Ask Lonely Planet: Staying safe in Southeast Asia

In Asia's party towns, such as Hanoi, female visitors can reduce unwanted attention by dressing modestly. Photo / Bloomberg
In Asia's party towns, such as Hanoi, female visitors can reduce unwanted attention by dressing modestly. Photo / Bloomberg

A friend and I want to spend a month travelling in Southeast Asia this time next year, predominantly in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. We are women in our early 20s with experience travelling in Europe but not this part of the world. Is it safe for us to travel alone? There are so many tour options available but we're reasonably savvy and are looking to save money any way we can. - Monique van Veen

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater reply:

Independent travel for women in the countries you mention is generally cheap, easy and trouble-free. You can happily fly into Bangkok or another major city and make onward arrangements from there. This will not only give you maximum flexibility, but you can also assess local transport, guesthouses and restaurants as you go, tailoring your trip to suit yourself and bargaining when appropriate.

If, however, you feel more comfortable on a tour you could try Intrepid Travel or Adventure World who offer trips with an environmental, adventurous or cultural edge.

Either way, taking a few precautions and applying common sense will help you stay safe.

Although physical assault is rare, local men can consider foreign women to be exempt from their own society's rule of conduct and respect. Reduce unwanted attention by dressing modestly, in keeping with the cultural norms across Southeast Asia. In Thailand the younger generation are showing more skin these days, especially in touristy areas, but to be on the safe side you should cover up if you venture into rural communities and always when visiting temples. Dress is more conservative in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where even exposing your upper arms can cause offence.

Be especially cautious in party towns, where opportunities may exploit drunken abandon. Stick to your companion like glue in these situations, and always wear sensible shoes.

Before you go read up about your destinations and speak to your doctor or local travel clinic about which vaccinations you should consider taking. You should do this six to eight weeks before departure. Travel insurance is essential; buy a policy that covers theft, loss, medical care and evacuation.


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