If you’re an experienced traveler, you may think it’s no big deal to prepare for a trip to Indochina. Surely it’s just like any other holiday – pack your bags and get on your way.
Well, it can be, however, even those who are travel savvy, but who haven’t yet made their first trip to Indochina, could find themselves caught out if they haven’t done their homework.
With six countries making up Indochina, it’s a region that offers great diversity in culture, history, people, and cuisine. So whether your Indochina tour takes in just one of these – or several – it pays to be ‘in the know’ before you board your flight. Unaware of important cultural differences, more than a few western travelers have found themselves a little surprised, or even overwhelmed, on their Indochina trip.
Keen to enjoy every moment of your tour and create beautiful travel memories? Let’s help you prepare and be Indochina-trip ready!
Pack safe: clothes, shoes, and a raincoat
We’re not trying to supervise your packing; you’re an experienced traveler after all. But Indochina is not the US or UK. It’s different in many and varied ways.
When we think of images of Indochina, we’re often inspired by images of idyllic beaches, luscious tropical forests, lively floating markets, ancient temples of reverence, and exquisite food. And it’s true, Indochina generally, and each country on its own, provides more than enough of all the above.
That said, packing for your Indochina trip isn’t necessarily as simple as throwing a few pairs of shorts and summery singlets into a backpack. In fact, you probably need to pack more thoughtfully for your trip, especially if it means traveling to more than one country. Travel from north to south in the region or vice versa and the same rule applies.
The best tip here is to be prepared. Yes, pack shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops, but a pair of long pants, lightweight long-sleeve shirt, and pashmina or scarf for women are all essential items for an Indochina trip.
Why? Because a tour in any one of Indochina’s countries will inevitably involve visiting multiple sacred sites. Appropriately covering shoulders and legs is considered a necessary sign of respect. Bear in mind you’ll find practicing Buddhists in every country, including in Myanmar, which is predominantly Muslim, so in all places, dressing accordingly is considered de rigeur. Lightweight longer pants and long sleeve tops protect against overzealous mosquitoes and bugs too, which are a feature of travel in tropical climates.
We’ve already mentioned flip-flops but you’ll need some kind of comfortable closed-toe shoes too; think runners or shoes you can walk in for long distances. With protection and prevention from falls and trips the key, eschew style over comfort every step of the way.
The tropical climate across the region means you’re likely to experience rain at some point during your tour, regardless of whether you travel in the high season or not. This kind of weather means protective rain gear is a must-have item for any Indochina trip. A lightweight rain jacket or coat, as well as quick-dry clothing, can make for comfortable travel when things get misty or wet.
And if you find yourself caught short, arriving without the gear you need, you can relax. There are ample places to source apparel inexpensively for every eventuality on tour. Simply ask your guide for advice about where to shop and you’ll have the solution to your clothing challenge. The bonus? You’ll probably find it at a significantly lower cost than what you would at home.
Hygiene + health: err on the side of caution
While there are differing opinions on what’s needed to travel through Indochina from a hygiene and health perspective, it’s wise for western travelers to err on the side of caution.
The number one reason is nobody wants to be sick on holiday. So, check-in with your general practitioner or specialized travel doctor to confirm your need for vaccinations. Along with your travel visas, started this process early because in some cases, you may need more than one course of injections to be fully covered for your Indochina trip.
As a general rule, vaccinations for waterborne and food diseases, such as hepatitis and typhoid, as well as childhood diseases like rubella, mumps, measles and diphtheria are a good idea for shorter tours. For anything longer and involving more remote traveling in the countryside through any Indochina country, it may be practical – and wise – to get shots for rabies and hepatitis B.
There’s no doubt Indochina is stimulating, lively, and even frenetic in parts. This distinction, along with the general level of hygiene can be a little confronting for western travelers, so come prepared. If it’s your first trip to Indochina, invest in a few DIY health and hygiene essentials. Pack an ample supply of antibacterial wipes or gel, a mini first aid kit (think bandaids for sore feet, pain relief, and medication for managing gastro), insect repellent, and bite cream.
In keeping with the theme of caution, water and food hygiene are genuine concerns for western travelers, so take a little extra care with both. Drink only bottled water and avoid drinks with ice. And while street food looks great, do as suggested – unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous, stick with restaurants that are qualified, preferably by your local guide.
And if street food is the last thing you’ll consider because of particular dietary requirements (such as gluten intolerance, vegetarianism, or food sensitivities) consult with your tour booking company before departure. They can help arrange meals with hotels and restaurants in advance of your Indochina trip. This can mean traveling with peace of mind for the duration of your tour and creating wonderful food memories.
Get organized: Travel dollars, shopping, and getting the treasures you want on an Indochina trip
When it comes to travel dollars, Indochina offers great flexibility.
Yes, you’ll need to keep a bit of local currency for every country you visit, but US dollars are widely accepted, along with all major credit cards. This makes it super convenient for travel shopping – and who doesn’t want a memento or two as a treasure from their trip?
You may want to download a tip or two about haggling or bartering from your guide. With markets everywhere throughout Indochina, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to hone your skills. Your local guide will be rich in knowledge of the best places to shop for souvenirs, authentic local crafts, and specialty items indigenous to each country. Make them your go-to for advice about the most reliable places to visit.
One thing to be mindful of with shopping on your Indochina trip is to find out before you leave whether your tour company operates a “no commission-based shopping” policy. This approach to shopping on tour leaves customers feeling as though they’re limited only to shopping outlets selected by the tour company or guides because of a financial kickback. Even worse, visiting these places can also mean less time spent doing what you’re meant to on tour: seeing sights and having a real experience of a new country. In many instances, goods found at these places aren’t genuine. Locals wanting to make a quick dollar have managed to get western travelers to pay too much for goods that aren’t good quality or the ‘real thing’. The only thing that’s guaranteed from shopping like this is a disappointment. Having a trusted local guide, who’s bilingual and has insider knowledge will help to ensure your shopping delivers the travel keepsakes you want.
Visas: entering every destination with ease
There are varying requirements for visa entry to countries in Indochina, however, for certainty and peace of mind, you can enter with ease, consider organizing your visas before departure.
As a general rule, for each country visa, you’ll need:
A minimum of six months validity on your passport
A completed application form
Sufficient pages in your passport to allow for visa stamping
Colour passport size photos, allowing two per visa.
Depending on your passport, you may be visa-exempt for certain countries, however, be sure to do your research. Allow plenty of time for visa processing and be prepared to pay between USD30 and USD60 for each visa.
So whether you’re planning to leave soon for your Indochina trip – or an Indochina tour is just an idea you’re playing around with, knowing what’s required before you leave will make for a vacation you’ll remember long after you’ve arrived home.
ChinaTours.com does more than design Indochina tours, we create escapes to Indochina that provide western travelers to see, feel, and experience the rich diversity in people, culture, history, and food of countries in Indochina. As part of our mission to build bridges of understanding between cultures from all over the world, we help our customers create beautiful travel memories. With numerous small group, private and custom tour options available, we can take care of every detail for your next Indochina trip. For more information about our approach, connect with us using the contact form.