Tips for First-Time Travelers in Asia

Posted on March 30, 2012 by

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.

Rice fields

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.

Asian Street Market

Stay Zen

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.

Vietnamese Temple

About the Author:

Jemima Lopez is a freelance blogger and writer who writes for Zen College Life, the directory of higher education, distance learning, and online degrees.


About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

49 Responses to “Tips for First-Time Travelers in Asia”

  1. Maggie March 30, 2012 9:59 pm #

    Good tips! I think body language and "staying Zen" are crucial. You can learn a lot about people and cultures if you just stay calm and observe.

    • Cambodia Expat July 16, 2013 5:14 am #

      True, and in most asian countries it's really impolite to express too much emotions in public, whether it's emotions of love or anger. When staying Zen, people will definitely appreciate and respect you more.

  2. Will - Gap Daemon April 1, 2012 11:18 pm #

    Ha good post but you're missing a few! How about going to the markets and filling your boots on illegal DVD's and really expensive computer software? That's my fondest memory of Vietnam!

  3. NYC Hotel April 3, 2012 4:22 pm #

    Ha fantastic submit but you're dropping a few! How about going to the trading markets and filling your shoes on illegal DVD's and really expensive pc software? That's my fondest storage space of Vietnam!

  4. blog tour du monde July 28, 2012 8:09 pm #

    Keep your belonging into you eyes and don't do something stupid that you are not doing in your own country! Because most of the people when they get to asia are doing stupid thing!

  5. techincal writer August 3, 2012 6:50 pm #

    Honestly, i have read people's tips on how to leave here or there, but no one has ever talked about the drugs and there consequences in different countries and continents. thanks alot

  6. vacation travel club August 13, 2012 11:06 pm #

    Trips are really a life-changing experience. Thanks for your post! ;)

  7. Lily August 23, 2012 3:37 pm #

    love to visit countries with old civilisation, as there are many interesting things there to discover !!! :)

  8. Travel Photo Report September 5, 2012 3:52 am #

    Haha, drugs. Once i was in Thailand and ordered a cocktail in a beach cafe, a waiter brought my cocktail and offered to buy some weed. As i don't smoke I jokingly said that I was not interested, and if she had mushrooms by any chance…. 10mins later I was joined by a guy at my table, who opened a bag where there were….yes, mushrooms. I was a bit taken aback, as I knew about strict policies in Asia. Anyway I did not buy. But people should be sensible and refuse when offered. It might even be a scam with police. I have heard about those as well.

  9. Lee @ Global Goose September 9, 2012 3:09 pm #

    Also worth learning some basic everyday quirks to a the culture. I was walking in Bangkok to the railway station chatting with my girlfriend when I realised everybody else was stood still and silent. Of course the national anthem was playing, I stopped immediately in my tracks, embarrassed as I spotted a few young girls laughing at us.

  10. Najwa September 21, 2012 2:05 am #

    Yup! The think about drug is overlooked by many people.

    In Malaysia, if you are caught with a certain amount of drugs, it doesn't mean jail — it means execution by hanging.

  11. Bell September 21, 2012 6:27 am #

    I think that "to learn some key words or key phrases" is the best advice you can give to travellers in general. It opens hearts if you try to say something in language of the country you are visiting. It is not necessary to speak as a native speaker, the natives just appreciate you effort!

  12. Coolmons Blog September 21, 2012 10:11 pm #

    Thanks for the Asian travel tips.

  13. Advent October 2, 2012 9:56 am #

    Nice tips about the body language, thank you.

  14. Neetu Agarwal October 9, 2012 11:55 am #

    While "don't go down dark streets alone" might seem a bit obvious, there are plenty of straightforward ways to avoid subtle dangers in India. Carrying huge quantities of cash isn't a good idea anywhere, but in crowded Indian cities pickpocketing is a very present problem. Equally, haggling at a market can, at times, become an unpleasant, heated exchange. Inexperienced visitors are advised to try to stay cool. Be pleasant but firm, and don't allow yourself to be irritated.

  15. Amelia October 11, 2012 12:16 am #

    If you could travel to any Asian country/region, what would be your first choice? For me, the answer is:
    China: Rich culture, diverse landscape, delicious food
    Thailand: Great beaches, friendly people, Thai food, ladyboy shows
    Japan: Exotic culture, beautiful scenery, cosmetics, hi-tech products
    Vietnam: seafood, Halong Bay, colonial buildings
    Philippines: Bali,
    So what are your preferences?

  16. antony October 11, 2012 10:39 am #

    There's no denying that travelling to India can be a major culture shock, especially on your first visit. It's a huge and bewildering country, with many different religions and cultures, and cities that roar with traffic and bustle with activity non-stop.

  17. hemanth October 14, 2012 4:03 pm #

    When comes to indian travel–India is Spectacularly Diverse With its in-your-face diversity – from snowdusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, tranquil temples to frenetic bazaars, lantern-lit villages to software-supremo cities – it’s hardly surprising that this country has been dubbed the world’s most multidimensional.

  18. allensharon October 15, 2012 12:21 pm #

    On your first visit really a life-changing experience, Body language and staying are crucial. if you just stay calm and observe. You can learn a lot about cultures and religious

  19. Diana Ashlay October 16, 2012 1:01 am #

    This is very helpful tips for First-Time Travellers in Asia.Some people interested in Travelling but they don't know how to plan for trip,in that situation this is very helpful.

  20. Augstin Prince October 16, 2012 1:38 am #

    Thanks for giving valuable travel tips to save money. I thinks these tips very helpful to us for avoiding money wastage while travelling to other places.

  21. murali October 16, 2012 2:41 am #

    Really the Asian countries are rich with cultures.Travelling in Asia is a great feeling and that atmosphere is very pleasant…Thanks for guidelines for travelling in Asia.

  22. shannonwhite October 16, 2012 2:55 am #

    Thanks for giving valuable travel tips to say money.

  23. vandanareddy October 16, 2012 2:57 am #

    Thanks for giving valuable travel tips to say money

  24. andrea October 17, 2012 1:35 am #

    Thanks for giving clear information about the culture of Asia continent.

  25. Rosy Anny October 17, 2012 11:55 pm #

    Thanks for giving this great info.Really 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.

  26. avis October 29, 2012 2:31 am #

    Asia is a transportation treat for backpackers. Due to the sheer number of fellow travelers there’s an endless stream of trains and buses from one spot to the next. Normally you can book your bus/train directly from the hostel you’re staying at so it’s stress free

  27. Laurie October 29, 2012 9:51 pm #

    I live in asia and have listed many blogs about asia. You are really good

  28. saritha October 30, 2012 1:01 am #

    I first visited Thailand in 2010. Some friends and I were planning our first big trip to Asia. I remember sitting back in Pennsylvania carefully planning our itinerary. One of my well traveled friends insisted that we visit Vietnam. To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Vietnam at all. It sounded too out there.

  29. ravi2smart621 October 30, 2012 6:47 am #

    this info is most useful and asian countries so intresting to visit.

  30. Deuter November 8, 2012 10:03 pm #

    I would also add that for those who are travelling in the tropical parts of Asia, using a backpack which comes with good back support and ventilation would make the journey more pleasing and comfortable.

  31. Shino November 16, 2012 11:57 pm #

    Trips are really a life-changing experience. Thanks for your Info!

  32. Immigrant Patty November 19, 2012 4:12 am #

    First time;

    thank you for giving a chance this great info.I have my first travel was in Middle East. I'm so happy and excited when i travel. My first time to ride in the Airplane so that I'm very nervous because only me when i travel because i need to work in middle east so i did not know what will i do when I'm in side the airplane specially when the airplane start to go..but in the experience it was amazing for me.
    so now when we travel I'm not nervous every time we ride in the airplane.

    thank you.

  33. adventourcaucasus November 20, 2012 6:45 am #

  34. Travelers November 22, 2012 2:05 am #

    Thanks for giving such a useful information. Its true that asian countries have a huge variety of culture. There are many interesting things to learn. For adventure loving people these countries provide some of the best destinations.

  35. suzzanelobo November 28, 2012 6:00 am #

    Whenever I think about Asia, Thailand comes to my Mind. and yeah India too.

  36. Mebin December 3, 2012 5:24 am #

    I love my travel to india, especially southern part of India.. its amazing.. my stay in a placed named Munnar and in the house boat those are unforgettable experience

  37. Finbar2036 December 6, 2012 11:39 pm #

    You have really great taste on catching article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic.

  38. swimming pool pumps December 9, 2012 12:10 am #

    Great news sharing and want to read all time but unable to do except place a comment.

  39. teenagetraveller February 7, 2013 7:00 am #

    These tips were great! Especially the Zen part – seems so true.

    I'll be going to SE-Asia alone for 6 months as a19 year old female so I know that I really have to take safety seriously.

  40. vanessaelizebeth March 5, 2013 2:10 am #

    I visited this page first time and found it Very Good Job of acknowledgment and a marvelous source of info.

  41. Travel Deals Asia March 26, 2013 3:45 am #

    When you travel to Asia, it's best that you travel lite. Heavy backpacks is a big no when travelling. It's true that most Asian are very friendly, but there are still some that are not. Just don't let your guard down and always be careful on your travels.

  42. Daniel Williams March 27, 2013 8:26 am #

    Great post, I've wanted to do Asia for a while now, hopefully ill be able to save enough money this summer to begin planning my winter travels. This is a great little insight into the Asian culture. :)

  43. Emma April 20, 2013 2:57 pm #

    Hey this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if
    blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  44. homestay Penang May 22, 2013 8:58 pm #

    Its not new to me. For my entire years of traveling in Asia, I think I mastered some of their gestures, their cultures and their manner of living. I can say that I am slightly hooked to Asian culture already and I'm happy for it. I am also very careful in my travels about drug issues.

  45. Asien Reisen July 3, 2013 8:34 am #

    Asia is very nice, the people are very friendy and i really love the asian culture thanks!

  46. Robert January 22, 2014 3:50 pm #

    Great tips, thanks! Definitely important to learn a bit of the language, at least to show you made an effort. Imagine how you'd feel if someone came up to you in your home country, didn't speak any of your native tongue, and tried to get something from you. Surely you'd be less than impressed!

  47. Expat January 23, 2014 5:39 am #

    Great tips! I was on edge when I was travelling to India for the first time. However, I was blown away with the diversity and culture – learning new things everyday…something's I never imagined existed or even heard of. I definitely used a couple of the tips you stated – and yes…they work wonders. I think my next stop is going to be Malaysia.

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