With many of Asia’s top destinations making it into the news in late 2015 and early 2016, we break down what travellers need to know about safety throughout our destinations in Asia this year.
Safety – it’s one of the Buffalo team’s top priorities for travellers who explore Asia with us. Alongside creating culturally-immersive experiences, we put safety for our travellers as a top priority with every journey we create. We can’t always control every risk while travelling, though, so we are also dedicated to giving you the information you need to travel in comfort.
Asia-bound travellers this year are understandably cautious about the destinations they plan to visit. Some cities have popped up on the safety radar after terrorism and natural disasters seem to be an increasing problem. But as the same with most travel destinations around the world, no destination is as safe (or as unsafe) as our favourite news stations can make it appear.
So is it safe to travel to Asia in 2016? Here’s what you need to know about travel and safety in all of our destinations this year.
Vietnam is a fascinating and beautiful country with a rich and vibrant history. Though many that think of Vietnam first imagine its history of war, Vietnam is now a beautifully peaceful country that remains a favourite among visitors heading to Southeast Asia.
As of early 2016, Vietnam remains one of the least-likely destinations to experience terrorism or significant violence. The country remains on a low threat of terrorism, and nearly all visitors who come to the country can explore its best destinations without fear of violence of harm.
That said, Vietnam is prone to more extreme weather than other parts of Asia – with some changes in weather patterns brought on by El Nino – but rarely will these storms have any major affect on itineraries beyond delay. Most areas in Vietnam’s biggest cities popular with tourists have decent infrastructure to deal with inclement weather like rain or tropical cyclones. We do recommend you bring a raincoat to keep things dry and comfortable during your travels!
Our top safety tips for Vietnam:
- Carry sturdy, crossbody bags that will be difficult to snatch
- Come prepared with rain-ready clothing, regardless of the season
- Research travel companies well before booking – some tourist scams are possible even within bigger cities, so work with a reputable company when booking tours
Spectacularly remote and lush, Laos is a truly fantastic destination for the adventurous. In Laos, there is a low threat of terrorism and a vast majority of visitors to Laos explore the country in comfort and safety. Laos is, however, a developing country, so travelling here is easiest with a tour company who can help you to connect the dots between your destinations where English might be limited.
Laos’ history with the war in Vietnam has left some rural areas at risk for unexploded ordnances, so it is best to stay on well-marked trails unless you are with a guide. Rarely will visitors have an issue with this if they visit popular destinations. Laos is also a beautiful country with a number of colourful ethnic minority communities, so exploring these areas with the help of a local guide is recommended for truly unforgettable experiences with locals!
Our top safety tips for Laos:
- Plan travels between cities and attractions beforehand – infrastructure is still developing
- Always go with a knowledgeable guide or follow clearly marked paths for trekking and outdoor excursions
- Pack bug spray and mosquito repellent to avoid disease carried by mosquitoes
Indonesia welcomed nearly 10 million visitors to the country in 2015. A vast majority of these visitors explored the country trouble-free. Good infrastructure and security in Indonesia makes the country’s most-visited destinations quite safe for foreign visitors on holiday. Most embassies in Indonesia will still recommend a high level of caution while travelling in Indonesia’s biggest cities – a recommendation that has remained consistent in the country since early 2014.
Following 2016 attacks in Jakarta – Indonesia’s capital city – many embassies are recommending additional caution in particular areas in the country. The most caution should be practiced in Aceh, Central Sulawesi and Maluku provinces, where scattered incidences of violence occurred in recent years. Recent threats to major areas in Bali have put the area on higher alert than usual, and the threats were met with additional border controls and enhanced police presence to put travellers here at ease. Ash clouds from volcanoes around the islands also sometimes pose issues, but these issues are closely monitored by travel companies like Buffalo Tours to limit disruption to a trip.
When travelling with a guided tour company like Buffalo Tours, additional safety measures are practiced in regards to hotels, attractions and commutes. With on-the-ground support in Bali, we are ready and able to change travel arrangements in response to any safety concerns for travellers while on holiday. We recommend following the advice of our expert tour guides who understand the local risks well, and can help you to travel the country in comfort.
Our top safety tips for Indonesia:
- When possible, avoid large and crowded gatherings – especially political demonstrations
- Do your research before visiting less-travelled destinations – and do so with a reputable tour company if you still plan to visit these areas
- Subscribe to embassy or travel company safety updates for your phone and email during your journey
Malaysia’s most popular cities remain trouble-free for a vast majority of visitors here. While there are sometimes political demonstrations in central Kuala Lumpur, these gatherings are usually well-reported via local media and are monitored by the Buffalo Tours team. Most embassies will advise being vigilant in large political gatherings, but it is unlikely that visitors will ever see these demonstrations themselves. Malaysian law does not permit foreigners being involved in political demonstrations, so ask your guide to help you steer clear during your visit.
Most embassies will place Malaysia at a general threat for terrorism, but this rating has remained largely unchanged since 2014. Malaysia is also a multicultural but largely Muslim country, so we recommend being aware of local customs and laws – as well as how to travel here respectively of local culture and religion. As with most places in Asia, we recommend carrying sturdy cross-body bags to avoid petty incidences of theft, which are rare but possible.
Our top safety tips for Malaysia:
- Follow local media regularly to avoid political demonstrations
- Research and respect religious customs – pack more conservative clothing for visits to religious sites
- Avoid petty theft by carrying sturdy crossbody bags or wallets under your clothing
Following an explosion in central Bangkok in mid-2015, many travellers coming to Thailand felt uneasy about the safety of the country. Overall, Thailand is a very safe country for visitors, where good tourism infrastructure promises a comfortable and memorable experience. While there is a cited high level of terrorism in Thailand, this rating has remained consistent for over a year – during which time a vast majority of travel here was trouble-free. Plus, Buffalo Tours is happy to report that within 12 hours of the incident, all of our customers were accounted for and necessary travel arrangements made for changes.
For those who would like to stay vigilant about risks within major cities like Bangkok, local media is very up-to-date and will provide guidance for precautions travellers should take. With the military currently in control of the Thai government, it is best to avoid political demonstrations – which is a recommendation for nearly every country in Asia. With a guided tour company, additional precautions are taken on-the-day for attractions, so guided tours will most likely stay out of harm’s way.
Our top safety tips for Thailand:
- Follow local media on updates regarding demonstrations, incidences and additional safety regulations in the city
- Be mindful of political speech – avoid discussion about government and royal figures when possible
- Be mindful of religious and cultural customs – pack more conservative clothing for visits to religious sites
For the tens of thousands of travellers finally exploring the fascinating nation of Myanmar, a vast majority of their trips are safe and enjoyable. In Myanmar, limited political and social unrest is centered mainly in areas that are not frequented by tourists, and so the main cities that most will visit during their stay are very safe. Border areas with Thailand, Laos or China may have some risks that other areas will not, but moving through these areas with travel companies will take particular precautions to keep you comfortable and safe.
Following some unrest in Karen and Mon States, travellers to Myanmar are advised to practic caution in these areas – but they are not heavily visited. Though some small disruptions in Rangoon, Taungoo and Sagaing in 2013 put the threat of terrorism as a “high”, this has remained unchanged since then and is meant as a precautionary measure. Travellers are generally advised not to film or photograph police, demonstrations, military installments or military personnel.
Our top safety tips for Myanmar:
- If you plan to travel outside of major tourist destinations, do so with an established tour company
- Avoid filming or taking photos of large political gatherings or demonstrations
- When travelling to the beach resorts in Ngapali Beach, plan transfer there with an established travel company in advance to avoid delay or disruptions
Beyond some short-term issues with haze from neighbouring Indonesia’s wildfires, Singapore remains a safe and healthy travel destination. As a highly-developed and carefully protected city-state, rarely will visitors feel unsafe even when travelling even at night. Travellers should be aware that this security also comes with stronger enforcement of drinking and smoking in public areas, and should read up on local laws to avoid any issues.
Singapore takes its laws regarding drugs very seriously, so travellers are advised to stay away from this entirely during their visit. Generally, Singapore’s public transportation, hotels and nightlife is extremely safe in comparison to its neighbouring nations, and visitors here can enjoy its glitter and charm undisturbed by violence or risk of harm.
Our top safety tips for Singapore:
- Understand local law, and avoid any and all controlled substances while in Singapore
- Do not carry alcohol outside of established bars, as public intoxication carries heavier penalties in Singapore than other destinations
China & Hong Kong
The political state of China makes this a safe destination for foreign travellers heading to major cities. Spoken English is limited in more rural areas and even in more developed cities, so travel with a guide will make a journey safe and much more comfortable. Within big cities where factories are present, air pollution can sometimes become a problem.
The Chinese government have begun enforcing strong requirements on pollutants to combat the problem, and most information on air quality levels is easily found online or via special apps. Most travellers are advised not to travel to Tibet, as there are special permits required for travel to this area.
Hong Kong, being a highly developed and safe destination in general, is a great destination to explore without fear of violence or harm. There is a consistently low threat of terrorism and beyond infrequent incidences of pick-pocketing as common in most big cities, Hong Kong is a very safe destination in 2016.
Our top safety tips for China & Hong Kong:
- Follow local media or download air quality index apps to stay updated during your travels
- Plan your transportation between your destinations in advance to avoid delay by traffic or weather
- Travel with a local registered guide or travel company – English is not widely spoken and can make getting around more difficult
Cambodia remains a consistently safe and comfortable travel destination when explored alongside a guide and travel company. As with most developing countries, some incidences of petty theft and pick-pocketing can occur, but with the right precautions this can be avoided entirely.
With some changes in political atmosphere, tensions are slightly higher than usual, so most travellers are advised to avoid large political gatherings and demonstrations when possible. Most events are regularly monitored by local and international media, so most embassies will advise visitors to stay updated with this information.
Cambodia does have tumultuous weather during rainy season, but this is unlikely to have a major affect on your travels beyond delay. Make sure to bring a raincoat to keep your journey comfortable!
Our top safety tips for Cambodia:
- Plan your travel between destinations ahead of time and with the guidance of a travel company to avoid weather disruptions or scams
- Carry a sturdy crossbody bag or wallets in front pockets to avoid petty theft
- Avoid political gatherings especially in major cities – stay tuned with local media for updates on where these occur
* All foreign travel advice is sourced from www.Gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, updated as of 20 January 2016. Buffalo Tours also follows SmartTraveller for info on travel safety. We will continue to update this article with new information. Check here for the most up-to-date information on travel safety in these regions.