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Solo Traveling in Southeast Asia? Southeast Asia is a dream destination for many people. It literally has everything, from long sandy beaches and fun activities to fascinating historical sights and delicious food. But with many countries in the region being at the poorer end of the economic spectrum, and with a reputation for drug trafficking, is Southeast Asia safe for solo female travelers? Should you really be traveling around Southeast Asia alone? The answer is “yes” as long as you travel smartly and go prepared, traveling Southeast Asia alone is possible. This detailed post should give you food for thought and answer many questions to help you get ready for your Southeast Asia Solo Travel adventure.
From my perspective, Southeast Asia is one of the safest places to go, even if you are traveling solo for the first time. While the media might stir up stories of people drug smuggling and spending years in scary Asian jails, it is good to remember that these things only happen to the tiniest minority of people, usually when they have gotten into certain compromising situations. As someone who has done extensive traveling in Southeast Asia, I have not really come across any major problems in most of the countries in the region and, as long as you take all of the usual precautions, there is no reason why Southeast Asia should be problematic for Solo female travelers. Of course, there are certain things you can do to make sure your trip is as stress- and trouble-free as possible.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Which Countries Are The Best To Travel To In Southeast Asia?
- 2 Transportation Tips
- 3 Buy Visas Before You Go or Use Reputable Travel Agents on the Road
- 4 Do Not Worry About Not Meeting People
- 5 Trust Your Gut Instinct
- 6 Do Not Get Drunk On Your Own
- 7 Let People Know Where You Are
- 8 Dress Appropriately
- 9 Respect Local Customs
- 10 Buy a Local SIM Card
- 11 Do Not Flash Your Valuables and Wear Your Bag Over Your Body
Which Countries Are The Best To Travel To In Southeast Asia?
Technically, there really are no bad options when it comes to which countries are best for solo female travelers. However, some countries are slightly easier to travel in than others when it comes to attitudes towards solo women. From a personal experience, I found Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos and Cambodia incredibly easy as a solo female traveler. The people are really friendly and laid-back and you should not have any issues walking around, even at night. Although I have not been to Indonesia, friends of mine who have been have assured me that the situation is the same there.
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Vietnam, on the other hand, can be more difficult for women on their own. I found that, as a solo female traveler, I was more of a target for street touts and men and, as a result, I was regularly followed, sometimes grabbed in the street and generally did not feel as comfortable walking around at night on my own. This is not to say that you should not visit Vietnam – it is a beautiful country with lots to see and do – but you may find that you need to be more wary of your surroundings or consider joining group tours there.
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On other hand, in Myanmar, I felt generally safe and I found the people to be the most hospitable and friendly, but the only downside is that, since domestic flights are more expensive, you do need to commute for longer periods of time on buses and sometimes trains. I did find the VIP buses super comfortable and more modern, but maybe, for some women, they might not enjoy the longer journeys alone. Remember, Myanmar is a country that is still more underdeveloped than many others in Southeast Asia, especially keeping in mind that it has only been recently open for tourism. However, I do think it is one of the most authentic countries ever and the people are just amazing.
Getting around Southeast Asia is relatively simple. There are plenty of options for buses, trains, flights and even private cars, so you should not have any problems organizing traveling between destinations. Recently, when I traveled in Southeast Asia, I used the website 12Go Asia to book most of my buses. They sell tickets for all Southeast Asian countries – and also more further afield – and have an efficient user interface, giving you many different options for the journey you want to take. They also accept all major cards, as well as PayPal, meaning payment is convenient, fast and easy.
If you are traveling long-distance, the overnight buses are pretty comfortable and you get lots of little extras like a snack, water and a blanket. Traveling overnight has two major advantages: One, you do not have to waste a day of your trip sitting on a bus and two, it means you get to arrive at your next destination in the daytime, which is obviously much safer if you are traveling on your own. If you do not have much time, consider flying; you can get lots of cheap deals online with budget airlines in the region.
For getting around cities, I highly recommend downloading Grab. Grab is an app which is the Southeast Asian answer to Uber. Through this app, you can order taxis and motorbike taxis for much cheaper than regular ones on the street, as well as they’re being much more reliable. And, since you are told the price of the journey before you confirm the ride, there is no way the taxi or bike driver can rip you off.
If you have a license and are confident riding a bike, consider hiring a moped to get around the region. Motorbikes are considered to be one of the best ways of traveling around Southeast Asia. It definitely gives you a lot of freedom and is relatively cheap when compared with other forms of transport. However, be warned that a number of countries in Southeast Asia are tightening regulations on travelers riding bikes, so be sure to be following all of the rules of the road. Always wear a helmet, do not ride recklessly and take out insurance with a high level of coverage for this kind of activity.
Buy Visas Before You Go or Use Reputable Travel Agents on the Road
Dealing with embassies to acquire visas is never a fun job. To make things as simple as possible, if you need visas for specific countries, and you know the exact dates you are going to be traveling, it may be worth getting all of them sorted before you leave. This gives you peace of mind that the travel requirements are fully met and means you do not have to spend time on your trip trying to find embassy buildings, or wait on long lines, to get visas on the road.
Sometimes, though, you may not have exact travel plans or your plans change and you find that you need to buy a visa when you are outside of your home country. While most countries in Southeast Asia are either visa-free for a certain period, or there is the option to obtain a visa upon arrival, Myanmar requires that you to get a visa before you arrive. I got mine online and it was quite easy and fast. I was approved for it in less than 12 hours, but this varies case by case and per place of origin, so always apply in advance whenever possible.
Vietnam offers 15-day visas on arrival for some nationalities but, if you want to stay longer, you will also need to arrange this before you arrive. While Vietnam and Myanmar both offer some kind of e-visa service, getting a good travel agent to apply for your visa can actually be worth it. This is what I did in Kampot, Cambodia: I was planning on going to Vietnam for a month and I got a local travel agent to do the paperwork, send off my visa and have it delivered back, all in about four or five days. This meant I did not have to spend any time filling in my own application or sitting in front of a computer, all for just $5 extra. While doing it yourself online will save you a few dollars, I personally think it is worth paying the extra for the convenience. This way, you are not cutting into your travel time. To find a reputable travel agent, try asking expat groups on social media; these guys usually have plenty of experience dealing with agents and obtaining visas, so they can give great advice.
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Do Not Worry About Not Meeting People
One of the best things about Southeast Asia is how easy it is to meet new people while you are traveling there. Although hostels can be the best way of meeting people when on the road – and there are certainly some great boutique ones in Southeast Asia – if you prefer to stay in more private accommodation, like I personally do, it is still really easy to meet other travelers. Southeast Asia tends to attract quite sociable travelers and you may find yourself chatting with people on buses and trains, in restaurants and bars, at the beach, and on any excursions that you do. So, traveling on your own as a female traveler does not mean that you have to be alone; in Southeast Asia there will be plenty of opportunities for you to make lots of new friends!
Trust Your Gut Instinct
Meeting new people is, of course, a huge part of traveling, but you should still be on your guard for anyone who does not seem quite right. If you meet someone and they want to go out for a drink or head out sightseeing together, but you get a bad feeling about it, do not go. Trusting your gut instinct is obviously important no matter where you travel, but it is doubly important if you are traveling halfway across the world, and do not have a network of family and friends around you. In these situations, it is perfectly fine to lie or make any excuse to get out of it; never feel like you have to say ‘yes’ just to save someone else’s feelings.
Do Not Get Drunk On Your Own
With the risk of sounding like a killjoy, you should definitely avoid drinking too much alcohol when you are out on your own. That is not to say you should not enjoy yourself, it is just basic safety precautions to make sure you do not get so incapacitated you cannot remember how to get home. If you meet up with people you get along with, and they seem to be cool people, go out with them and stick together. If you do happen to go out on your own, do not overdo it and just have a couple of drinks.
Something else women need to be aware of when traveling anywhere in the world, including Southeast Asia, is drink spiking. It does not occur very often – and it certainly has never happened to me – but when it does happen, you normally see it splashed across the media. If you are going to a bar, make sure the drinks are prepared or opened in front of you, be wary of accepting drinks from people you have only just met and do not leave your drinks unattended. This makes it harder for anyone to tamper with them.
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Let People Know Where You Are
Part of the joy of traveling can be being anonymous, in a new place, where no one knows you. However, the problem with this is that, if anything were to happen to you, such as you being involved in an accident, then no one would know. This is why it is a good idea to let people know where you are going, just to be on the safe side. If you have made friends at your accommodation – which, as I mentioned in one of the points above is probable when traveling in Southeast Asia – tell them where you are going that day. Then, if you do not turn up in the evening, someone can raise the alarm. If you use social media, keep your friends and family back home up-to-date on where you are and whether you are going to be in places where internet connection is poorer, just so that they are not worrying about you if you happen to not be in contact with them for a while.
Southeast Asia is generally a fairly conservative region so, if you want to be able to get around without attracting too much unwanted attention, it is better to cover up. This does not mean covering every bit of skin; in many Southeast Asian countries, you can even get away with walking around in vest tops and shorts around the city center. Just make sure that you do not have too much flesh hanging out of your clothes, especially cleavage and butt. Of course, different situations call for different types of clothing. If you are visiting temples and religious sites, you will need to cover up more; if you are at the beach, it is perfectly fine to wear swimwear, just as long as you are not walking around town afterwards just in your bikini; wear a cover-up.
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Respect Local Customs
As well as being respectful in terms of your clothing, there are various local customs throughout Southeast Asia which may seem strange to people coming from western cultures, but are important to the local people. For example, in Thailand, it is a criminal offense to show any disrespect to the royal family, which extends to acts as simple as standing on a coin which you may have dropped. This would be seen as you standing on the king’s head. Whether you know it or not, the head is seen as where the good goes in while the feet is where the bad goes out. For this reason, it is also considered offensive to show the soles of your feet to anyone in Thailand. In Singapore, chewing gum is illegal and can land you with a hefty fine. Of course, faux pas do happen but do try to reduce the risk of you offending anyone; do your research on the countries you will be visiting for your own safety.
Buy a Local SIM Card
Smartphones are now a necessity when traveling (especially solo) so buying a local SIM card when you arrive makes sense, both for your convenience and safety. Getting a local SIM card will make it easier – and much cheaper – for you to use the internet in places where WiFi might not be the strongest or even existent. This especially comes in handy if you are lost in a big city or you need to book an excursion or transportation really quickly. As well as being able to access the internet, you will be able to make calls at a cheaper rate, meaning it will be easier to call your accommodation or the local emergency services just in case.
Do Not Flash Your Valuables and Wear Your Bag Over Your Body
Most of the countries in Southeast Asia are pretty poor, especially in comparison with western countries. Aside from preventing any petty thefts or pickpocketing, it is just polite to not go around flashing your expensive phone, camera or any other valuables you may have. You are potentially visiting countries where local people do not even have half as many possessions as you do, never mind the fact that you are able to afford to travel halfway across the world. Show a little bit of consideration and, you will not only stop yourself from being a target of thieves, also be respectful to the people whose country you are visiting.
Although crime is usually of a low level in most Southeast Asian countries, bag snatching is not unheard of; I was made aware of many instances of this when I was in Cambodia, particularly after dark. These people are usually on mopeds, so it will be difficult to catch up if you are on foot. With this in mind, you should be using a day bag, one you can wear over your body, such as a small backpack or a handbag with a strap that’s long enough to wear cross body. This will make it harder for any would-be thieves to take it from you.
Keep in mind that thefts are not that common; this advice is just as a precautionary measure that is important wherever you travel.
Better to be safe than sorry
None of the points in this article are meant to make you feel more nervous about traveling to Southeast Asia; the likelihood of anything going wrong on your trip is incredibly low. But, like with all other destinations in the world, it is good to make your safety a priority and take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of anything happening to you. All in all, you should find that, as a solo female traveler, people in Southeast Asia will be warm, welcoming and keen for you to enjoy all that the region has to offer. So, just go for it!
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