Ramadan in Southeast Asia: Travel tips during fasting month

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May 26 marks the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which sees Muslims from all over the world strictly observe one of the five pillars of the religion — fasting. For one month, Muslims (with the exception of the sick, pregnant or breastfeeding women and travellers) abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and any acts of intimacy from dawn until sunset.

Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Mindanao in the Philippines are home to a significant number of the Muslim population. During this holy month, you will notice these places are a little quieter than usual, with bars and Muslim-owned establishments closed during the day or operating on shorter hours. There may also be fewer events going on. Most tourists would see travelling to a mostly Muslim country during this period as inconvenient, but there is a wealth of new experiences to be gained and new local traditions to be discovered. So, if you’re travelling during Ramadan, here are some tips on how you can be respectful and make the most of your trip. And, if you haven’t starting planning yet, search for flights on Cheapflights.com.sg.

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Head to the food markets

Ramadan in Southeast Asia
Phalinn Ooi, Ramadhan, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

You know what’s ironic about Ramadan? Although it involves abstaining from food, it’s also very much about food. Apart from the abundant Ramadan buffets on offer at malls and hotels, the holy month also sees the surfacing of street markets called “Pasar Ramadhan” or “Bazaar Ramadhan.” These markets host long lines of street stalls, which usually open around 4 p.m., selling all sorts of gastronomical offerings from usual street grub like fish balls to local favourites such as satay or nasi lemak and sweet bite-sized snacks called kuih.

In Singapore, you’ll find the biggest markets in Geylang Serai. In Kuala Lumpur, head to Wangsa Maju and Kampung Baru for the best street eats. In Jakarta, one of the best and most popular is Pasar Bendungan Hilir (or Benhil for short), while travellers in Yogyakarta can check out Pasar Ramadhan Kauman for some authentic Javanese fare.

Make reservations

Ramadan in Southeast Asia
Prayitno, Cafe Batavia, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

If you think you can you can just walk into a restaurant (especially if it’s the weekend or if it’s one of the more popular halal establishments) from 6 to 8 p.m., you will be disappointed. Not only are the restaurants at their busiest around this time, but it will also be next to impossible to find a table since the place will most likely be packed with people breaking fast, or buka puasa as it is called. To make sure you get a table at the restaurant of your choice, we suggest booking in advance, preferably the night before. You may want to take a look at the menu as well since some restaurants will ask for your orders in advance, too.

Be sensitive to people who are fasting

Ramadan in Southeast Asia
John Ragai, In Focus, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Non-Muslim tourists may not be required to fast, but it is, of course, considered an unspoken rule to respect locals who have been fasting the whole day by refraining from eating, drinking or engaging in public displays of affection while in their presence. While most locals would say they don’t mind, it would be polite to apologize or ask permission if eating and drinking in front of them is unavoidable.

Break fast with locals

Ramadan in Southeast Asia
Matthew Hine, nasi lemak, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Lucky are those who get invited by locals for buka puasa. As locals, they know the best places for dinner and, if the dinner is at their residence, you’ll get to try some authentic home-cooked local cuisine. When dining with locals, remember to dress modestly and eat with your right hand — dining with your left is considered rude in Muslim culture.

For those who don’t know any locals in the area they are travelling, websites such as Couchsurfing and WithLocals are great tools to make connections and get a truly local experience.

Enjoy the sales

Phalinn Ooi, Jalan TAR, via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Phalinn Ooi, Jalan TAR, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Apart from the food, another great thing about travelling during Ramadan is the shopping. You’ll find a lot of shopping complexes and street markets holding Ramadan-related sales. You can find great deals on modern and traditional clothes such as baju kurung, kebaya and baju melayu (which could come in handy if you get invited to an open house) alongside souvenirs to give friends and relatives back home.

Are you travelling during Ramadan? Share your tips in the comments and start your flight search on Cheapflights.com.sg.

Main image: istockphoto/gmast3r

Ramadan in Southeast Asia: Travel tips during fasting month was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by L. Bautista
Author: L. Bautista (118 posts)

A self-confessed breakfast-skipper, who likes to spend her time exploring new places and cultures.