Traveling is one of the best experiences we enjoy in life. We have learned quite a few things along the way during our travels around Asia, particularly Southeast Asia (some we’ve learned the hard way!).
From mobile apps to first aid kits and aqua shoes, here are some practical tips to help you plan your trip to Asia.
1. Download Uber and/or Grab
These are ride-hailing mobile apps that allow you to book a taxi or private car. They are very helpful for travelers who plan to commute and use public transport during their trips. Depending on where in Asia you’re traveling, you can download either (or both?).
Of note, Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations in March 2018, so download Grab if you’re traveling to this region — specifically Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.
For both apps, a receipt with route, driver and fare details is emailed to the passenger and the trip history in your Grab/Uber account is also updated.
There are other similar apps in certain countries, but these two are the most commonly used.
** Friendly reminder: Please always do be careful when taking a taxi and other similar modes of transport. Be extra vigilant and careful when you’re traveling alone. It’s always best to take note of the plate number and inform a friend or a family member of your whereabouts, as a safety precaution.
- Sometimes Grab does have a surge in pricing, particularly during peak or rush hours, but it is indicated in the app. Best to double-check the fees and make sure you are okay with how much the fare is before booking a ride.
- Grab has a loyalty program, dubbed GrabRewards, wherein frequent users earn points. I use Grab often as I live and work in the Philippines, so I racked up quite a number of points. I usually use these to redeem discounts on fares, both locally and when I’m traveling around other Southeast Asian countries.
We found Grab helpful because it has a map of your pick-up point and destination. Consequently, we didn’t have too much trouble with explaining to drivers where we wished to go and ending up in the wrong place. It’s also a good way to check how much your fare from point A to point B would cost. Although it can be a bit pricey compared to other means of transport such as buses and trains, it can also be quite convenient. Either way, it’s a good addition to your mode-of-transport options.
Grab-bing in Singapore
In our experience, Grab was especially helpful in Singapore when going back home late after the MRT has closed (train operation hours are usually from 5:30 a.m. to 12 midnight daily). However, the MRT system in Singapore is so convenient and easy for commuters that we usually preferred to take the MRT. We highly recommend it to other travelers too! While we were there, we only used Grab to get a ride to and from the airport, and a couple of times when we went home after MRT operating hours.
We found Grab to be quite handy in Bangkok
… particularly when taxi drivers quote you a fixed fare (instead of using the meter), which tends to be ridiculously higher than the normal fare because you’re a tourist (this is applicable to tuk-tuk drivers and boats too, so do be wary of their fare quotes). We were able to compare how much booking a taxi/car costs in Grab and how much a random taxi hailed from the street wants to charge us. More often than not, the Grab price was cheaper. And when we tell the taxi driver we’ll just book through Grab because it’s cheaper, they usually change their fare quote to match Grab’s.
Beware of taxis that hang around tourist spots and hotels
… because they are the most likely to ask you to pay a fixed fare. Another option, of course, would be to try and politely ask them to use the meter instead of charging you a fixed fare. You can also ask a local how much it usually costs to go to the destination you have in mind. This will give you a good idea of how much a taxi (or tuk-tuk) driver is charging or overcharging you. Don’t get on until you have clearly agreed on the fare.
2. Drink bottled water and be careful with street food
… particularly if you have a sensitive tummy.
In general, we think drinking tap water is a no-no, but it also depends on a number of factors, including where in Asia you’re going, how much you trust your destination’s water system, and how confident you are of your tummy’s ability to adapt to a sudden change in diet and environment.
It totally sucks to get stomach flu, food poisoning, or traveler’s diarrhea when you’re on holiday! For this reason, we recommend drinking bottled water whenever possible. Using a reusable water bottle is also another option (you can help lessen plastic trash at the same time). Watch out for the ice in your drinks too.
Also, do be careful when eating street foods because they might not have been prepared or cooked as well as they should have been. It’s better safe than sorry, don’t you think?
My travel companion from Europe had a bout of stomach flu after our trip to Thailand. We suspect it was because of the complimentary lunch prepared by the slow boat’s crew during a tour to a marine park. He was perfectly fine in Singapore, though.
3. Take probiotics/prebiotics and have a first aid kit
We recommend taking probiotic supplements (like Bio-Kult) to help strengthen your tummy and help it adapt to a sudden change in diet. Based on our experience, it’s best to start one week before the trip and continue until one week after.
Before taking any such supplement, do try it out first to see if it works okay for you and you don’t have any negative or allergic reactions to it.
Meanwhile, you can buy a portable first aid kit in pharmacies or drug stores, or you can prepare one yourself. I usually bring common over-the-counter medications like antihistamine, paracetamol, ibuprofen, anti-diarrhea, antacid, meclizine and antibacterial ointment or Betadine as well as plasters/Band-Aids. Melatonin is also helpful with sleeping and dealing with jet lag if you’re visiting a place with a considerably different time zone from yours. I usually use this one, which also has valerian extract, etc., and is vegetarian.
Meclizine (such as Bonamine) is for motion sickness, which I suffer from. So I always have some with me when I travel. I take it at least 1 hour before getting on a plane or boat, sometimes also before long drives. I also always carry mint or ginger candies, as I find them helpful to avoid feeling carsick or seasick.
If you need to bring any prescription medications, make sure you have the prescription or doctor’s note with you.
I had a mild infection while in Singapore but did not have prescription for antibiotics, so I wasn’t able to purchase any. The pharmacist was very kind and accommodating, though, and she suggested a non-prescription alternative that helped alleviate the symptoms. However, I was able to get the antibiotics I needed when we were in Thailand even without a prescription. The pharmacist just asked a few questions about my condition before handing me the meds, with relevant instructions.
4. Opt to take public transport or rent a scooter (when you can) to save some money
… as opposed to taking a taxi.
Some places — like Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong — have a better bus/train/railway systems than others. So take advantage of them when they’re available.
In our opinion, renting a scooter is great when you’re in the countryside or smaller, much less busy cities. The price is fairly reasonable. Remember to canvass around rental shops to find one that suits your budget and convenience. And drive safely!
We enjoyed traveling around in a scooter in El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines and in Koh Samui, Thailand. It allowed us to explore without worrying too much about how far we want to go or how early/late we decide to go home/out.
In major cities, we prefer taking the public transport especially when they have a good system in place. The MRT in Singapore is super convenient, and we recommend purchasing an EZ-Link card or the Singapore Tourist Pass if you’re planning to stay for several days. It’s reloadable and has a reasonable expiration date, so you can use it again if you frequently visit Singapore.
In Japan, we recommend the Japan Rail Pass (or JR Pass) if you plan to move around a lot, especially if you’re staying there for 7 days or more. It is sold in designated sales offices and agents (online or offline) and you can purchase it before your trip. It’s available for 7, 14 or 21 days. I went to Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka in a span of 11 days, and found the 7-day JR Pass very useful.
5. Bring a waterproof bag and aqua shoes
… especially if you plan to go on island-hopping tours or spend a lot of time at the beach or on boats.
We have a 20-liter waterproof bag, which we think is good enough for two people. It keeps our things dry. It has more than enough space for a couple of beach towels, change of clothes, first aid kit and 2 water bottles.
We also carry a waterproof case for cellphones, which we can hang around our necks. We were able to use it underwater too when snorkeling and such. If you buy one of these, make sure to test it a bit first before you dive underwater.
Aqua shoes are super helpful when walking around rocky areas/bodies of water and around beaches. It’s better than flip-flops, particularly when you have to get off a longboat and walk a bit in the water to get to shore. Trust us, your feet will thank you!
6. Learn some basic phrases
Locals appreciate it when you try to talk to them a bit in their language. Learning simple words and phrases like “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” is a good start!
7. Bring sunblock, hat/cap, loose/cool clothes
The weather can be quite unpredictable! I think even more so in tropical countries, especially during rainy or monsoon season. It can also be very hot and humid in dry or summer season. It’s good to bring a portable umbrella too, for good measure.
8. Get a local SIM card with mobile data
It’s good to get one, particularly if you’re staying there for a few days or longer. We usually do this upon arrival. They are often available inside/around the airport and at convenience stores.
Having mobile data is very helpful to keep in touch with each other through messaging apps, if you’re traveling with somebody, and to access the Internet and Google Maps for directions.
~ We hope you found our list helpful. Do you have any other tips for those traveling to Asia? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section. 🙂
Safe travels, everyone!
**Stock photos from Pexels