I just came back from Malaysia and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far! I learnt a lot of things when I arrived and I wanted to pass them along because it’s very useful to have a list of things to know about Asia before you go! I was well aware that Asia was a whole other world compared to what we are used to, but I had no idea just how different it actually is.
The Toilet Situation
In Malaysia and as far as I know most / all of Asia has a particular bathroom system. While many places are modernising their toilet facilities, you can easily find yourself in a fairly foreign loo. It can be a hole in the ground with only a hose beside it to clean yourself. It can also be just a normal toilet, but you’ll be lucky to find some tissue. They (as in many) don’t wipe, they just hose themselves down and are ready to go! I thought I was in a flooded horrific bathroom when I realised every cubicle was the same & it’s just the water they’ve used to clean themselves… This is one of those handy things to know about Asia before you get there – instead of having a bit of a surprise like myself. So best advice is to seriously stock up on loo roll. Even if it’s small packs of tissues, keep em handy in your bag/pocket at all times. Cause chances are – you may be squatting…
There are 4.4 billion people in Asia with a huge religious culture ranging from Buddhists to Christians and Muslims to Jewish. Many religions and spiritual beliefs are taken seriously and they expect tourists to be respectful of this. Before travelling, you should research if there are any religious holidays taking place or if there are certain expectations about the likes of behaviour, drinking and how you dress. Muslims for example are currently celebrating Ramadan. During this month they must fast from dawn till dusk. Those who fast must abstain from eating or drinking (any drink; including water!), sex, smoking and telling lies, among other practices. For this reason Ramadan can shut down an area and this is one of the important things to know about Asia – because depending where you are – it could potentially make or break your trip. Restaurants and shops either close early (so they can go home to break the fast/ pray/ rest) or simply close down for the entire month. Non-Muslims in some areas (including tourists) are expected to respect this religious holiday by not eating, drinking or smoking in public. They are also expected to dress even more moderately than usual, particularly women. It is generally advised that you do not walk down the street in a bikini like you would in Santa Ponsa and to dress conservatively out of respect for the locals and their beliefs.
In a lot of smaller clothes & cosmetic shops I found myself getting very irritated by the people who worked there standing over me. At least one and maybe two or three at a time stand there staring at you and of course follow you around the shop. I’m still not sure whether they were overly helpful or making sure I wasn’t stealing anything… Just know that this is very common. One of the great things to know about Asia is that the market game is very much in your hands. When visiting markets, haggling is the only way of life. I was looking at a bag and asked the price, the man replied rm250 (Malaysian Ringgets) to which I laughed and walked away. Every step I took he lowered it and after about 4 steps he offered rm70. Its not always like that, but when trying to bargain I just say that someone else offered me so and so (which they didn’t), and they start to make better deals. Offer a fifth of what your willing to pay , you never know what they’ll say, all you can do is try!
Extra info and other interesting things to know about Asia
– Although it will be hot where you are going, the air con is pretty extreme in the airports and it also gets really cold on planes.
– Around 30 people are killed in scooter/bike accidents every single day in Thailand. Be extra cautious when crossing roads and don’t hire a scooter if you can’t drive.
– If you’re flying with Etihad Airways, they provide neck pillows for everyone, along with blankets, eye masks, ear plugs and even a mini toothbrush + toothpaste set.
– I found out when landing in Malaysia that there was a death penalty for anyone with drugs on their person. The laws are pretty much the same in other places including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, North Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.
– In India it is considered insulting to eat & do just about anything with your left hand, such as handing over money or using it to shake hands. They eat food with the right hand and wipe with the left.
– Buy over the counter anti histamine tablets and take them every day. If you get bitten, stung or come across an allergy, having anti histamines in your system already will move the healing process along much quicker.
– Theft in many countries may result in hand removal.
– If you are buying makeup or any skin care, be sure to look out for ‘whitening’ or ‘brightening’ on the product description. A huge trend in Asia is to have fairer skin and most of their skin products have whitening ingredients to achieve lighter skin.
– If you’re going to a big market place like Chinatown or other similar stall setups, it’s easy to distinguish the bad from the good. Ask them where it’s from (Korea is far superior to China), hold it in your hands; is it flimsy or is it heavy and sturdy? The best way to know if it’s plastic or not; ask them to hold a lighter up to the outside material.