Published on January 5th, 2017 | by Passport & Plates
Why SE Asia is great for muslim travellers
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
I remember the first time I went to South East Asia. I’d spent the summer working in Jakarta, Indonesia and decided to finish off my summer with a whirlwind adventure across Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand (my younger sister in tow).
The two of us were fasting Ramadan (oy). This was extra tricky because we wanted to sample all the mouth-watering eats of South East Asia. Being savvy foodies, we picked our one meal of the day very carefully. The main struggle: Thailand – a place that was by no means halal-friendly. Back in 2012, we had to turn down a lot of (what I’m assuming were) delicious dishes, since it was basically impossible to figure out which ones contained pork. I decided that most of Asia would be hard for Muslim travellers.
Fast-forward to 2016, when I returned to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand on Geckos Adventures’ Discover Bangkok to Singapore tour. Of course, I was worried that I’d be struggling with food options again. But to my surprise, Thailand has become much more conscious of Muslim travellers (yay!). While Malaysia was the only Muslim-majority country visited on the tour, Thailand and Singapore both seemed incredibly Muslim-friendly – and I’m not just talking about the cuisine. Here’re five reasons why Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are great destinations for Muslim travellers.
While I don’t adhere strictly to eating halal, I definitely don’t eat pork. Which is a bit of a struggle, since pork’s a staple protein in most Singaporean and Thai cuisine! Thankfully, there’s been a huge growth in halal food options in both countries recently. Singapore openly displays “halal-friendly” at many of its restaurants, and I rarely found myself somewhere where I wasn’t able to enjoy the food. I found a ton of halal restaurants in Southern Thailand (maybe because it’s so close to Malaysia), and even in Bangkok it was much easier to find halal food this time around.
Pro tip for Muslim travellers: always check before eating because some dishes are made with pork lard!
Even though I personally don’t attend Friday prayer at the mosque, I love seeing different mosques around the world (how amazing is the architecture?!). But other Muslim travellers do want the option to attend prayer while on the road. Luckily, mosques can be found in most major cities throughout South East Asia. As I found out from Places You Pray, you can technically pray anywhere! But mosques are an added bonus.
Prayer indicators in hotel rooms
I remember the first time I travelled to a Muslim-majority country. In my hotel room in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, I spotted a little sticker on the ceiling. I had no idea what it was, but later learned that it shows which direction you’re supposed to pray. (FYI, this was before smartphones and prayer apps). But the cool thing is, most hotels in Muslim-majority countries still have them. It may seem like a small thing, but I know that lots of Muslim travellers really appreciate it.
To be honest, I rarely encounter other Arab or Muslim travellers on the road. I went to two countries with my mom last year, and she was the only person I saw wearing a hijab over the course of three whole weeks. Her hijab was met with a lot of curious looks and questions – not that she minded. But in South East Asia, Muslims are pretty much everywhere! Not only is it nice to have other Muslims around, I felt a lot more at ease and safe.
To be honest, as long as I can get food without pork, I’m pretty flexible in terms of where I stay, pray and play. However, many Muslim travellers (especially women who wear hijabs) prefer hotels with prayer rooms, halal food restaurants and separate facilities for men and women. Although these hotels aren’t all over South East Asia, there are definitely more than a few options in Singapore and Thailand for Muslims seeking this.
At the end of the day, the lack of many of these things isn’t a travel deal-breaker for me. Still, being a foodie globetrotter, I’ve struggled with food options in various places. The great news is that South East Asia (well, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand at least) is no longer a region in which Muslims have to worry about a lack of halal food options or being mistreated because of their religion. My fellow Muslim travellers? I totally recommend you head to South East Asia sometime soon. Happy travels!
Sally travelled on our Discover Bangkok to Singapore small group adventure. Check it out here!
All photos in this blog were taken by Sally Elbassir.