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The Ultimate Guide to Safety & Preventing Scams in SE Asia

Southeast Asia is a place like no other; an amazingly beautiful part of the world made up of stunning white beaches, paradise islands, bustling cities, fascinating culture & a crazy night life! It’s without a doubt my favourite place to travel to in the world and in my opinion, you’d be crazy not to travel here (at least on a stopover!) on your gap year! As much as I love Southeast Asia, I understand that travelling to SE Asia can be a bit of a culture shock, especially for first time travellers! Tales of scams, theft and lack of healthcare in some areas can make travelling to SE Asia seem a bit daunting but as with most places, knowing what to expect before you start your travels can really help put your mind at ease. Have a read through our tips on being safe and prevent being scammed in SE Asia and enjoy your time in this amazing place! 

1. Be a Good Egg!

Like anywhere you travel to,  it’s a good idea to do some research before you start your trip.  Culture and customs can vary from country to country so finding out about etiquette and rules before you get there, is really important. For example, in Cambodia you shouldn’t touch anyone on the head and in Thailand it is considered rude to point. Better to find these things out now, before unintentionally offending any locals!

Most of the countries in Southeast Asia have very strict rules on carrying and taking drugs, some even resulting in lifelong prison sentences and death penalty – scary stuff! If you’re offered drugs by anyone in Southeast Asia, just say no. Sorry to be a party pooper but it’s just not worth it! Some locals will be working with undercover police earning a commission on any people they can entice to buy drugs from them. You’ll end up paying a hefty fine and in some cases face prison – not quite the gap year you had in mind right!?

2. Do Your Research

Travel guides like ‘The Lonely Planet’ are a great way of reading up on the area you’re travelling to. Get recommendations on hostels, local attractions, travel and watch out for things places to avoid. Also, why not join a travel forum online to chat to other backpackers before you travel – people who have recently ‘been there, done that’  may have some useful hints & tips for you!

Things like knowing where your countries embassy is, and what help you would get should you run into trouble along the way can really put your mind at ease too. Register your travel plans online (websites will vary depending on where you’re from but will be easy to find online!) to keep you updated with safety info: ie if there are protests in Bangkok and you’re registered in Thailand, you’ll get an email to let you know so you can plan your travel around it. Above all, let your friends and family know where you are. If you’ll be off the grid for a couple of days without access to your phone or wifi, let someone at home know!

Here at Ultimate Travel we’re happy to offer advice and answer any travel related questions you may have. We love to travel (surprise!) and love talking about our travel adventures so feel free get in touch for help and advice!

Friendly locals in Vietnam

3. Money & Belongings

Travelling makes you richer in more ways than one! Some countries in Southeast Asia will make you to feel like a millionaire…I’m talking to you, Indonesia with your 1 million Rupiah for 50 quid!..Trust me, it can get confusing! One time in Indonesia, I paid the equivalent of $10 to use the toilet instead of 10cents they’d asked for! Figure out what your money is worth before flashing the cash to avoid spending all your money in one go!

Theft can be common in Southeast Asia but that doesn’t mean you need to spend your entire trip worrying. Have your wits about you, be aware of any common scams in the area and keep these tips in mind when you’re travelling around!

  • If you have cash, never carry all of it on you at one time. Keep an emergency stash somewhere safe just in case! Some backpacks have hidden zips in – perfect for hiding some extra cash in. If not, use socks, a playing card box, sunglasses cases, rolled up clothes.. you get the idea – be creative!  If you’re out partying the night away at the Full Moon Party keep enough money to get you home stashed in a separate pocket  –  you can give yourself a hungover pat on the back in the morning! 
  • Girls, if you can, wear your bag across your shoulders rather than on one arm to avoid theft.
  • Wherever possible, use the safe at your hostel to store your passport whilst you’re out and always use a combination lock on your backpack – even when it’s left in your room!
  • Be wary of pickpockets in busy places (food markets, at beach parties and in busy bars.) Check out our Full Moon Party survival tips!

4. Health

Getting ill abroad, in the heat, without your mum to sympathise and mop your brow is a low point in anyone’s trip to Southeast Asia so get clued up before you travel and take any medication you may need with you. Whilst tummy bugs from tap watered ice and dodgy food are inevitable if you’re travelling for long enough, there are some illnesses you can easily prevent before you even leave home. Lots of countries in SEAsia will require you to get jabs before you travel. Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria are all common jabs you may need to get before leaving home, depending on which countries you’re planning on travelling to. Book an appointment with your doctor at least 8 weeks before you travel to discuss which jabs you’ll need. Your doctor will also be able to tell you whether you’ll need any rabies injections or antimalarial tablets for your trip.

If you need to, you’ll be able to buy most of the medicine you need in Southeast Asia so if you’ve forgotten your anti histamines or imodium, don’t worry! Just keep an eye out for expired medicine – check the sell by date before you buy!

Health in Southeast Asia

4. Scams

Southeast Asia is well known for it’s scams but don’t worry – not everyone is out to rip you off! Most of the locals you’ll come across will be friendly and happy to help but to be safe, find out about any common scams in the area by talking to other backpackers and by doing some research beforehand.

Don’t believe everything you’re told by locals. Once in Bali, I was travelling over to Gilli Trawangan in Bali and was told by a local at the port that there were no ATM’s or places to change up money on the island. He led me to his friend’s shop (obviously working on a commission) to change up some money. Once on the island, I realised I’d been scammed with a rubbish exchange rate and there were in fact a couple of places I could have changed my money up on the islands.

Here are some tips & some of the more common scams to look out for:

  • Always agree on a price with your TukTuk driver before you hop on and don’t be afraid to barter or shop around. If you’re new to an area ask a few different people what they charge so you know what the general price is. Remember whilst you don’t want to get ripped off, there’s no point in spending hours arguing over a couple of Thai baht!
  • Be wary of strangers distracting you in busy places. If someone asks you to take a photo of them/give them directions, hold on to your bag as their mate might be delving into your pockets whilst you help!
  • If you’re visiting temples or main tourist attractions and want a guide, find an official guide – not someone on the street offering to guide you around.
  • Keep in mind that if you let someone help you with your bags, they will expect you to pay them (unless of course you’re in a hotel and they’re paid by the hotel to do so.)
  • If you decide to rent a moped look out for scratches or any problems with the moped before you leave. Take a photo if you need to. When the moped is returned you can prove that you didn’t cause any of the damage. Also, never leave your passport as a deposit for renting a moped.

Riding a tuktuk in Bangkok

Southeast Asia is a wonderful place with beautiful people so don’t be put off by scams! Like everywhere, just be alert, look out for the tell tale scam signs, look after yourself and anyone else you meet along the way and I promise you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with Southeast Asia!

If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, why not book onto a tour? Our Ultimate Thailand and Ultimate Vietnam tours are a great way to meet people and explore beautiful Southeast Asia with the added safety and peace of mind that comes with travelling with our awesome tour guides!

Check out our other blogs for travel tips & advice!

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