If you’ve made the wonderful decision to venture to the exotic lands of Southeast Asia, let me start by congratulating you!
Second, let me tell you about a few things you may soon discover during your travels that you should learn to live with… and fast.
Poor Wifi Connection : I’ve seen people turn into the antichrist over a poor wifi connection. Newer travelers who aren’t used to relying on wifi alone jump at the chance to check in or post some photos at the nearest cafe. Even just staying in contact with friends and family puts wifi in very high demand. Stop. It’s necessary to understand that a lot of areas in SE Asia may say they have wifi, but it will not be the speed or strength you’ll get at home. They just don’t have the capabilities and resources to meet Western standards, so it’s best to know this before you go and be patient and understanding. It doesn’t help to complain to the owners at a cafe that you can’t get on the internet when they’re just trying to maintain a business during frequent electricity surges. Just try to ween yourself off social media prior to traveling so you’re not itching for access when you travel.
*Tip – If wifi is scarce, write out all your messages to loved ones in advance so you can send them quickly when you do get connected!
Electricity Outages : It’s fantastic that many people are already on board with turning off lights and unplugging appliances they’re not using to save electricity, but in Asia, power outages are a daily occurrence and not by choice. We take for granted our access to electricity, and sometimes we abuse it. Just know and understand that you may not get your smoothie right away because their blenders don’t have power for while.
Toilets : A typical SE Asian toilet cannot accommodate any product in it that isn’t produced by your body naturally. They run on septic systems that are very sensitive to paper and products, so you will have to throw everything you use away in a bin. Additionally, they may require you to “manually” flush them by scooping water with a bucket and pouring it in till everything’s gone. It seems a bit intimidating but is a fairly efficient system that is a lot more effective than you’d expect. Lastly, you probably won’t leave without encountering the “squater”. Do some wall-sits before your trip because you’ll need some strong thighs for these.
Dirty feet : Get your feet ready to rock. You’ll be walking on and through every substance you can think of, so be mentally ready to accept that your feet are going to get disgusting. Sand, water, dirt, dust, mud, rocks, trash, and alcohol, to name a few, are the most common. I suggest durable shoes for hiking but rubber sandals for everything else; nice shoes will get ruined and heels are just out of the question. Your sandals will most likely break and your feet will get gross and calloused, so just schedule a pedicure for the day before you leave.
Infections : An outcome of the pervious tip, infections are unfortunately common in this part of the world. Especially in areas with unclean water, any open wound from a pimple or an ingrown hair to a cut can get infected very easily. I suggest bringing a proper first aid kit rather than relying on in country supplies and be diligent in keeping open wounds clean. You never know how far from a pharmacy you’ll be when a sore breaks out. My gory experience here…
Sweat : Be prepared to wake up with a layer of oil on your face, regardless of if you have naturally dry skin. You’ll also most likely have a consistently glossy face and a layer of sweat 2 minutes after showering. Pack some wet/face wipes so you can get some relief when you’re not near a shower or pool.
Cold Showers : As we segway from the previous tip, please do not be surprised if most places do not have hot water. You may have it as a must-have when choosing your accommodation, but let me just say that the climate is usually so warm and humid that a cold/cool shower is often refreshing rather than painful.
Geckos : “New friends” I like to call them. They make their appearance at night, scampering across the ceilings and walls with their little suction cup toes. They’re harmless and actually eat the mosquitos, so don’t shoo them away so quickly. They also have a little call that actually sounds like the word “geck-o”, so don’t be alarmed in the middle of the night when you hear them say hello… er geck-o.
Taxis, scooters, & ‘tuk tuk’ drivers : You have not had an adrenaline rush until you’ve maneuvered through traffic in a tuk tuk through Mumbai or Bangkok. To this day, I have a theory that all the vehicles have a forcefield – there’s just no way the driver stops in time or makes it through unscathed. You’ll also soon realize that getting around on a scooter is efficient yet life-threatening every time you get on the road. So many accidents occur by reckless Westerners and locals alike who speed down highways and weave through slower cars, yet it’s still hands-down the most exciting way to experience SE Asian countries. Who doesn’t like a warm brush with death in the morning?
Instant coffee : I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m occasionally eager to go to bed just so I can wake up to Vietnamese iced coffee. However, the process can take a while and in most towns and accommodations, instant coffee is all they have to offer. If you need the strong stuff, perhaps plan accordingly.
Ants & Flies : “These are all over the world, who cares?” you may say. Well, unless you already sleep with these or have a few extra pieces of protein in your meal at home, they may be a bit more present than you’d expect. Shops and bungalows almost always leave the windows and doors open for air flow, so these guys end up making their way everywhere. In the states, a dead fly in your drink would result in sending it back, but don’t bother here… your waiter will probably just take it in the back, scoop it out, and hand you back the same drink.
Nothing is on Time : I think this should properly be re-titled, “Don’t worry, be happy” because this is truly how most people live their lives in this part of the world. I can hardly say this is a bad thing, because we should all learn to slow down and stop worrying if the plan doesn’t pan out. One phrase I picked up was, “don’t worry, maybe tomorrow” and since, I’ve just felt the stress when things don’t happen my way just melt away. At first, I felt helpless and agitated when people couldn’t give me a straight answer about timings and appointments, but slowly I accepted that if everyone gets on island time and relaxes, everything will happen eventually. This may not work in a New York state of mind, but it’s the perfect mindset in Southeast Asia. If everyone’s always late, are you on time by being late?
I’ll leave the rest of the wonders and quirks of this beautiful part of the world for you to discover on your own. Enjoy!