Female travellers in Indochina

Female travellers in Vietnam
Vietnam has been strongly influenced by Confucianism, so men regard women as subservient, as do most women. It doesn’t really affect female travellers, apart from an almost universal assumption that a male companion will automatically be the one in charge, and therefore the one to be addressed. Attempting to be politically correct is likely to be met with blank incomprehension.

Your manner of dress and behaviour is important. It’s a common belief among Vietnamese men that ‘western women’ are very liberated, and therefore an easy lay! This belief will be strengthened if you wear ‘sexy’ clothes, and you may well attract unwelcome attention. Ostentatious ‘male’ behaviour, such as drinking beer and/or smoking, will also help to confirm that you are available.

For this reason, it’s wise to avoid tight shorts, hot pants, figure-hugging tops and low cut blouses. Teeny bikinis are not a good idea, and topless sunbathing immediately attracts a crowd of male admirers who will stand and stare at you. It’s also highly likely to land you in trouble with police.`

Apart from the behaviour of men, Vietnamese women are embarrassed when visitors expose large areas of flesh. They’re also perplexed about why anyone would wish to sunbathe – in Vietnam, a white skin is considered beautiful by men and women. A sun tan identifies you as a peasant.

Single women travellers tend to attract more notice, as Vietnamese women seldom travel, and those that do seldom travel alone. However, providing you don’t call attention to yourself by your appearance and ignore would-be admirers, the most you’ll get is minor nuisances from time to time.

Female travellers in Cambodia and Laos
Even though Cambodia has taken on aspects of the Thai sex trade, Kh’mer men have a reputation for politeness and courtesy towards women. Because prostitution is a serious offence in Laos, and is therefore much less common than in Vietnam, Laos is probably the least likely country in Asia for you to encounter sexual harassment.

Laotian men are less likely to associate a women drinking alcohol or smoking with being a prostitute. However, the advice about dressing appropriately and not drawing attention to yourself holds good in both countries.

Practical issues.
You’ll find it quite hard to find tampons in Vietnam, so it’s wise to bring a supply with you. Toiletries here are mostly low-quality, and non-allergic products are as rare as snow in June.

Clothes are plentiful and cheap, but most tailor-made garments are designed to fit the Vietnamese frame. Ethnic minority materials and garments are very attractive, but often not colourfast.

If you’re likely to be riding on the back of a motorbike, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of trousers. The alternative is to sit side-saddle, which is quite scary if you’re not used to it.

Health issues
The humid climate prevalent throughout Indochina encourages the growth of vaginal fungal infections such as thrush and candidia. Antibiotics, tights, synthetic material and the contraceptive pill can exacerbate the condition.

If you’re prone to such infections, it might be wise to consult you doctor for suitable medication in advance, or douche regularly with a weak solution of lemon juice or vinegar. Loose fitting silk or linen garments and cotton underwear should help towards preventing discomfort.

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