This is a guest post by Jemima Lopez.
Planning on trekking through the world’s largest continent? Asian countries are rich with cultures that have existed long before many western countries were even formed, and there is a wealth of opportunity to see and experience parts of this heritage as you travel in the region. But it’s also important to be informed about the do’s and don’ts of travel in Asia before you head out, as even the most modern Asian cities pose certain cultural hurdles. For those of you new to Asian culture, read on to avoid blunders and mishaps while you take in the incredible East.
Learn the Body Language
When traveling in Asia, many travelers don’t speak the language, let alone read or pronounce the symbols. This is why communication through body language is a hugely powerful tool. People in Asian countries often make an “x” sign with their arms to signal stop, or no. Asian natives also bow in greeting and when saying thank you. Sometimes things as simple as a bow or smile will carry a long way in attempts to communicate and get your message across. When in doubt, pay attention to how locals act and follow their body language.
Memorize Key Phrases
Even though body language and attempts at charades can get you around in Asia (luckily Asian culture is very friendly and accommodating), learning a few key phrases can do wonders. Making the effort to learn at least a few words is also a sign of respect and will often get locals to let down their guard. Pick up a language guide for each country you plan to attend, and memorize important words, like left, right, please, thank you, and numbers from 1-5.
Haggling is an accepted and encouraged part of the marketplace in most Asian communities. Even if an item has a price tag, this is often a starting off point for negotiation. It is considered normal and polite to work with the vendor toward a lower price, but make sure to keep your suggestions reasonable.
One of the coolest things about Asia is the culture of Zen that continues to influence even the modern cities. In public, Asians are generally quiet, orderly and calm. This is not true of huge markets, fairs, arcades and other typically hectic areas. One thing that will make you stick out like a sore thumb is yelling loudly in public or becoming argumentative with others. Take a cue from Buddhist philosophy and stay calm and quiet during your travels.
Don’t Mess With Illegal Drugs
There are very serious consequences in most Asian countries for being caught with illegal substances. What might be a slap on the wrist in your home country could land you ten years in jail in an Asian country. Be aware of the regulations and risks wherever you travel, and remember that it’s just not worth the risk.
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