I just came back from Malaysia and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far! You can read about the trip here. 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 and smoking 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. I went to Malaysia during Ramadan and I had no idea about it until I got there.
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.
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. If you just chance your arm with them, you can get pretty far I found. Its not always like that, but when trying to bargain you can try saying that someone else offered you a far better price and hopefully get a good deal. Offer a fifth of what your willing to pay, you never know what they’ll say, all you can do is try.
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, I was happy out that I brought my big scarves to wrap up in
– 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, I have heard many scary stories of tourist accidents
– If you’re flying with Etihad Airways, you don’t need much as they provide neck pillows for everyone. Along with other handy things like blankets, eye masks, ear plugs and even a mini toothbrush + toothpaste set
– I found out upon touch down in Malaysia that there is a death penalty for anyone with drugs on their person (as in even just having them, not just trafficking). This was a pleasant announcement to hear when landing… The laws are pretty much the same in other places including China, Indonesia, 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 greet someone. They eat food with the right hand and wipe with the left
– I read this somewhere before I went and it was so handy. 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, perfect for peoples who are loved by mozzies
– Another lovely fact: Theft in many countries may result in hand removal. Don’t be robbin’ lads
– 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… almost bought some after a week of trying to tan…
– Something I learned at the markets was how to distinguish the bad products from the good ones. Ask them where it’s from (Korea is far superior to China) and the best way to know if it’s plastic or not- ask them to hold a flame to the material, if it’s any good it won’t melt away in front of your very eyes.