Dressing ethical in Southeast Asia
As we pack our bags for a wonderful holiday to Southeast Asia we think of the white sand beaches, the always shining sun, and the friendly smiles. We pack our swimsuit, our singlets, our shorts, our flipflops. Our toothbrush, sun cream and underwear come in last. The suitcase is full and we weigh it on our scale. We high five our partner and take pride that we are able to fit three weeks of clothing and consumables into a 23kg suitcase. What we packed is what we need. But is what we packed prove of good ethical behavior to present ourselves in Southeast Asia?
Little do we pay attention to the clothing we should be packing. Clothes like closed shoes, long trousers, a blouse or polo or perhaps even a thin jacket. Not only is it more convenient to wear closed shoes when you climb up and down ancient old stairs, but many sacred places in Southeast Asia require you to wear the proper attire to visit the holy site. The people of Southeast Asia generally also look up to westerners. The better dressed a westerner represents him- or herself, the more respect one can expect. Can you imagine what it would be like if you would display proper ethical behavior?
Ethical behavior in Southeast Asia
It is a well known fact that many countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar can be very prudish countries. A kiss in public may not be accepted by all of its citizens. Smoking is something that is very little practiced and people generally follow a very conservative lifestyle.
In tourist resorts like Luang Prabang, Siem Reap and Bagan, or the Thai and Vietnamese beach resorts for that matter it is a challenge to get tourists to follow the local ethical code. Tourists often disregard ethical behavior in such places. As a result many local people have been influenced by the way tourists behave, or provide what westerners want. And not everything that tourists do is good, and certainly not everything they want is good either.
Ethical behavior in countries like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam is simply challenging. Not because it is hard to understand, but because we do not take the time to educate ourselves about the ethics of the destination. Cover your knees and shoulders when you visit a pagoda or temple, take of your hat and sunglasses at sacred places, and take off your shoes when you enter a home or building.
The ideal tourist
To be an ideal tourist is perhaps too much to ask for. To learn how to greet one another by gesture and language, to know the basics of tolerance in society and to adhere to the local dress code already make up for an incredible start.
We at Lolei Travel also had to learn all of these customs and habits and daily benefit socially from having learned these. It makes traveling more fun and certainly improves communication with your host. To follow a few very basic do’s and to stay away from most of the don’ts will simply open up a world of respect and acceptance. People may treat you differently. They will ask you how you got to know how to greet their traditional way. It starts a conversation almost instantly. And those are the conversations that not only will teach you about the local people. It also makes you feel welcome and respected. And last but not least, when dressed well and behaving properly, it grants you not only access to all sites, but also to people’s hearts!