Heading to Asia? Impress Locals with Proper Tourist Etiquette

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Asia is the largest continent in the world. With hundreds of countries and thousands of unique cultures, it’s a continent rich in experiences and adventures for invested travellers. While most locals will indulge tourists, it bears emphasising that proper etiquette is still expected of visitors when in a foreign country.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind, whether you’re up the Merlion Tower or roaming around the Taj Mahal, to avoid misunderstandings and legal trouble.

Dress According to Customs and Give Due Space

Hot temperatures and personal style can tempt many to dress as little as possible, with no malice in mind. However, a few Asian countries are sensitive to the fashion choices of residents as well as tourists — specifically, their modesty and how much skin they cover up.

India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka are some countries where a conservative dress code are not only appreciated, but necessitated in some cases. Cosmopolitan cities in countries like Thailand and South Korea tend to be relaxed about clothing, though tourists will still get odd stares or downright disapproval if they dress inappropriately at holy or conservative locales.

Dressing appropriately is just a part of presenting yourself to a foreign public. Giving others their due space is also important. It may not seem like a big deal to keep close to others in a line at a convenience store, but to others, standing two feet away may seem like harassment.

Touching needs consent in general, but certain modes of affection can be deemed more inappropriate than others. Take Singapore, for example. Touching a person or child’s head is offensive for a city-state that considers the head sacred. Certain common hand and feet gestures are also considered rude.

Avoid Gawking

tourists at the beach

People watching at parks and other public spaces is a normal hobby. Literally gawking at people in foreign countries is not. Even when there are legitimate instances where watching people do what they do best, locals are not like zoo animals tourists can stare at.

If a tourist is tempted to take a picture of locals, they must obtain their consent. By obtaining permission and specifics of that permission, tourists avoid legal trouble and engender good will.

In the case of so-called ‘tribal tourism’, consent is still the key. Unless the people tourists are photographing or journaling explicitly say yes, refraining from doing so is a safe bet.

Don’t Vandalise and Respect Ground Rules

Vandalising a heritage site, a tourist spot, or any place in a foreign land is a big faux pas that can land a tourist in jail, slap them with a fine, or have them booted out of a country. If a tourist somehow manages to escape penalties, they may face scrutiny and have their movements tracked by authorities online.

In some instances, photography and videography are not allowed. Temples, sacred grounds, and private residences made open for limited public viewing usually enforce these rules. In these cases, there’s no alternative to following the no-recording rules.

Applicable to this point and all the pointers above is one thing: respect. Travelling to other countries is a privilege and akin to setting foot in someone else’s home. Tourists don’t want visitors to leave garbage in their homes or have priceless antiques maimed — neither do the locals whose countries they pay to see.

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