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What women need to know about traveling solo in Southeast Asia – Insider

I was born and raised in Southeast Asia, so I’m familiar with the culture and customs of the region. But up until now, I had always traveled with friends and family for holidays. This year I learned that traveling for reporting work is a completely different experience. 
I spent around 40 nights staying in rentals this year, from hostels and Airbnbs to luxury resorts in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia. I also traveled by nearly every mode of transportation available, including car, sleeper train, economy and business class on budget and top airlines, yacht, cruise, ferry, and motorcycle
My itinerary wasn’t your typical holiday tour — I slept in a “haunted” hotel on a hill, visited a luxury ghost town, and even dipped my toes into Bangkok’s famous clubbing scene.
As a solo traveler and young woman, I found myself being guarded whenever I traveled alone. Here are five things every woman should know before traveling solo in Asia.
While I rarely felt unsafe during my trips around the region, there were some incidents that made me think twice about letting my guard down. 
In Chiang Mai, a northern in province in Thailand, I was approached by strangers — who looked to be tourists too — who tried to pick me up and bring me out to clubs. It set my alarm bells ringing, and I realized it was probably because it was too obvious that I was alone. 
Since then, I learned to order two of everything whenever I ate out so it appeared like I was traveling with someone else. I also pretended to speak with someone on the phone when I took ride-hailing services in shady areas so that it seemed like I had someone waiting for me at my destination.
Every country in Southeast Asia is vastly different from one another, from cuisine to language to even tolerance of tourists. What might be appropriate in one country may not be appropriate in another. 
For example, I noticed that men tended to lower their gaze in Malaysia when I had conversations or interviews with them. On the other hand, some people in Singapore talk loudly, especially in places like hawker centers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are being rude or confrontational. 
So before flying off, remember to not only read tour guides, but also watch vlogs by locals on platforms like TikTok or YouTube to have a better sense of what you can expect when traveling.
Many tourists, especially women, can be overly friendly to people who they meet in their travels, but that can easily backfire.
I avoid telling implying to strangers that I’m alone, and I decline sharing details about myself and my travels, from which hotels I’m staying at to what my itinerary is like. On the other hand, I usually send my location to a trusted family member or friend and refresh it every few hours so they know exactly where I am.
While small talk might be harmless, it’s might best to avoid trusting others too much unless you’re traveling in a group or with family and friends.
Different countries in Southeast Asia have different expectations of women, and I learned that it’s best to respect the local culture. For example, Thailand, especially in tourist areas in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, it’s usually acceptable for women to dress (nearly) however they like. 
But in countries like Malaysia, or even non-resort islands in Indonesia where there’s a large Muslim population, it’s best to dress modestly, or even better, mirror what the locals are wearing.
As I grew in Singapore, I typically like to wear light, sheer clothing, but whenever I travel alone, I prefer to cover up some skin to avoid unwanted attention.
I was traveling for work, but fortunately, I had contacts in many of the cities and provinces I visited. I found that knowing someone helped make me feel more comfortable.
In cases where I didn’t know anyone, I would reach out to a local tour guide or ask my friends to connect me with people they knew in the city.
In my most recent reporting trip, I traveled to Cyberjaya, a city touted as Malaysia’s Silicon Valley. I used networking sites like Showaround to meet up with locals there. There are also several women-only networking groups and apps, like Tourlina and NomadHer, with verified members that solo travelers can use to get to know people living in the area.
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