When I lived in Vietnam, not a month would go by without hoping on my motorbike, on a night bus, or on a plane to go explore my neighboring countries. I was always on the lookout for seasonal sales, and always ready to book months in advance to get the best prices. As a result, 2 years after I moved to Vietnam, I have visited over 20+ countries in Asia, from Uzbekistan to Taiwan, and from Mongolia to Sri Lanka. I visited many of them extensively, almost always backpacking on the cheap, renting and riding a motorcycle around, and going local as often as I could.
I remember thinking I should start compiling my tips and recommendations after I told yet another friend who was going to Vietnam to be careful with their 500.000 VND notes because they are blue, and so are the 20.000 VND notes. I remember a frequent hostel topic when traveling was about being pulled over on a scooter by the Thai Police in Chiang Mai, with or without an IDP. How much did they fine you? Where did that happen? And I thought it was about time I started writing all of this down to learn from my travel experiences.
Everyone obviously experiences traveling differently and the following tips are what I thought would be useful to a friend traveling to the places I’ve visited myself. Don’t hesitate to drop a message down below to add some of your personal favorite tips or to discuss some of mine. It’s all about traveling safe, isn’t it?
- Make sure the gas pomp starts from 0 or you might end up paying more than a full tank of gas. (Vietnam)
- Check the notes you’re given: are they ripped or torn? (Vietnam, Central Asia)
- Always have your passport on you while visiting a city – especially in Russia or Uzbekistan to buy train tickets, and in Thailand if you want to change money. Leave it at your hotel when you go out in the evening (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan)
- Carry a sleeve cardigan or a blouse with you if you plan on visiting temples or a mosque (Thailand, Laos)
- Always keep some USD in cash in your wallet. You never know when the ATMs will go on strike (South East Asia)
- In Thailand, pretty much every ATM will charge 220 baht per withdrawal, so plan ahead and carefully to avoid those costs. (Thailand)
- Watch out for change in Vietnam. The 500.000 VND (20$) note is blue, so is the 20.000 VND (1$).(Vietnam)
- Never hand your passport over to anyone if you can avoid it, except when buying a train ticket, changing money, or at the border, especially to the cops, even if they ask for it. Keep it in hand, show them the page they ask to see but don’t hand it over. (South East Asia)
- Never hand over the money until you know for sure that they have the right change. (Vietnam)
- Always agree on the price before you get in a taxi! (South East Asia)
- Watch out for those cars-only highways in Taiwan, your scooter is NOT allowed there and you will be fine if caught by the police. (Taiwan)
- Traveling in Uzbekistan without a credit card is HELL! You won’t find an ATM that takes Maestro in Bukhara. You be warned. (Uzbekistan)
- Turns out only brand new, crisp 100 USD notes are accepted in Myanmar at the exchange bureau, so make you might want to keep a couple in your wallet just in case. Don’t fold them! ATMs usually take credit cards anyway. (Myanmar)
- You can rent a motorbike in Thailand, or even a wee scooter, without an motorcycle IDP, but if you get pulled over in touristy spots like Pai or Chiang Mai, the cops WILL fine you 500 baht for driving without an international motorcycle license. I had to pay 500 baht for riding a 110 cl scooter with an international CAR license. (Thailand)
Keep a digital copy of your passport and ID, International drivers license and recent ID pics in your Dropbox and mailbox.
Download city maps while online before you fly to a new country so you can access them offline when you land. Maps.me is your best friend!
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time or to specific areas, Lonely Planet offers ebooks for which you can select individual chapters if you like. Download them onto your smartphone or tablet to travel light.
When researching info on your next destination online, restrict your search to the past year for more up-to-date information.
I find that smiling, joking around politely and laughing opens a lot of doors in Asia and will make bargaining so much easier.
Something to add? Please let me know in the comments below and I’ll add your tips to the list! Safe travels!