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Female Travel Tips for Your Next Southeast Asia Trip

Southeast Asia is an amazing travel destination. However, as with everywhere else in the world, there are a few things that female travellers should know in advance.

Southeast Asia has become a mecca for budget travellers and backpackers. Low costs paired with beautiful scenery, a rich history, and fascinating cultures make this part of the world a hotspot for many travellers. Of course, like with any other destination, there are precautions to take and cultural differences to be aware of ahead of time. Before your Southeast Asia trip, it’s advised to research the local customs, culture and language. 

While Southeast Asia is by no means a dangerous destination for women, it is significantly more modest and traditional than other parts of the world. This means, as women, we need to be a little more cautious to ensure we are respectful and, of course, keep an eye to ensure we feel safe and comfortable during our travels. For any women travelling solo or otherwise, here is what you need to know when planning your Southeast Asia trip.

Southeast Asia Trip: Tip #1

When in Doubt, Keep Shoulders and Knees Covered

One of the highlights of Southeast Asian countries are all the incredible temples and pagodas. Like with churches in Europe, it is important to dress respectfully if you are planning on visiting any. Shoulders and knees (and obviously midriffs and cleavage) should be covered. With an influx of travellers in recent years, temples in Thailand and elsewhere are taking in more visitors every day, and many are not aware of the local customs. Signs are appearing in front of many places of worship warning travellers to dress modestly or they will be denied entry.

One of the easiest ways to make sure you will be appropriately covered when visiting these types of places is to make sure you have a large scarf or sarong with you at all times. If your clothes aren’t quite up to the expectation, throwing a scarf over your shoulders or wrapping it as a skirt is an easy and acceptable fix.

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2. Be Respectful of the Local Religion & Customs

It should also be noted that many Southeast Asian cultures are Buddhist or Muslim, meaning more conservative clothing should also be worn in the streets. Some cities, such as Bangkok or Singapore, are more open about this and you will feel fine walking around in shorts and a tank top. However, that same outfit in other cities, like Kuala Lumpur, will draw a lot of unwanted attention and perhaps some harsh comments and this might not make for the most memorable Southeast Asia trip.

Buddha statue in Sukhothai National Park, Thailand. Female Travel Tips for your next Southeast Asia trip.
Buddha Temple by Sunset | Skyscanner Canada

3. Pack Light, Shop Local

If you are unsure what to do and wear while walking the streets and visiting the local sights, we advise to exercise a degree of caution and opt for t-shirts over tank tops and long, flowy skirts or capris over shorts. Save the rest for the beach destinations where they are more appropriate!
And what’s a Southeast Asia trip without a visit to some of the many local markets? There is no shortage of clothing markets all around Southeast Asia, so we recommend packing light for your trip and you can buy some appropriate (as well as cheap and cute!) clothing after you arrive.

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Tip #4: Let the Monks come to You

As North Americans, many of us have a fascination with the monks in Asia. However, as women, there are significantly more rules and etiquette to follow when it comes to interacting with a monk. The biggest rule is don’t touch the monk or his robe. If you do, they will have to go through a  rigorous cleaning process. It is for this reason that many monks will stand further away from women, so make sure you also keep a respectful distance. This means you shouldn’t stand or sit too close to a monk and don’t pass them something directly, place it on a flat surface and let them pick it up. 

It is possible to talk with some of the monks, however, keep in mind some will not talk to you. It’s also polite to ask to ask permission before taking a photo of someone, and this includes monks. Monks are more modern and curious than others and might approach you to talk (often as a way to practice their English). This is fine, just remember to be respectful and keep your distance. If you are incredibly curious and want to know more about monks and their lifestyle, consider joining one of several monk chat programs in Chiang Mai, Thailand and make the most of your Southeast Asia trip!

5. If Female-Only Public Transportation Exists, Use It

Female-only carriages on trains or female-only buses have become common in some parts of the world, including in a couple of cities in Southeast Asia. These came about because the local women felt threatened and unsafe sharing these often tight and confined spaces with men. While they are not overly common, two destinations stand out as having them: Manila, Philippines and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Chances are slim that horrible things will happen if you choose not to use them, but for the sake of comfort and peace of mind, it is recommended that female travellers take advantage of these options when available.

6. Crossbody Bags May Not Be Your Best Friend

When it comes to picking the right purse for travel, crossbody bags are usually the winners. The strap, wrapped around your torso, usually provides an extra sense of security at the thought of bag snatchers. However, when it comes to Southeast Asia, this style bag can do more harm than good.

Purse snatching is common around the world. However, in many Southeast Asian countries, most notably Vietnam, it’s often done by men on a motorbike. More than one female traveller has fallen victim to this crime while wearing a crossbody bag and has been dragged for a distance before the strap actually breaks.

If you are travelling with a crossbody bag (or any back, for that matter), make sure to have the bag in front of you, or swung across your body to face away from the road. To lessen your chances of anything being snatched from you, walk closer to the buildings rather than to the roadside.

The region of Southeast Asia is an awesome place to travel, and often incredibly safe for female travellers. Just make sure to be respectful and aware of for your next Southeast Asia trip.

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