In general terms, the people of South-East Asia are very welcoming and hospitable towards tourists, and you will have a lovely time visiting these countries. But there are some cultural norms and customs which, if you follow, will make your stay even more enjoyable.


For the most part, people in South-East Asia dress in a fairly modest fashion, which means that women should not wear low cut tops or have their shoulders or thighs exposed in public.  If you visit a place of worship, this is even more important, as in some countries, to be improperly dressed is considered to be very rude.  It would be a good idea to wear shoes or sandals that slip on and off easily – footwear has to be removed before entering temples and, in some countries, a house.  If you have a brush with the law or any government officials, it’s far better to be dressed smartly and businesslike.


Many people in South-East Asia, particularly those in small villages, do not like having their photograph taken by strangers, so exercise caution.  This also applies if you are visiting temples or other holy places. It may be considered disrespectful to photograph someone at prayer, so ask first.  Also, don’t take photographs at, or near to, military establishments, particularly in Vietnam and Cambodia.   It may sound obvious, but people have been arrested for it in far less exotic countries. It is also a good idea to carry details of your embassy with you when you travel, just in case you photograph something that you shouldn’t.

Protect Yourself

Every country and nationality has its thieves.  Don’t make it easy for them.  Don’t carry too much money at any time (check with the hotel for a safe if there is not one in your room), and don’t keep all your money in one pocket or purse – it’s a good idea to buy a money belt that you can hide under your clothing in any unknown place or big city, home or away.  Also, avoid wearing too much jewellery and flaunting what you’re wearing, as it may appear to be impolite and attract bad attention.

Losing Face

“Face” is an important concept in the eastern parts of Asia, generally, so try not to do anything that will cause another person to “lose face”.  It’s sometimes quite difficult for Westerners to understand, but, in general terms, don’t do anything that will cause embarrassment to another person, don’t behave in an aggressive manner, and don’t lose your temper in public.

Politics and Religion

It’s no different in South-East Asia from anywhere else in the world, so the general rule is don’t discuss politics or religious topics unless you are on very friendly terms with the people you are talking to. In particular, if you visit Vietnam, don’t mention the war.

What Can I Do?

As long as you behave in the same way that is expected at home, you won’t go too far wrong.  Different places do have local peculiarities, so research the area you are visiting first.  Treat people with respect and enjoy yourself.

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