Prepare for the Unexpected While Traveling in Southeast Asia

Abigail Pratt
Prepare for the Unexpected While Traveling in Southeast Asia

What the countless travel blogs on the web fail to highlight are the unexpected illnesses, injuries, or trip interruptions you need to know how to protect yourself against before traveling. The unexpected awaits you in any destination and in Southeast Asia, the unexpected takes on different forms in every one of its countries.

Southeast Asia has been amongst the fastest growing destinations in the world since 2012. In recent years, Singapore ranks as the wealthiest and least corrupt country, while maintaining a Parliamentary Republic. Malaysia exceeds expectations of growth as a 'newly industrialized' country under the rule of a Federal Constitutional Monarchy.

Thailand grows while overcoming its well-known unpredictable political conflicts and volatile natural disasters. Indonesia is as prosperous as ever with a new political transition to Democracy and an economic challenge of poverty amongst its dense population.


map of Southeast Asia


Beginning to Prepare — A Starting Point

Create a standard travel checklist:

  1. Check for travel alerts and warnings
  2. Obtain a passport: United States; United Kingdom
  3. Buy a travel guide
  4. Download navigation, translation, conversion applications:

Tools to assist you in precarious circumstances, no matter your mode of transportation in Southeast Asia will help protect you from the unexpected. A key tip: all Southeast Asian countries consider a valid passport as one that extends six months beyond the dates of your trip. It is also a good idea to have the contact information and address of the nearest Embassy of your home country available.


vacation cabana on the beach


Survival Tools — Organize and Be Ready

Surviving the Southeast Asian climate and cultural challenges whilst living out of one bag is simple. It requires being knowledgeable about the changes when traveling to, for example, Singapore versus Thailand, etc. Southeast Asia is close to the equator and experiences warmer temperatures putting foreign travelers at risk for severe sunburn, bug bites, and physical exhaustion. If you are not prepared, you put yourself in harm's way. Here, are protective measures you will want to build a supply cache with:

  • Wear UV treated clothing, wide brimmed hat, long pants and shirts, sunglasses
  • Sunscreen SPF 40 and Lip Balm
  • Avoid sunlight between 11am — 3pm
  • First Aid-Kit, bug spray, ankle brace, anti-itch cream, pain killers
  • Bottled water, avoid any unfiltered water
  • Sealed, dry food snack

Your supplies are only as good as your storage method. More than likely you will be carrying all of your belongings in one backpack, so you can't afford to mistreat, lose, or ruin your supply cache. A backpack designed specifically for travel, versus hiking or camping, is highly recommended because it is accessible from the side, versus a hiking pack that has a drawstring top and an extra flap to open. Choosing the right pack for traveling can help you avoid unexpected trip interruptions and injuries.

  • Bag needs to be proportionate to your body frame to prevent sore joints or strained back muscles
  • Multiple compartments internally and externally for maximum organization to prevent misplacement or lose of items
  • Bag with an additional zip-off bag to attach to the front of your body for even weight distribution, keep valuables within eyesight
  • Bag that attaches to your waist with a built-in strap to prevent theft on the street, which can happen anywhere in Southeast Asia

Proper storage of all supplies includes storing them in a single, water-resistant, insulated, and padded bag clearly labeled. Having these items in a designated place on your person and easily accessible is the key to preparedness when the unexpected strikes.


Thai market


A preventative measure against unexpected illnesses and injuries includes the type of clothing you wear. Synthetic fabrics are the easiest to travel with for their light weight, flexible, durable wrinkle-resistant qualities, while being easy to hand wash and quick to dry. A synthetic fiber will be efficient to clean off any bacteria or viruses picked up from bus or motorcycle seats, markets or restaurants that your body does not have immunity for like the locals do.

Read more about travel clothing here, and be sure to see the last paragraph for the bullet list of recommended sources.


Defining the Unexpected- Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia

No matter where you travel in Southeast Asia the threat of an unexpected illness, injury, or another type of trip interruption is always a possibility. When traveling to the more popular tourist countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, or Indonesia, the types of unexpected dangers are specific to the individual areas, as well as, a risk in any of the four.


downtown Bangkok buses


Some of the common risk factors in Southeast Asian countries are illnesses like Malaria, Rabies, or Dengue Fever; injuries like bus or motorcycle accidents; and monkey attacks. You could experience trip interruptions as the victim of petty crimes like stolen credit card information; scam, natural disasters- like tsunamis, earthquakes, monsoons, and volcanoes; or a terrorist attack, specific to the larger cities.

Fortunately, there are ways to prepare yourself for the unexpected illness, injury or trip interruption. The CDC has in-depth information about the health and safety of travelers.

Here are some things you need to know about the four main tourist destinations:


Trip Interruption




Breaking strongly enforced laws of "outrage of modesty" — specifically men behaving inappropriately towards women and can lead to imprisonment

Bus accident threats in Hokkaido — highly congested city due to tourism

Hepatitis A could be transmitted through contaminated food/water— no matter where you are eating or staying



Break outs of Dengue fever occur during rainy monsoon months — no vaccine, take extra precaution against mosquito bites


Kidnapping threats

Bus crash — specifically in Kuala Lumpur the largest city

Tetanus-diphtheria — ensure you have been revaccinated within the last 10 years before departure

Drug and robbery threats are prevalent near downtown — after midnight or after enlisting prostitution services

Malaria is not a serious threat in coastal and urban areas — like in forested, hilly, and underdeveloped areas


Japanese encephalitis has occurred in Penany, Parak, Salangor, Johore, and Sarawak in 2014 — vaccine IXIARO is recommended 1 week before travel


Credit card fraud or valuables robbed from bag are common —if you choose to sleep on a bus

Stolen passport — when using it as collateral for a Jet Ski or motorcycle rental

Gang attacks turned violent, and sexual assaults or robberies against men or women have been reported in Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, and Krabi

Most vaccinations are not required before visiting Thailand, so it is even more important you have regular vaccinations completed before traveling here


Scammed by a stranger — it is not Thai custom to approach strangers or offer unsolicited advice and assistance

Motorcycle accidents, most used mode of transportation, law states a safety helmet must be worn — overall poor vehicle and driver safety standards

If you have to have a prescription filled —pharmacies in Thailand won't dispense any opiate pain killers or mood-altering drugs


Petty crime, time share schemes, drink spiking, credit card scams, particularly in Bali and Lombok, Kuta, temples of Besakih and Tanah Lot — avoid leaving valuables in hotel rooms

Sports injuries due to poor judgment of sports operators — specifically in Gunung Rinjani in Lombok

Prerequisite vaccinations are not required before entering Thailand — only if you are arriving from a country at risk of yellow fever



Severe penalties for possession of illegal narcotics in all of Indonesia

Click here to see detailed drug laws in Indonesia


Cut by coral reef — stay within the flags at all Indonesia beaches avoid any coral

If you have to have a prescription filled —pharmacies in Thailand wont dispense any opiate pain killers or mood-altering drugs


Violent gang related attacks have occurred in Kulirik and Leya Jaya

Consult the Experts

Consulting a travel doctor before leaving for your trip is vital, even if you are fit, active, young, or healthy. An expert can advise on the potential unexpected dangers you will encounter while abroad, and recommend a course of action in protecting yourself from geographic specific illnesses, i.e. food poison, typhoid, malaria or hepatitis A and B. Not every prescribed preventative medication listed in this blog is right for everyone.

Your travel doctor will be able to individualize your regiment the best for you and what you are the most susceptible to based on your medical history. Learn more about immunization in this blog post.

Travel medical insurance coverage for the duration of your trip minimizes the effects of unexpected events, and it is likely your current health insurance provider will not cover you outside of your home country. With a travel medical insurance plan you will benefit from the relationships your travel insurance provider has established with the doctors and hospitals in Southeast Asia.

A medical insurance provider will also cover most travel-related illnesses or injuries and may fly you out of the country to receive the appropriate health care. It is the company's job to think of these unexpected occurrences for you so there are procedures in place if events such as kidnappings or the need to be evacuated occur while abroad.


Major Benefits of Travel Medical Insurance with WorldTrips:

A travel medical insurance plan can help prepare against unexpected illness, injury, or trip interruptions. Get a free quote here.

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