Asia Observations and Travel Tips
Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
16Trip End May 20, 2005
Hygiene -- The more time you spend in Asia (and I won't forget some of the stories I heard about India, which has even worse conditions), the more you realize how the countries are just pandemics waiting to happen. It's honestly a recipe for disaster: take millions of people, give them some poorly maintained squat toilets (or holes in the ground, or overflowing troughs, etc...), add a severe lack of toilet paper, just sprinkle in the no soap and sometimes no sinks problem and let it all bake in 30-40 degree heat for 10-12 hours a day.
Now, I don't know what kind of cake you'd get out of that, but I sure do know that makes for some nasty disease pie. And I like pie, but wouldn't dream of trying this. Everyone touches everything and with so many people, it just takes one person spreading something bad at one point in time. Hygiene has apparently come a ways in Thailand and Malaysia(which is noticeable in some of the more touristy areas), but it's still got a ways to go.
Cheapnicity: It's a word, trust me. Asia rocks for backpackers for this main feature. I've stayed in some of the grungiest rooms and slept on some of the hardest beds and had massive spiders crawl up our wall and freak us out in the middle of the night -- but boy is it cheap. Also surprisingly, not the worst room I've ever rented. That would still belong to a small little motel of some sort in Sherwood Park, just on the outskirts of Edmonton. A glowing neon "Tanks Alot" sign near the motel captured Erin's attention late at night during that drive across the country last May, and that was enough to assure us it would be fine. That room still ranks as the dirtiest, grungiest, smelliest I've slept in... and the bed sucked too. Anyways, you can get anything cheap in Asia, and anything expensive, is actually a decent price when converted into Cdn.
Customer Service: It was so different from what we're used to. One fairly common thread, however, is that you can't escape being watched and followed. As soon as you enter a restaurant or store, look at the outside menu, touch the fabric of a shirt, show the tiniest interest in a $12,000 massaging chair -- you have someone in full boar to set you up with it to take home. If you take a book off a shelf and put it back, an employee will be there as the book touches the wood of the shelf in order to "fix" its placement. If you are eating and are just picking at the fries on your plate, a busboy will try to take it away from you several times before you're finished. If you turn the wrong way or go to the washroom, you just might lose half your food and drink. Unbelievably, it's happened. There is to be no talking while eating in some restaurants.
Fakeness, in a Good Way: Cheap knock-offs are everywhere. You want Louis Vuitton, you got it. Hugo Boss, it's yours. Oakley sunglasses? Well hey, I never knew Oakley's logos could wipe off so fast off the bridge, but hey, can't go wrong with $5 sunglasses. I have bought four pairs of Oakleys while here. One broke over the bridge of the nose one day. They're not the best quality (ahem... understatement), but they look half-decent and even cheap sunglasses in Western countries can run you $15. Fakeness can be goodness.
Danger (pronounced, Dane-ja): So this region that was hit by a tsunami not long ago has some problems. An earthquake hit while we were here (didn't feel it up north, but apparently felt in tall buildings that swayed), we've already been through how driving is an extreme sport, an airport we were in was bombed the morning after we were in it, and we drove through many army roadblocks in the dangerous south of Thailand where the bombers originate from. There are sharks in the waters, though not normally the dangerous kind. You can't drink the water or really use it for anything other than showering, unless you absolutely love squat toilets and can't get enough of the hovering. Chillies sometime seem to be in everything, even when you least expect it... so often eating becomes dangerous. There are sometimes massive spiders crawling up your walls: some are poisonous, others just hurt like an expletive when they bite you -- and some might just jump on your head, like my little buddy in our room.
Shaking Hands: Never, ever, shake a local's left hand. Trust me on this. Look back at the "Hygiene" section of this post and lack of toilet paper. Please put two and two together and figure out which hand does what in lieu of the TP. Yeah, gross. Found that out AFTER I left Thailand. Wracked my brain for hours trying to figure out if I shook anyone's left hand.
Bring TP and Possibly Pepto Bismol: Buy the TP, bury the TP like a prized bone, hoard the TP. Often it is the only thing standing between you and joining the "lefty brigade" mentioned above. Take it everywhere like we did to avoid any uncomfortable situations.
In Asia, there is no Pepto Bismol, only some knock-off called Gastro Bismol or Gizzo Peptol or something. You get the runs or something and you are one messed up puppy. Oh, and it happens. I heard many a horror story from backpackers during their times in India and Asia. You will go anywhere. Avoid having to go anywhere. Bismol and Immodium it up.
Be Adventurous to the Point Your Body Can Take It: You're there to have fun and experience everything you can, but listen to your body. When it says it's time for Western Food, don't give it extra spicy Tom Yam. Learn how to say, "Just a little spicy" in Thai... it goes a long ways. I would personally pass on the Durian fruit and fried bugs, but some people like them. The wood worms are dried to a crisp and salted to taste like chips. If I felt OK, I mighta tried some.
Pack Light: You won't walk to hike everything everywhere and we've already had to make two shipments home... and we packed light. You just buy stuff. It accumulates. Clothes are cheap and the right stuff you need for the heavy, sunny weather. You'll find stuff you just can't live without, depending on your situation (a second pair of flip-flops for the disgusting bathroom floors and showers, perhaps). It's probably better to have a bigger bag that fits more stuff and pack light, then to get a smaller bag and pack light. At least you'll have room to put the stuff you hadn't accounted for at the end of the day. The flexibility is a necessity.
Organize Yourself: Get a plan and set up some loose travel arrangements ahead of time. It can be hectic to not do so. Planes aren't that expensive and trains even less so. Travel overnight in first class and you'll be fine. Travel overnight in third class and you are in for a rude awakening.
Feel free to send us any questions if anyone wants tips about travelling in the region. We'll do what we can to help.
Scott and Erin