The 10 Scariest Things About Traveling Through South East Asia
10. Dorm hostels
Shacking up in a dorm hostel is a great way to save money, but it’s also a great big shot in dark. One day you’ll have a beautiful Australian co-ed as your bunkmate, the next an aging, depressed Canadian that suffers from night terrors. Spin the wheel!
9. Night buses
Like dorms, night buses are great money savers but the cheaper they are the faster they break down. Expect to either ride in an over air conditioned, metal tube filled with drunk backpackers or a sweaty, cramped deathtrap that lands a flat tire every 50 miles.
8. Exchange rates
Holden Caulfield once said, “Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” This is particularly true when you don’t even know the actual value of the paper notes in your hand. If you’re making your way through Asia you can go from paying 20,000 Vietnamese Dong to 60 Thai Baht for the same can of beer. Getting a grip on what the funny money in your pocket means in good ole USA greenbacks is the first rule of travel. But it can be a real challenge, especially after downing a few (or 10) cold ones.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay out of the hospital during my time living in Asia (knock on wood) but I’ve heard some real horror stories from friends that have lived – particularly – in China. The highlights: mass bureaucratic confusion, shockingly unsanitary conditions, weird herbal treatments, and oh yeah – payment demanded up front. You’ve got a broken arm but don’t have the cash to see the doc? Better luck next time, champ.
6. Language barriers
If you asked most people why they don’t travel (and staying at some all inclusive resort in Costa Rica doesn’t count), I’d bet a good number of them would say they’re a bit scared of the language barrier. How do I ask for directions? How do I order food? Why is that strange, pudgy kid yelling at me? A language barrier is the first real obstacle anyone encounters when traveling outside an English speaking country. But relax, as much as you’d like to think you’re the first person to visit some remote village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, you aren’t. Communicating with the locals just takes patience and a little tenacity.
5. Drinking the water
In America, clean fluoride enhanced, government mandated brain washing water is pumped into our homes everyday but that’s not always the case in the rest of the world. You’ll never look at a faucet the same way again after spending some time in Asia. No longer will you see a cool refreshing source of H2O but rather a rusty pipe full of sewage water that’s been soaking in a well of used hypodermic needles.
In places like Saigon stoplights are treated more as suggestions than stone cold rules. You’ll find there’s no real “right” time to cross the street as a seemingly never ending cascade of motor scooters speeds towards you. My advice: look straight ahead, avoid all eye contact with the drivers, and walk slowly. The scooters will naturally navigate around your adrenaline-drenched body.
3. Getting scammed
It’s unavoidable. If you’re travelling through South East Asia someone, at one point or another, is going to scam you. Whether it’s just a few bucks or a boatload of dough, the feeling is the same: something akin to “That asshole thinks I’m a sucker.” When I first arrived in Cambodia I paid a tuk tuk driver $3 for a ride to a bus station. I paid him in US notes and he gave me back my change in Cambodian Riel. No problem…until a few minutes later I realized he shorted me 50 cents. Half a buck is no big deal when you think about it, but if you’re travelling for an extended amount of time and on a budget, those lost pennies can add up quick!
2. Squat toilets
Squat toilets are one of man’s most hellish, primitive inventions. They’re basically holes in the ground smothered (if you’re lucky) in porcelain. Asians really do seem to prefer them – they claim they’re more hygienic as your cheeks aren’t really touching anything but the chokingly putrid air around you. I find this argument entirely false and God forbid if you have to really squeeze one out; you’ll start working muscles only A.J. Pierzynski uses. Oh, and most squat toilets don’t really “flush.” When you’re done with business you’ll need to shovel a big scoop of water out of a mosquito infested bucket and manually say goodbye to your most recently digested meal.
1. Crossing borders
Crossing a border is like a having a first date in your underwear. You feel completely exposed and utterly unsure of how to impress your newfound companion. You practice your smile, hope you aren’t selected for “extra” screening, and, usually, end up picking up the tab. But just like when a first date ends the right way, nothing matches the rush of excitement when getting the A-Okay to strut into an unknown, foreign land.
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