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Many posts on solo travel Asia focus on fairly general advice on travel abroad. As a long-time solo traveler worldwide, I was surprised to find some unique issues.
Here are my five personal tips:
1. Traffic: Watch out for fast-paced traffic, especially motorcycles. Some areas have no stop lights and have traffic zipping by on both sides. Although its rare, the sidewalks can be another field of battle. At noon, in Phnom Penh, walking on the sidewalk, I had a car back into me. I wasn’t hurt at all but was still pretty surprised.
2. Popular local public transportation: Be aware that popular tuk-tuk’s are wide open. Since they are on the same level with fast-moving motorcycles, it would be very easy to have a “hit and run” motorbike relieve you of your valuables. In addition, if you don’t hold-on tight, you may watch your hat or tote bag fall out on the road leaving you with no chance to retrieve it.
3. Dress codes: Both men and women must be modestly dressed when entering temples and royal palaces. Besides removing hats, shoes and sunglasses, shoulders and knees must be covered. (Moreover, women may need to wear pants or a skirt that reaches the ankles.) Some venues will offer a loaner covering. I also recommend packing socks for travel in Asia. The reason? Since you must remove shoes to enter many sites, it is amazing how really hot the marble and other stone entrees can be.
4. Taxis: In one country in Asia, a couple with young children told me of their prior harrowing cab ride. One evening, just before midnight, they were the victim of a runaway taxi driver. Ultimately, when he refused to stop, they jumped out at an intersection. They made their way to a local bar that was about to close. The staff found two motorcycles willing to take one parent and one child on each. That finally worked out but only after one became lost finding the right hotel!
- The bottom line, before leaving home, contact your lodging or local friends for referrals.
- Find out what are the best, reliable companies for a pickup at the airport upon your arrival.
- Always find out ahead of time how much you should pay to your destination.
- If you head out in the evening for dinner or to sample local nightlife, be sure you can get back to your lodging. If you can’t make an arrangement ahead of time, get your driver’s mobile number on the way out.
- In certain countries, I have succeeded in getting the restaurant to call a taxi for me.
5. Getting lost in busy crowded tourist spots can be frustrating. If sightseeing with a friend of guide, start by exchanging mobile phone numbers so stopping for a photo doesn’t mean missing your ride!
6. Sample a variety of tour options. In Bangkok, I tried 4 different ways.
- The first day I joined a small half-day bus tour of Bangkok.
- The second day I went to the ancient Thai capital, Ayutthaya, with a very large bus tour. Just about 53 miles from Bangkok, it was ideal for a full day tour.
- The return from Ayutthaya was via boat. Boat tours within Bangkok were also available from the public boat taxis to the very pricey “James Bond boats”.
- The third day I hired a private guide with the purpose of learning the Bangkok subway route. It worked well enough that the next day I went solo on a self-guided tour via subway! (Wherever you are, always be watchful for pickpockets in subways at all times and especially after dark. As a female solo traveler, I always ask local women at my hotel or in day tours, what is safe for the specific destination.
7.Laws are stringently enforced. The most serious is drug possession/trafficking. However, taking photos in prohibited areas can also result in being detained, and photos deleted.
8. If you choose to drive, be sure to check whether you need an international driver’s license and if you have the right car insurance.
9. Don’t overlook the wide range in climates within Asia. When I flew one Dec. day to SE Asia via Beijing, China was very chilly, around 40 degrees Fahrenheit while the Mekong Delta felt like a July day at home. On return, there was no gate or jetway so that travelers in tee shirts, shorts and flip-flops had to hurry across the tarmac while freezing! In any case, I recommend always traveling with a light jacket or sweater.
Solo Trekker 4 U: Personal insights and recommendations from Founder, Elizabeth Avery:
For those of us in North America, our first thought is how really far away Asia is. Just thinking about the long, long flight can be daunting. Next, the diverse numbers of languages can give a solo traveler pause. The good news is that Asia is a warm and welcoming solo travel destination. English is widely spoken, and it felt safe for me as a solo female traveler. In any case, it is important, whether at home and in any location abroad, to use good judgment. This is true even though I love adventure, having explored the world alone, including navigating the swine flu and cholera epidemics and dodged feasting crocodiles. However, I always look for lodging with a full service restaurant to avoid foraging for dinner in unfamiliar places after dark, and book a reliable pick-up for my arrival.
Some more of our lessons learned:
- Connecting flights between counties require processing through passport control and/or customs. Allow for time lost. Worse yet connections even within the same carrier’s system may be at opposite ends of the airport.
- With the amount of flying time required, consider spending the night at an airport motel.
- Check visa requirements carefully. For example, if you are on a river cruise, you may cross a second international. This is true traveling between Cambodia and Vietnam.
- While the climate is generally warm, modest dress is appropriate for both men and women. In royal palaces, houses of worship and other certain public monuments, you may need to have head covering, a long skirt and/or shawl. In one case, my guide found my Capri pants at mid-calf too short. I went back and changed into blue jeans. That passed the test! Some locations will offer “loaners” for your visit. Do be prepared for real temperature drops either at night or en route. Coming from Southeast Asia, I almost froze traveling home through Beijing. Air China arrived on the tarmac in 40 plus degree weather with no Jetway and a plane full of tee shirt and flip-flop clad tourists shivering.
- I recommend packing socks. Why is that? If you need to remove your shoes going into certain buildings, the stones or other flooring can be hot. They are also a good way to dodge mosquitoes of other unwanted insects as needed.
- Watch out for wet markets and/or petting or getting too close to undomesticated animals. In addition, even many pets may not have had rabies vaccinations.
- Many of the authentic attractions may be hard to reach or require access from the water.