Weekly Travel Q&A: Solo Female Travel in Asia
Any tips for a solo female traveller in Asia?
Phoebe F., Glenelg
Full Moon Party, Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand – Photo credit
Let me take a stab at your question and do the answer justice. Whenever someone asks me about travel safety and specific preventative measures to take in specific parts of the world, I hesitate. Why do I take pause? Because circumstances on the ground are fluid and seldom set in stone. No one country, city or neighbourhood is always unsafe for women, for instance. I do agree, however, that reputations usually stem from some kernel of actual truth. The problem is when reputations blow up and become subject to exaggeration, embellishment and malicious hyperbole.
This is sometimes the fault of complex, innate cultural biases and sometimes the fault of national government policy – or both. I know a lot of people in America who castigate Cuba as unsafe, dirty and dangerous, for example, when as we know full well, the U.S. forbids tourism to the island. So why the vitriol? Part Cold War propaganda, part whatever the opposite of the old maxim “familiarity breeds comfort” is. (Meanwhile, snowbirds from Canada flock to Cuba en masse throughout the winter.)
But on to Asia and how best to determine a prudent course of action for a solo female on the move. Let us summarise some pertinent government travel alerts for the likes of China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia from both Australia and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, shall we? Take it as a general guide for travel throughout the continent.
From the F.C.O.: There are occasional incidents with pedicab drivers who insist the passenger misunderstood the fare (pedicabs are not metered). Foreign females travelling alone are particular targets.
From smartraveller.gov.au: Women travelling alone should take particular care in all parts of India. Women travellers often receive unwanted attention and we continue to receive reports of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men against Western women. There have been a number of sexual offences reported against foreign women, including in New Delhi and Goa. Women should exercise vigilance, and avoid walking alone at night in less populous and unlit areas, including city streets, village lanes and beaches. We have received reports of harassment against women travelling alone at night, particularly in taxis and auto rickshaws.
From the F.C.O.: There have been incidents of sexual offences committed against foreign men and women, especially in the Koh Samui archipelago. Since 2009, a number of British nationals were victims of serious sexual offences.
From smartraveller.gov.au: The Full Moon Parties at Koh Phangan and in other locations regularly result in reports of sexual assaults, deaths, arrests, robbery, injuries, drug abuse and lost travel documents.
From the F.C.O.: Do not open your hotel room door to strangers, even those wearing hotel uniform, and especially late at night. This applies particularly to women travelling alone.
From smartraveller.gov.au: Cases of robbery and temporary confinement in taxis have been reported in urban areas, particularly in Jakarta. Victims have been forced to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at ATMs to obtain their release. Lone female travellers appear most vulnerable. You should only use official taxi companies that can be booked by phone or from stands at major hotels and from inside the airport. You should check taxis carefully as unscrupulous operators have vehicles that look similar to those run by reputable companies.