Culture Shock: Tips for Travelling through Southeast Asia


By Busabout
18 Sep 2019

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If you’ve never visited Southeast Asia before, you might be in for a shock. This is a diverse region of the world, which means summarising the culture here in one word is next to impossible. But, if we had to, we’d say:


It won’t take a minute for you to realise that things don’t work the same here as they do at home, and cultural and societal customs are no exceptions.

With that in mind, here are a few rules that will help you make the most of your trip to this beautiful region.

Be patient with people

In most Southeast Asian countries, there’s more focus on family and community than work. People work very hard, often for a small return. As a result, rushing isn’t the priority. Instead of being inpatient, simply relax and be polite. Embrace the slow life rather than the high life.

Be polite to street vendors

Depending on where you’re from, you might not be used to street vendors chasing you down trying to sell their goods. However, you need to remember that street vendors are just trying to make a living. Don’t be rude to hard workers – politely say no if you’re uninterested in their products, and you’ll avoid feeling pestered.

Don’t be afraid to barter (when appropriate)

Some tourists assume that everybody is trying to rip them off in Southeast Asia. Just like any other part of the world, there are scams you should be aware of. But it’s not appropriate to barter with sellers in every situation. As a general rule of thumb – if a product has a price tag, that’s the price. If not, haggling is generally tolerated and expected.

DO order unfamiliar food

You’re in unfamiliar territory, so why not taste some unfamiliar food? People in Southeast Asia take great pride in their diverse culinary delights. Truth be told, you’re missing out on an amazing experience if you don’t try new dishes and snacks while you’re here. Remember that when you order familiar food, it might not taste the same as it does at home anyway.

Be vigilant around street dogs

As animal lovers, we find it difficult to avoid the temptation of making new furry friends when travelling around Southeast Asia. However, street dogs (also known as ‘soi dogs’ in Thailand) aren’t usually raised as pets. If a dog feels intimidated, you might find yourself in a sticky situation. It’s best just to let them get on with their day – they’ll return the favour.

If you must stroke a dog, only play with those who approach you.

Be respectful at religious sites

Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are prevalent in most Southeast Asian nations. There’s no harm in visiting sites of worship (many are truly spectacular), but you need to be respectful while you explore them. Cover your arms and legs, don’t stare at people praying, and leave a small donation when you leave. Also, avoid taking pictures of monks unless you have permission.

Avoid talking about politics

Some Southeast Asians prefer to keep their political views to themselves. Others have no choice. In some nations, speaking ill of the government or monarchy is punishable by law. So, if you’d prefer to enjoy your time here than run into trouble, just leave the subject of politics alone.

Don’t touch anybody on the head

In many religions, especially Buddhism, the head is considered sacred. Don’t pat children on the head thinking you’re being nice – you’re actually being quite the opposite. Similarly, the foot is largely considered the dirtiest part of the body. Avoid displaying your soles, and take off your shoes when visiting somebody’s home.

If you’re looking for your chance to explore the best of Southeast Asia, take a look at our fantastic adventures in the area, including the Unlimited Asia Pass.