Wisdom

Trip Start Nov 01, 2011
1
36
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Trip End Apr 12, 2013


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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

Well, we've now been away for over 10 weeks, and hopefully we've begun to learn a couple of useful things about the travelling lifestyle in Asia. I thought I’d note down a few choice conclusions we’ve come up with thus far. They might come in handy for those who plan to travel in the future, or as a laugh for those who’ve been in the past. I think I'll put up a few every week hopefully, and keep adding to them as more thoughts come to us.

I've written these in no order other than the sequence in which they spewed forth from my bizarro mind.
White clothes are a no-no. Why? Because they don’t stay white for long. Asia is a sandy, dusty place, and it loves to turn your cleanest whitest garments into a nice jobby brown colour, beige at best. So, leave those tidy whities at home kids, take something a bit more colourful if you don’t want your wardrobe to resemble a skiddy turd.

Expect to be hassled everywhere. Before you even set foot off a bus, train or boat, you will be the subject of a mass of clambering locals attempting to secure you a room, a taxi, or anything that they can make some coin out of. Over the duration of a meal, prepare to be approached by at least five thousand people, beggars, guys selling sunglasses, children selling fireworks and bracelets, women selling books, massages, pedicures, manicures, fruit, and cold beers. There is almost no limit to what they will try to sell you. It’s just a fact of life here, and one you can only deal with by smiling and politely declining, or carrying a hefty chainsaw around with you, but that can be cumbersome and unseemly.

In Asia, patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a requirement by law. This applies to all manner of daily living here, from transport, to waiting times in a restaurant or bar, to laundry, etc. With transport, you can guarantee to add on at least 4 hours to any journey time, and the notion of connecting buses or trains is simply non-existent. For example, travelling between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, we had booked an overnight sleeper bus to leave at 8pm. Firstly, we were informed the sleeper bus had broken down, and we would now be departing at midnight, on a regular sitting bus. Seems legit. We also had to switch buses in Phnom Penh. Arriving there at 4am, we were unceremoniously thrown off the bus, and told our bus to Sihanoukville would be along shortly. Upon asking at the flea bitten bus station, we found out the bus didn’t leave until 7am. Wonderful. And this is where the patience must kick in, or a whole town is murdered in a fit of rage.

Similarly, patience is important in a restaurant. As you eat out at least twice daily while travelling (life truly is taxing here), you get used to the relaxed pace instantly. As a general rule, no matter how many times the waiter goes over your order, something will appear incorrectly, or not at all. Add to this the definite expectation that your food will always arrive separately, as more often than not chefs are cooking in limited kitchens, one dish at a time, you are left again with a situation where patience is paramount. I had a classic example of this the other day, we’d been on a hell of a bucket bender the night before, and were suffering hard the next morning. I asked for a big bottle of water to go along with my lunch, and it still hadn’t arrived 15 minutes later. I asked the waitress where it was, and she says in broken English, 'Sorry, no big bottles left.’ Ahhhh, cool, thanks for letting me know! And this is daily life, you just laugh about it and enjoy your small bottle instead.

Patience is also crucial when complaining. Specifically, in not complaining. In general we’ve been ok, as we expected a bit of give-and-take with everything, but it can be excruciating listening to people moaning about things. As a rule, refunds and returns are non-existent here. Over breakfast one day, we witnessed a woman airing grievances to the manageress. She went about everything as you should, explaining politely and carefully that she had trouble sleeping as there was too much noise the night previous, and she would like something to be done about it. The manageress’ curt reply? ‘Khawp Khun Ka’ (This is thank you in Thai.)

Turn scepticism into a positive. You can never be cynical enough, expect all people to try and rip you off in some way and be overcautious. In general this can lead to you avoiding scams and dodgers. Of course, there will be the odd time when a genuinely friendly offer comes your way, but remember you are in an extremely poor part of the world, and most locals will see you as a walking ATM. Just be assertive and friendly, and you’ll avoid trouble where possible.

Remember, clothes, flip-flops and sunglasses are cheap and cheerful here, don’t waste money buying expensive things back home. Buy them all here. By Christmas our group had cycled through an abundance of sunnies alone. Out here, the fake Ray-Bans are king.

Mozzies are bastards. Get yourself well acquainted with some high powered deet, and get those mosquitoes told. Also, some people (i.e. Abi) are more susceptible to bites than others (i.e. me). This can be excellent for those who seem to avoid bites quite easily, like me, but terrible if mozzies see you as an all you can eat buffet.

Enjoy a bit of doucher spotting. As with all places selling cheap alcohol and offering great weather, there will be an inordinate amount of tits. There’ll be guys who strut around more in love with themselves than anything, desperate for you to enjoy a glimpse of their six-packs, constantly seeming to have to bend their arms and show off their guns, be it for a supposed itch on their neck or whatever reason. Try to laugh at how little they straighten their arms, and guess at how much steroids are coursing through their blood at any time.

There’ll be people who think they can drink far more than anyone else in the world, and will even be seen at sunrise with a beer in hand, for no other reason than to be seen to be drinking. Even on an overnight sleeper boat we got the other night, a group of Irish people did their homeland proud and turned up with a crate of beer, half steaming already. There’ll be girls going out at night literally wearing a bra and pants, occasionally less, and you can spend a whole evening in a bar grimacing at their horrific mating displays, then laughing when you see them stumbling home in the same garb early the next morning.

Tattoos, well, the amount of truly awful tattoos to be spied is incredible. Some people look as if they drunkenly crashed their scooters into a tattooist at high speed, the disregard for their bodies is that high.

The horrific chat up lines to be heard are utterly hilarious and highly cringe worthy. The list is never-ending, the subtleties of the douchers ever more ingenious. I constantly think, how hard is it for some people to just be even slightly sound?! The main thing is to make sport of it, try not to be consumed with how many annoying people there are in the world, seek out the people you like and spend time with them instead.

Haggling is a part of life, but it can be hella frustrating. On Koh Phangan for example, all the taxis were fixed prices per person. After the Full Moon Party, a group of us tried to reason that we could surely drop the price for the whole taxi if we had 8 of us, offering 1000 Baht in total, less than they wanted but more than they’d get if 4 of us had turned up. Tight logic? Not for the driver, he flat out refused to budge, all reasoning departing him years ago. My reply, fine, we’ll pay 150 each, but if it’s a fixed price per person regardless, give us all our own personal taxi home?

This went down extremely well. So basically, you gradually learn when you can haggle and when you have a stubborn moneyhound on your hands.

Your trip is not the best in the world. This is something many people could do with remembering. On every night out we come across someone who just loves to tell you how amazing their trip is, how much longer than yours it is, how many times they’ve been to Thailand before, how many places in the world they’ve visited, how unrecognisable Laos is from when they were their 10 years ago and the borders had just opened, and so on. Accept that your trip is your trip, and some people love to tell you about theirs more than listen to you about yours. Don’t get me wrong, some people can give you excellent tips and advice, and it’s really interesting to talk to people about their experiences around the world, but only in the correct manner. Sometimes it turns into a pissing contest.

Travelling is called that for a reason. You spend a buggerload of time on transport, we’re totting up hours spent on a vehicle going from place to place as we go, and as I write this in week 9 it’s well over the 200 hour mark. To that end, stock up with things to entertain you on these barren journeys. Books are a mainstay of course, playing cards are excellent, bring some music, anything that will pass the time a little quicker.

And that's about all the random musings I could come up with! Will add any more if they come to me!
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