Visiting the Islands in Southeast Asia
Feeling good on a warm, tropical island isn’t really all that difficult. With plenty of relaxation and vitamin D to be enjoyed, who doesn’t feel on top of the world when the sea is just a few feet away? But there are ways to feel even better, long after you leave.
Apply these tips while on the gorgeous islands in Southeast Asia to feel alive and rejuvenated even once you trade sand for concrete back home.
Watch Out for Sugary Shakes
Fresh fruit is on offer throughout the islands of Southeast Asia. And while local (sometimes even bizarre) fruit can be a delicious, healthy choice, many travelers opt to cool down with fruit shakes sold by carts and restaurants on the islands. The average fruit shake contains around a cup of sugar blended with a liberal amount of ice and only a small portion of fruit. While fruit shakes are indeed tasty and refreshing on a scorching, tropical afternoon, the truth is that you’re drinking mostly sugar water that is flavored with a small amount of fruit. Many fruits naturally contain a lot of sugar, anyway.
The sudden spikes in blood sugar may make you too lazy to leave the lounge chair later. Either ask for your fruit shakes to be made without sugar or opt to buy your own fruit from the local markets and then enjoy it on the beach.
Take Advantage of Fresh Coconuts
Rather than opting for those admittedly delicious coconut shakes mentioned above, you’ll find fresh drinking coconuts for sale on all the islands. Vendors will hack them open and stick a straw inside so that you can drink directly from the coconut. Coconuts are an excellent source of potassium and other perfectly balanced electrolytes that you need after sweating and enjoying those daytime cocktails. Don't worry: Unlike coconut milk, coconut water is extremely low in fat.
While beach vendors may be walking the sand to offer coconuts for sale, sometimes they are lukewarm and maybe even aged and bitter. You’ll often find chilled, young coconuts by buying them on the street or from beach restaurants.
Understand the Power of the Sun
Pretty much the whole of Southeast Asia is located in the tropical zone; only the northern part of Myanmar juts into the subtropics. You’ll be closer to the equator than you can get in even Florida or California, and the sun will be exponentially stronger.
While earning a good, envy-inducing tan is a tradition on vacation, getting burned is a serious no-no for many reasons. Don’t suffer later; limit your time in the sun and use a high SPF until you really grasp just how powerful the rays can be in the tropics.
Watch Out for the Mosquitoes
The price of paradise includes dealing with an abundance of insects. Bites are an annoyance and dengue fever is endemic to all the islands in Southeast Asia. Mosquitoes tend to go for the ankles; bites can become infected and fester in wet, humid environments. Be particularly mindful for guarding against bites from mosquitoes that lurk under tables around dinnertime as the sun sets.
That mosquito net in your bungalow isn’t there just to enhance the romance -- use it! Keep nets closed during the day so that biters can’t get trapped inside.
Get Some Exercise
While islands are all about relaxation, being active a little by day will greatly enhance your sleep later. Fortunately, no visits to a sweaty gym are required. Exercise could be as simple and enjoyable as going for an extended walk on the beach to explore your island.
Swimming is a great way to cool down and get your internal fluids moving after reading in the shade all day. If getting up early on vacation doesn’t terrify you, many resorts offer yoga classes in the mornings.
Try Something New
Islands are a great way to get away from it all, but the brain still begs to be engaged a little. Put down the smartphone and learn something new. You’ll be happy that you finished your vacation with a new experience rather than just a temporary tan!
Options for new experiences include scuba diving, snorkeling, renting a scooter to explore the island, parasailing, jet skis, or taking a jungle trek to the island interior. Koh Tao, an island in Thailand, even has an outdoor trapeze school. All these experiences will make your dopamine receptors happy and you’ll have a great memory to share later.
Unplug a Little
Internet speeds are notoriously slow on many islands; think: dial-up circa 1990. Calling home by using Skype is going to be painful, and the islands often aren’t the best place to upload all those new photos. Your mobile phone may not work at all. Even electricity may be generator-powered and whimsical. The Gili Islands in Indonesia and the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia both suffer from brownouts throughout the day. Be careful when charging fragile devices as power surges and sags may cause damage.
Arrive on the island with all electronic toys nicely charged and unplug yourself for a few days rather than fighting with too much technology.
Understand That Islands Are More Expensive
For the most part, the islands in Southeast Asia are exponentially cheaper than Hawaii or other islands in Caribbean and Europe. But if you’ve just spent too much time on the mainland, you will notice that the prices on islands are generally higher. There’s a good reason: if something can’t be produced on the island, it must be brought over by boat and offloaded. Quite a few extra middlemen are involved in putting that bottle of water in your hand. Don’t feel overcharged by comparing prices to what you encountered before coming to the island.
From toothpaste to sunscreen, bring what you need to the island and wait until you get back to the city to do your shopping or to make practical purchases.
Prepare for Island Speed
Maybe a cliché, but it’s true: life moves slower on the islands. People operate on "island time." Delays are inevitable. Don’t expect the same speed or quality of service you would normally see in hotels and restaurants on the mainland. And depending upon the resupply boats, don’t be surprised if something you want to eat or drink isn’t available as indicated on the menu.
Avoid frustration and a potential loss of face by slowing down and enjoying the pace of island life.