10 Tips for Living in South East Asia
South East Asia’s popularity with emigrants from the UK is ever increasing. Countries whose fascinating culture is now being twinned with rapidly developing economies present an attractive prospect to people seeking a new life abroad. But living in a place as different as South East Asia means there are more challenges than just settling into a job.
Learn their Language
This particular tip is not specifically for South East Asia but I thought I’d include it anyway. Learning the basics of the language of your new home is important for several reasons. Firstly, the ability it gives you to communicate with those around you will, unsurprisingly, come in handy. Secondly, if you can’t speak any of the language you’ll stand out like a sore thumb and you’ll find day to day activities difficult.
Fortunately, there are plenty of reasonably priced crash courses available which will help you to pick up the basics; as well as phone based apps that help you with key phrases whilst you’re on the move. So there isn’t much of an excuse to be completely ignorant of your new home’s language is there?
Mind your Manners
What to say and how to behave varies between people in London and Paris, so imagine the differences between here and Kuala Lumpur! So it is important to be aware of local customs and manners before leaving to make a life anywhere.
Saying that what is considered polite and impolite will depend on where you are; for example in Vietnam it’s considered incredibly rude to point at anything with your feet or to touch anyone’s head (many people believe the soul resides in the head). Whereas in Malaysia it is considered improper for women to wear skirts or thin strapped tops in public (most SE Asian countries are socially conservative so this is a common theme). In fact there are so many variations in each country, and that can be subdivided into regions and cities, that I won’t go into detail here but I will advise you do some research before leaving.
The climate in this part of the world is definitely a little more defined by seasons, as opposed to the UK where any weather could happen at any time. These are normally divided into wet and dry, although in some countries in the region an extra, hot, season is sometimes added. The temperature will rarely drop below 30°C throughout the year and in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand the hot season can see temperatures hit 40°c! Due to the heat most modern buildings will have a form of air conditioning which will help to make things a little easier. Generally speaking you’re not going to really see any snow which, depending on how you like your Christmases, is probably a good thing!
Fortunately, if you’re not a fan of scorching heat then the mountains of Indonesia and other countries afford a more temperate climate. With cool nights and warm days it may be worth investigating a retreat to these parts when the hot weather starts to get unbearable. One thing is for certain – you’ll definitely get a tan!
Unfortunately crime is a major issue in much of South East Asia so anyone, especially westerners, should always be wary. First things first, it would be wise to purchase a money belt before leaving because it will keep your money safe and invisible whilst ambling around busy streets and marketplaces. As you’d expect it is also recommended that you don’t go down any alleys, accept drinks from strangers or to get into any unbranded taxis. It is probably also a good idea to keep your valuables in a safe within your home will as this will at least limit any potential damage from burglary or theft.
No matter how much you know about a culture or how well you can speak the language odds are if you’re western you will be targeted.
Over recent years Asian cuisine in general has really taken off. Along with the stalwarts of Japanese, Indian and Chinese cooking more exotic fare from Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam has started to increase in popularity.
So in truth many people will already be familiar with the SE Asian style but if you’re not then you’re in for a treat. The majority of countries in this region have a lot of coastline which makes seafood a common feature on menus. You should expect to be greeted with bowls of rice or noodles pretty much wherever you go as these are used where we’d use bread, pasta or potato.
Don’t be surprised at the heat of the cooking either, because traditionally the spice was used to cover any unpleasant tastes from the dish – hopefully that’s not the case now though (but it would be wise to tread carefully especially with any street food)! Cheap, and locally brewed, beer can be found in the smaller restaurants and roadside cafes; but due to high import taxes foreign beers and alcohol is often very expensive.
Cheap; that’s undoubtedly one of the first words that comes to mind when people think of SE Asia and to be fair it is, largely, an accurate one. Around $15-$20 will be a perfectly workable budget for any day trips you plan on taking whilst living there. Food is very reasonably priced as well, with a three course restaurant meal often coming in at around $12. Cheap suits and designer clothing is also a common purchase for people visiting the region and if you’re buying from a street seller you should be prepared to bargain for the right price!
In terms of currency it depends where you’re moving to what’s best. Some countries will deal mainly in US dollars – especially for large transactions – such as Vietnam. Others will deal mainly in their currency – though most will take US dollars or even sterling – once again, though, each country has their own way of doing things so do a little research before you leave so that you’re prepared.
Getting involved with the local culture is important if you really want to understand the country and its people. So you should actively try to visit museums, galleries and other places of national importance and prestige. Whilst in these places you can learn about the country’s past in order to understand why it is, how it is, today. Not to mention they’re generally very interesting!
Obviously visiting museums and landmarks isn’t going to take up the whole time you’re living abroad nor does it mean that you can’t go tourist hot spots either. But if you want to actually experience a country then you should get down to the level of the locals – eat where they eat (normally incredible street food), go where they go (the locals know all the best places) and make friends (you never know when you’ll need them).