia and the Far East, drugs carry a heavy penalty (especially in Singapore, where they still practice capital punishment).

Some drug dealers in these countries will be informants for the police (or even undercover police officers), meaning you’ll be arrested almost on the spot after you’ve handed your money over.

As always, never agree to carry another person’s bag through customs and be careful of what other people might try to put in your bag without your realizing. Ignorance is difficult to prove in court, and there’s a reason why they call Thai prisons ‘hell on earth’.

Thailand

Visas
Visitors from most countries are allowed to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa. This can easily be renewed by simply leaving the country (usually by hopping across the border to Malaysia) and re-entering.

If you want to stay for longer than 30 days, you should apply for a 60 day tourist visa. For more details visit ThaiEmbassy.org.

Currency
Thailand’s currency is the Thai Baht (THB). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 31 Thai Baht
  • £1 = 48 Thai Baht

Recommended Daily Budget
When traveling on the typical tourist trail, a good budget would be anywhere between $30 and $50 (depending on how luxurious you want to live). This will be less if you’re traveling in more rural areas.

During my time in Thailand I budgeted 1000-1500 Baht a day, and managed to stay well within this limit.

Malaysia

Visas
Visa requirements are very lax in Malaysia, and most people won’t require one of any kind unless they want to stay longer than 2-3 months (depending on your nationality).

Currency
Malaysia’s currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), which can be divided into 100 Sen (i.e. 100 Sen = 1 Ringgit). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 3.06 Malaysian Ringgits
  • £1 = 4.83 Malaysian Ringgits

Recommended Daily Budget
A reasonable budget for Malaysia would be $30 – $40 a day.

Vietnam

Visas
All foreign nationals require a visa to enter Vietnam. A 30-day tourist visa can be bought for around $80, and a three month visa can be bought for around $130. Note that both visas can take up to 10 days to process.

Currency
Vietnam’s currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 22,770 Vietnamese Dong
  • £1 = 32,800 Vietnamese Dong

Recommended Daily Budget
Budget for $20 – $40 a day.

Cambodia

Visas
All foreign nationals (except for Malaysians) require a visa to enter Cambodia. You can buy a 30 day tourist visa for Cambodia either on arrival (if you fly in) or in advance (from Bangkok) for around $20 USD.

Currency
Cambodia’s currency is the Cambodian Riel (KHR). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 4000 Cambodian Riel
  • £1 = 6325 Cambodian Riel

Recommended Daily Budget
A reasonable budget for Cambodia would be $25 – $40 a day.

Laos

Visas
All foreign nationals (except for Thais) require a visa to enter Laos. You can buy a 15 day tourist visa on arrival $30 USD (plus one passport-sized photo). For a longer visa, you’ll have to apply to the Lao embassy or have a travel agent do this for you. Many travelers do this while staying in Bangkok or Hanoi.

Currency
Laos’ currency is the Lao Kip (LAK). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 8000 Lao Kip
  • £1 = 12500 Lao Kip

Recommended Daily Budget
Laos is one of the cheapest places to travel in Asia, so budgeting $15 – $20 a day should be fine.

Bali, Indonesia

Indonesia

Visas
A 30-day visa to Indonesia will cost you around $25. Getting a 60-day visa is possible, but you’ll need to apply in advance via an Indonesian consulate. Neither visas are extendable.

Currency
Indonesia’s currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 9,000 Indonesian Rupiah
  • £1 = 14,200 Indonesian Rupiah

Recommended Daily Budget
A reasonable budget for Indonesia would be $15 – $25 a day.

Burma

Visas
A visa to Burma must be bought in advance and will cost around $20. Most travelers apply for their visa in Bangkok, as doing so there is cheaper and faster.

Currency
Burma’s currency is the Burmese Kyat (MMK). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 6.51 Burmese Kyat
  • £1 = 10.28 Burmese Kyat

Recommended Daily Budget
A reasonable budget for Indonesia would be $25 – $35 a day (if you’re planning on taking taxis everywhere).

The Hong Kong skyline

China

Visas
A tourist visa to China can be bought in advance for around $100, although many travelers prefer to first travel to Hong Kong and buy their visa there as it’s cheaper and easier.

Currency
China’s currency is the Chinese Yuan (CNY). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 6.30 Chinese Yuan
  • £1 = 9.95 Chinese Yuan

Recommended Daily Budget
A standard budget for China would be $30 a day, although in the big cities (particularly Shanghai and Hong Kong) this can be considerably more.

Japan

Visas
Citizens from most nationalities can enter Japan without a visa and stay for up to 6 months.

Currency
Japan’s currency is Yen (JPY). Here’s how it related to US Dollar (USD) and Pound Sterling (GBP). Note that exchange rates may have changed since the time of publication. For the current exchange rates, check out XE.com.

  • $1 = 79 Yen
  • £1 = 125 Yen

Recommended Daily Budget
Japan is notoriously expensive, so you’ll need to budget for $80 – $100+ a day.


Related posts:

  1. Cash, Credit Cards or Traveler’s Checks – A Guide to Handling Money Abroad
  2. A Quick Guide to Travel Visas
  3. How to Get the Best Exchange Rate When Changing Money Abroad




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