When you’re traveling through Asia, you’ll notice just how prevalent and rich the cultures of each country are. Whether you’re exploring the depths of the Indonesian forests or losing yourself in the bustle of Tokyo, it’s likely you’ll want to conform to some local ideas so as not to offend, or to simply just soak in the atmosphere.
Here are five useful tips to make sure you don’t stick out like a sore thumb when on your Asian adventure.
Follow the etiquette
It’s an easy mistake to make, but there’s usually always a set of norms when it comes to greeting and interacting with people in Asia. It obviously differs depending on which country you’re in, but there are a few universal tips that will keep you from making a faux pas:
- In Southeast Asia, it’s very important to remain calm and collected at all times, as any visible signs of anger or contempt are frowned upon in society.
- Take your shoes off before entering buildings – particularly those of sacred and/or historical value – and don’t slander any religious practices.
- In Japan and China, it’s common to bow when greeting anyone, and although tourists and visitors aren’t expected to follow this rule, usually the person of lower status bows lower.
It’s important to brush up on common etiquette wherever you’re going in Asia, as the rules differ from place to place and you don’t want to run into any mix-ups.
Talk to the locals
More often than not, although it may seem like a daunting thing to do, the locals in any country in Asia are absolutely willing to talk to you and tell stories of their country. It’s a great way to learn more about wherever you are, and arguably the most direct way to understand the culture.
You’ll often find locals are more than happy to assist you in any way you need, whether it be telling you the best places to eat and drink or where to head to next on your travels. Some people even open up their homes to tourists and travelers, where you can stay and experience what life is like in that particular country. There are plenty of websites that allow you to find a room in a local’s house, which is sure to give you the most immersive experience.
You’ll often find although you’re witnessing some beautiful sights and doing some once-in-a-lifetime things when traveling, it’s the conversations you have with native residents that truly stand out.
Experience local cuisines
Food is a massive part of everyday life wherever you go in Asia, and dishes differentiate massively depending on where you are. Thailand’s spicy and exotic curries and rice dishes are the world away from Japan’s abundance of sushi and soups. Don’t be scared to try the things you’ve never even heard of, either. There are a select few dishes from Asian countries that have gained worldwide popularity – particularly Indian and Chinese – but you’ll find these foods taste much better and are much more varied when you eat them on location.
Each and every country has their specialties, and you’ll find incredible street food nearly anywhere that’s freshly prepared and very affordable. If you’re more adventurous and looking to try something more testing, there are a fair few popular dishes in Asia the average holidaymaker might frown upon. Challenge yourself with fried tarantulas on a stick in Cambodia, or why not try one of the many South Korean octopus dishes where the tentacles are still wriggling on the plate? If the thought of it is more than enough for you, rest assured Asia has some of the tastiest and widest ranges of food in the world – you’re sure to find something that you’ll love.
Visit the cultural hotspots
It’s a no-brainer, really, but perhaps the easiest and most interesting way to truly absorb the culture of your destination is by visiting the places with the most historical value. Attractions such as the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China, as well as being visually spectacular, are essential in understanding the culture of their respective countries, the former being given the informal title of the “jewel of Muslim art in India”.
There are lesser known locations throughout Asia that hold the same importance, too – consider visiting the Grand Palace of Bangkok, the former home of Thailand’s Royal Family. Palaces and temples are prevalent throughout Asia, with Japan and Cambodia both boasting incredible examples with intricate details and stunning architecture. It’s worth seeing if there are any national festivals occurring during your stay, too.
India’s Holi festivals (the best one is rumored to be held in Delhi) and the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore are both incredible examples of culture being embraced and cherished by thousands, and tourists are usually more than welcome to join in the fun.
Don’t be cheated out of money
When traveling through Asia, you’ll master the art of haggling. If the locals can tell that you’re a tourist, be prepared to be given prices that are sometimes astronomically higher than normal – in Beijing, you could end up paying 300% of what the price was originally.
Marketplaces and food stalls are very common in nearly every country you visit whilst you’re traveling, and usually, prices aren’t as straightforward as they would be in a normal store or restaurant. You’ve got to be confident and ready to haggle your way through.
Haggling is common practice in Asia, so don’t be worried about standing out or being rude. However, Japan is not the place for it – they’re not big on haggling, so avoid trying to lower your price whilst you’re there. When you do negotiate on price, though, be polite and confident but not aggravated or stern. Many Asian countries are big on calmness and positive energy, so this won’t go down very well. When haggling, you could end up paying up to 50% less than the original asking price, so it seems like a no-brainer.