Much loved for its diverse culture, delicious cuisine, spectacular scenery and friendly locals, Asia is a popular destination for volunteer travelers as it provides the perfect backdrop for both first-time and seasoned travelers. If you’re planning on volunteering and traveling across Asia in 2016, this guide is for you!
Brought to you by the team of Asia experts at International Volunteer HQ, Will, Lynn, Louise, Chloe and Sarah are sharing the must-knows and tops tips for traveling and volunteering in Asia this year…
Know Your Visas
Visa requirements for volunteers differ depending on the country you are volunteering in. So you don’t turn up at the airport to simply be sent home, it’s always important for registered volunteers to check the visa section of your IVHQ Information Booklet for the type of visa required, as well as information on where and when you should obtain it. You should always check with your nearest Embassy (of the country you are heading to) to see how long it will take if you need to obtain your visa before you depart, or just for some handy advice. A great rule to stick to when volunteering with IVHQ is if you’re in doubt, check with your IVHQ Program Manager - we’re here to help you!
Image: @miss.ella.grace via Instagram
Visit Your Friendly Travel Doctor
While traveling throughout Asia, you will experience some of the most exotic and delicious food in the world! The flavors and spices will likely be very different from what you will be used to at home and while it is great to get out of your comfort zone, this will no-doubt cause a few upset stomachs. Your local doctor will be able to provide you some quick fixes for these uncomfortable moments. Traveling in Asia is also great if you are scared of needles as there are no legally required vaccinations for volunteers heading to our Asia programs! However, it is always a good idea to consult your local travel doctor prior to your trip as you may decide to obtain some optional vaccinations for your chosen destination and we will provide you with a list of recommended vaccinations. Top medications to research include anti-motion sickness tablets, anti-diarrhea tablets, antacids and some trusty Tiger Balm or hydrocortisone cream to help with those pesky itchy-bug bites.
Pack Like A Pro
The big question still remains - what is the best type of bag to pack for a volunteer trip to Asia: a backpack or a suitcase? This is something that we have covered our Should I Use A Backpack or Suitcase? post! Either way, space is precious! You don’t want to end up with items that you’ll never touch! As a volunteer, clothing that covers your chest, shoulders and knees are best. Loose cotton threads and a waterproof jacket are ideal for monsoons in Southern Asia, whereas thermals and jerseys are ideal for winter months in Northern Asia. You’ll be winning with thin, quick-drying layers and good walking shoes wherever you are. Mosquitos enjoy the warm temperatures as much as we do, so be sure to pack repellent with DEET to keep them away - you can also buy a mosquito net once in country if you need extra protection. It’s a surprise to many, but toilet paper doesn’t have a home in most Asian bathrooms, so bring a pack of tissues and hand sanitizer to keep handy when you are out. If you are bringing digital devices, a portable charger and a map app are your best friends - just remember to bring the right adapter/s to keep them charged. Finally, if you plan to bathe on one of the many beautiful beaches in Asia, pack good quality sunscreen, swimwear and sunnies as these are scarcely found throughout Asia. There is however an abundance of cheap clothing to stock up on including elephant pants, maxi skirts and classic tees - have fun shopping!
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Be Prepared For The Weather
Hot and humid are often words used to describe the weather throughout Asia, however this is not always correct. For the most part, Asia sits within the tropics and so is broadly characterized by a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the annual monsoon periods. However, it is important to remember the myriad of micro-climates throughout our program locations. Always keep in mind the weather when deciding when and where to go, or what to pack!
We recommend researching how the climate will affect you at the time you wish to volunteer abroad. A great website to check out comprehensive weather data is WeatherSpark - it has all the weather information you would ever want and then some. You can look at averages over the time frame you wish to volunteer, the implications the weather has for your volunteer travel plans as well as how to pack and prepare. You’ll then be equipped to make decisions on whether that location/time frame is right for you.
Learn The Basics
Yes, there will be a language barrier when you will be volunteering in Asia and your best option is to embrace it! You can be sure that you’ll find yourself in some funny “lost in translation” situations! Learn some of the local language before you head away, even if you can only say a few (badly pronounced) words! It really can go a long way and will be hugely appreciated by your homestay and the locals you will be working with!
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We don’t just mean while you are doing yoga!
Some Asian countries don’t always keep to a strict timetable. You need to be flexible and understanding if you find yourself, for example, turning up at the airport in a small town or city only to find your flight delayed or even canceled. Remember, it isn’t the fault of the person who is giving you the bad news. Stay calm and no matter what, be polite (you catch more flies with honey)! You should also be prepared to change your plans - not only your flight plans, but your travel plans in general. As a volunteer in Asia you’ll meet new friends heading off on adventures that you’ll want to join, and you don’t necessarily want to have locked in your travel plans not be able to join them.
Image: @sierrapaschalis via Instagram
How To Visit Temples
Get Aretha Franklin on it and R.E.S.P.E.C.T!
An amazing trail of awe-inspiring temples awaits your arrival in Asia! Whether you are taken by history, religion or architecture, your experience won’t be complete without visiting at least one temple! It is easy to become templed-out, if you try and visit them all, so quality over quantity works well.
Rule #1 - Wearing your beach kit? It ain’t okay! Don’t turn up in your your go-to beach kit. This can be offensive to locals and you may even be turned away. Hot Tip - cover your shoulders, chest and knees!
Rule #2 - Lose the Shoes! It is important to be aware of the religious customs of the temple you are visiting. Always remember to take off your shoes before entering and don’t turn your back on sacred icons/symbols. In any place of worship, keep your voice down and refrain from flashing your camera. CATCH22 ALERT - if you embrace these practises, you will be surprised at how it will affect you and your experience!
Rule #3 - SCAM ALERT! Be on the lookout for anyone trying to scam money. Tuk-Tuk drivers will often tell you the temple is closed and then offer to take you to other places where they can get commission - stay strong and if in doubt, go to the next driver, there are hundreds! Be on the lookout for any cunning young Naughts and Crosses players - they will play you to lose (and pay).
Image: @eleanorthirlway via Instagram
Avoid Tourist Traps
Tourism continues to grow rapidly throughout Asia and an increase in visitors also means an increase in unfortunate scams. It is always important to keep an eye out for these! A common trick seen throughout Asia are street children asking for money. In many cases, these children are not from the backgrounds that their appearances suggest and our local staff will encourage you to avoid giving money to children on the street. Instead, look for institutions that educate street children and identify how you can provide support.
Life’s A Beach
If you find yourself staring at an image of a beach with powdery, white sand and clear turquoise waters bordered by palm trees, chances are you’re looking at a beach somewhere in Asia. For every thumping, bustling city centre in Asia, there’s a beautiful, peaceful beach waiting around the corner. And around the next corner, there might well be a beach that turns into a thumping, bustling party centre after sunset. As with all travel, be sure to do your research to work out which spots you’re most interested in, and remember to be mindful of the beach dress-code - despite some ill-informed stereotypes, Asian dress can be quite modest and in some cases it might be best that your bikini is left at home. If in doubt, pack a long sarong and do a reconnaissance mission to check it out when you get there.
Some of our top beach locations in Asia can be found on IVHQ’s Philippines volunteer program where you are accommodated on a beautiful beach in Palawan and our Turtle Conservation project in Bali is also based on the beach (for obvious reasons). Outside of these locations, the majority of our Southeast Asia destinations are a quick trip to a beautiful beach.
IVHQ offer affordable volunteer programs in 9 destinations across Asia.