7 Things to Bring to South-East Asia No One Tells You About

39 Flares Twitter 1 Facebook 38 Email -- 39 Flares ×

I haven’t posted in a while. About the time of my last post I went a posting frenzy, writing about my travels through Penang – I even had a draft post hashed out about Sarawak, then BAM! My fucking web server company went M.I.A… I managed to get everything transferred over but during the migration I lost two (and a half) posts which made me not want to write anything for ages. (fuck you

I’ve been in Malaysia for six months now, and looking back I realise there are a few things that I wish I had known / been told in terms of what to bring when you’re visiting or moving to South East Asia that isn’t really covered in the plethora of travel blogs that you see on the interwebs. I’m not gonna cover the obvious ones cause they should be pretty… well, obvious right?


1. A handkerchief

things to bring to south east asia - handkerchief

You will sweat. Like a lot. No, really, like “did you just step out of a sauna?” levels. If you try using tissues to blot off the sweat you will end up with bits of tissue stuck all over your face. I wish I wasn’t speaking from experience – not a strong look. I actually found it kinda hard to find handkerchiefs here so you might wanna grab some before you fly over.

In case you’re wondering I’m not #sartorial enough to get monogrammed handkerchiefs – it was complimentary from Mr Porter (I just happen to share the same first letter in my last name).


2. Tissues

things to bring to south east asia tissues

I know what I just wrote above, but you’ll need these too. Don’t assume toilets will be a) clean, b) dry or c) have toilet tissue. You can buy little packets of tissue absolutely everywhere in South-East Asia though so you should be able to pick these up here.

I actually got given this tissue packet for free – they just hand them out to you at some restaurants/food courts. If you do, keep them with you. Incidentally if you’re in the Bukit Bintang area in KL and feel like Chinese, try the underground foodcourt in Lot 10.


3.  A mobile phone battery pack (they’re called Powerbanks over here?)

things to bring to south east asia - battery pack

Lets face it. None of us can survive without smartphones and the bevy of equally smart applications that run our lives for us. I can barely get around Auckland without Google Maps let alone a strange city. Apps I use to get around include: Google Maps, AirAsia, Skyscanner (the only app I use to find flights these days), xe (a currency converter app), WhatsApp (cause fuck paying for texts, especially if you’re roaming), and MyTeksi (a geo-locating taxi booking app that also prevents the taxi drivers from charging you exorbitant fares – as far as I understand this only works in Singapore and Malaysia).

Smartphones are sneaky. They make you so reliant on them then they die on you just halfway through navigating your way to that train station / tourist trap you were looking for. Of course you can’t call anyone, and you realise you saved the address in your phone (super smart).

In a lot of places in Asia you’ll find people carry around portable battery packs that charge USB devices. Depending on the capacity these things are anywhere between USD $10-30. So yeah – get one, these things save your life. They’re pretty ubiquitous so you should be able to pick one almost anywhere.

I picked mine up for RM45 at Lowyat Electronics Plaza (that’s about $15USD). Incidentally, it has an LED indicator showing the battery level remaining which also doubles as a little flashlight. Handy.


4. Warm clothes

outside les invalides winter clothes

Yes you read that right. For some reason, a balmy 20C day does not feel anything like a room that’s been cooled to 20C with an air con. For some absurd reason they cool office buildings, malls and other modern buildings to Reykjavik temperatures when it’s 38C outside, so it’s not a silly idea to bring a sweater or something to throw on on top of your clothes if you know you’re going to be in a building for an extended period of time.

If you forget it’s no biggy – you’d be surprised how much winter clothing they sell here. Maybe the air conditioning operators are collusion with H&M and Zara who want to shift their pashminas and ugg boots – who knows.

No that’s not Malaysia – that was me trying not to freeze to death outside of Les Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb) in Paris last year. I miss my trench coats :(


5. Cliché gifts from your home country

manuka honey

Image credit:

I suppose this is more relevant if you’re coming to South-East Asia for an extended period of time. Even if you can’t think of a particular need now, you will eventually find yourself in a situation where need to give some sort of thank you gift to someone. Bring something that you’d consider a bit cliché in your home country, and it’ll work a treat.

Note I said cliché, not shit. Don’t buy plastic tikis. No one needs them. Find something decent but is easily associated with New Zealand. I bought manuka honey here cause I ran out of these, and the prices are not fun after what must be killer margins and a hefty import duty.


6. Your manners

things to bring to south east asia - hanoi

This post was actually prompted by a recent weekend trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. It was shameful and embarrassing to see some of the foreigners behaving so rudely to the store owners, mocking them for their accented English, or downright writing off the locals with a colonial-era superiority complex.

Yes your pocket money might be more than their month income, yes their English might be heavily accented, and yes they might not kick you out of their store because you’re loud and arrogant but none of those reasons can ever justify you being a rude fuck.  You realise they’re doing their best to make a living, they’ve even gone to the extent of learning another language so they can do that (I mean, how’s your Bahasa/Vietnamese, champ?)

Let me make it simple: if you wouldn’t act that way at home, don’t bring that shit to another country. No one needs your crap and there’s certainly no need to export it either. Acting with dignity is about treating others with respect even when no one (or no one that you know) is looking.


7. Your open-mindedness

things to bring to south east asia - ramadan bazaar

Things will be different, strange, hilarious, incomprehensible, nonsensical, may even seem downright awful.  But that’s the whole point of travelling – if it was identical to where you’re from why would you even bother leaving?

Instead of writing it off as inferior, outdated, try first to see it as a difference, and try to understand why it is the way that it is. Being a New Zealander of Korean descent, I’ve become accustomed to thinking in that manner, to try and understand (and accept) why some of the things which I consider to be negative aspects of Korean society are the way they are.

After a while you learn to see beauty in decaying buildings, in seeing street-side mamak (food) stalls busily making snack food (don’t expect gloves, or first class sanitation) and it’ll make your trip all the more memorable and enjoyable in its own way.


Closing thoughts

I’m not sure where I was going  with this post, I suppose it’s a strange combination of the mundanely practical and unsolicited life advice. I’m hoping I can post a little more frequently than I have as of late but no promises. Eh, as the Malaysians say, “whatever-lah!”


– Chris.

Author: Chris Park

One half of the Park Brothers. Purveyor of banter, curator of misc. Manage comms for @BuoyandMine. Read More

Like our scribblings?