Traveling all over Asia is one of the best things you’ll tick off your bucket list. As the melting pot of various cultures and traditions, Asian countries are filled with wonders you wouldn’t find in any other continent. From Singapore’s luxurious districts to the Philippines’ unspoiled beaches, there’s always something in Asia to surprise you.
However, exploring Asia, especially if you’re from the west, requires proper behavior and etiquette. Being an unruly tourist in Asia can get you in serious trouble. Some countries have stricter rules for tourists than others, but almost all Asian countries expect international tourists to observe good conduct. That means you can’t go around places shirtless, for one, unless you’re at the beach.
You could say the customs in Asian society have stemmed from their religious beliefs. After all, a country’s religion shapes its society’s moral values. A Muslim country has strict dress codes, while a Catholic country has yearly traditions, from festive to solemn ones. So if you’re going to travel anywhere in Asia after the pandemic, take note of this etiquette guide, and travel in style while being respectful.
1. Follow Dress Codes
The Internet, especially Twitter, is filled with posts from users opposing dress codes. They have different reasons for doing so, but most of them support women’s empowerment. However, being against dress codes isn’t an excuse for disobeying them. At the end of the day, you’re a tourist bound to a country’s laws and regulations, as much as the locals are. You know what they say — when in Rome, do what the Romans do.
The Asian countries with the strictest dress codes are:
- North Korea — No Western-style clothing is allowed.
- Saudi Arabia — Abayas and headscarves are required for women.
- Southeast Asian countries — Shoulder and knee coverings are required, and tattoos must be hidden when visiting Buddhist temples.
- Iran — Headscarves are required for women
- United Arab Emirates — Modest clothing is required in public.
2. Observe Proper Public Transport Behavior
Different countries have different norms when it comes to public transportation. If a country relies on trains the most, you’d likely tour around its cities via train, too. Hence, your train etiquette is crucial, and it can make or break your stay in the country.
The first and most basic rule is to fall in line. Wait for your turn patiently. If you’re under a tight schedule and you can’t afford to wait in line, see if that country’s train system has a website or mobile app. SMRT, Singapore’s leading public transport operator, has a mobile app where you access real-time information about trains and other modes of transport. You can view each transport’s schedule so that you can come to the station outside rush hours when it’s not overly crowded.
Once inside the public transport, particularly a train or bus, avoid claiming the seats reserved for the elderly, pregnant women, parents with children, and persons with disabilities. Stand up and hold on to the handrails if the transport has run out of available seats. Try not to talk, eat, and drink as well. Trains and buses in Singapore, Japan, and Korea and normally very quiet and clean, so don’t ruin the peaceful atmosphere by doing something the local commuters wouldn’t do.
3. Remove Your Shoes in Places Where They’re Prohibited
In many Asian countries, most notably Japan, some places don’t allow shoes to be worn inside. You should come in barefoot or wear the indoor slippers the place provided. When you see a shoe rack outside by the entryway of a building, that’s the sign that you must remove your shoes. Don’t worry about lacking one essential garment in your photos; you’d look much cooler when you’re following rules.
Also, if you’re lodging in an Airbnb or a traditional ryokan in Japan, leave your shoes in the genkan (Japanese traditional entryways) facing outward so that it’ll be easier to wear them when you’re going out. This is a simple act that even Japanese people forget, but doing this as a tourist will make your host appreciate your effort.
4. Avoid Bringing Strong-smelling Foods to Indoor Places
Durian is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia, but it’s banned in public transport and indoor areas in Singapore. Its strong odor poses a distraction and spoils the fresh air. Bringing durian in Singaporean public transport will result in heavy fines.
Asia may seem like a highly restrictive place with intimidating societal expectations, but the rules are just a tiny part of what makes Asia unique. The wonderful attractions, untouched nature, and hospitality of the people are the things that make visiting Asia worth it, even if you have to go through a bit of culture shock first.