How to Travel Respectfully in SE Asia

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Are you heading out to South East Asia this year? If so, you’ll need to know how to get around while taking the local culture into account.

To help you enjoy your travels without making some social faux pas, we’ve rounded up some essential etiquette tips for you. Keep these customs in mind and you’re sure to have a fantastic trip.  

Religion

What to Wear at a Religious Site

One of the most important things to remember if you’re visiting a religious site or you’re at a religious ceremony is to dress modestly. Keep your shoulders and knees covered throughout your time at the temple or church.

If you’re wearing a vest top, make sure you add a shawl, jumper or cardigan to cover up. Similarly, if you’re planning on entering a place of worship, swap your shorts or minidress for some trousers or a maxi skirt.

As well as wearing the right clothing, you’ll need to think about the materials they’re made from. One of the biggest no-nos is leather, steer clear of wearing any, especially in Hindu temples.

How to Behave at a Religious Site

There are a few things you need to be aware of when you’re visiting religious locations, too. Look out for specific entrances for men and women. Entering through the wrong door can be disrespectful. Also, make sure you check ahead to prayer times so that you don’t disturb anyone and greet Buddha with a small bow to show your respect.

Dining

What to do When Eating a Meal

Are you dining with older people? If so, wait your turn! It’s customary to wait until the elders at the table start tucking into their meal before you eat yours. This is a small sign of respect but it’s a polite way to join others for a meal.

Communication

What to do When Having a Conversation with Locals

It’s useful to have an idea of the type of conversations you’ll be having while you’re travelling around the region. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you can expect to be asked loads of personal questions like are you single? How much do you earn? This is their way of being friendly, but if you’re uncomfortable, smile and change the subject.

Similarly, there are topics to avoid in Thailand. Steer clear of talking about the royal family here. Unless you’re being respectful, you could find yourself in trouble as insulting their royals is a crime.

What to do with Your Hands

As a rule, keep your hands to yourself. Don’t touch other people or any goods that you’re thinking of buying. This comes back to the respect thing. Avoid holding hands or kissing in public and never touch anyone else’s head. The head’s the most sacred part of the body.

What to do with your feet

Shoes and feet are thought of as dirty. Take shoes off if you’re entering a shrine or temple. Also take them off if you’re going into certain shops or someone’s home.

Watch where you point them, too. If they’re aimed at people or religious statues, you could be seen to be disrespectful, so make sure they’re directed elsewhere.

Do you feel ready to visit South East Asia now? What are you most looking forward to seeing while you’re there?

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Abbie M

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