Behavior in Southeast Asia

Written by Kenneth Karl Nielsen on . Posted in Article, Blog, Travel Tips

Many backpackers travel to Southeast Asia without knowing the most basic rules of behavior. Read what to do, and especially what NOT to do.

Greetings

What you should NOT do:
Kissing or hugging – it is insulting and humiliating.

What to do:
Put your palms together with fingers up and nod if necessary. The higher the hands come up, the more respect you show. A handshake or a plain hello is also good. Learn to say hello in the local language.

Showing emotions in public
Showing emotions is public is generally a no-go.

What you should NOT do:
Passionate kissing and caressing may shock and can be really embarrassing

What to do:
A little hug or a handshake is the right way to go – in some places is a subtle kiss might be ok. Generally you should avoid unwanted attention and you do not embarrass others.

About feet and head
Especially in Buddhist countries, but also in many other places in Asia, the head is seen head as very clean and important to the soul. The feet are on the ground and what is on it and is thus dirty.

What you should NOT do:
Never touch the Asians heads. Keep your feet down from furniture, do not point with your feet and never raise your feet above others heads.

What to do:
Show respect – if in doubt, follow the locals’ example.

About shouting
Southeast Asia is an area of calm and patience, and it benefits you not to destroy it. Therefore, do not raise your voice against the Asians. Even a cry for friends or a taxi will be considered rude in some places.

Your appearance
Personal hygiene and cleanliness are prized values. Take a daily bath, walk in clean clothes – so you avoid being laughed at and shunned. Don´t wear challenging clothes (both men and women).

Visiting a local home
Always bring a gift if you are invited to visit someones home. Ask other locals about what it should be.
Leave your shoes outside.
Keep your head at the same height or lower than your hosts / other guests.

Visiting a Buddhist temple
Buddhism is a major religion in much of Southeast Asia and religion is very important for the local population.
• Visiting a temple, you should never go in shorts (both men and women). Women should also avoid short skirts, hot pants, etc.
• You may well have shoes on while walking around the temple area, but never inside the temple.
• Walk quietly around.
• Do not turn your back to the Buddha statues.
• Do not lean on Buddha statues or similar behavior* Keep your head lower than any monks.

Miscellaneous
Always ask if you can take pictures of people.
Stay away from drugs – it is stupid and punishment very hard.
Do not throw paper and other garbage on the streets.
Learn a few words in the local language.
Do not give money to begging children – it encourages them to drop school.

How to support the locals
Buy souvenirs at the markets or in the villages they are made – not in tourist shops.
Buy accommodations directly on site.
Buy food on the street and in markets.

Especially for women
Buddhist monks must not touch women or receive anything from women. If a woman wants to give something to a monk she should give it to a man who then pass it on. Women must not sit next to monks on the bus or stand next to the monk’s seat.

Last but not least SMILE
SMILE and you will receive many smiles back – Southeast Asia is one of the friendliest places to visit around the world.

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Kenneth Karl Nielsen

I am one of the founders of Backpacker Planet - I left on my first backpacking trip in 1994 and have kept backpacking around the world ever since.

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