25 Tips for Surviving South East Asia with your Sanity

Heading for a trip to South East Asia and not sure what to expect? Trying to get your head around all the stories (good and bad) to work out what to do? See below for a list of 25 tips on how to survive one of the most exciting, random and colourful regions in the world.

Night Noodle Markets

  1. “Thai time” is anytime except the specified time – no point getting angry that the bus is six hours late, pull up a piece of curb and get used to the wait.
  2. If you pay the actual price for ANYTHING – you’re being ripped off.  Having said that, sometimes think about what that last dollar you are haggling over means to you and what it will mean to the other person.

    Markets Luang Parbang

    Markets Luang Parbang

  3. A “little hot” means – very very hot, so hot your eyes will water and your lips will go numb. Chili eating contests are fun… just make sure you have a large beer handy to numb the pain.
  4. Prepare yourself for food poising so bad that you will wish you were dead – it will happen at least once.
  5. Don’t think about what the black stuff that soon covers your feet in sandals or thongs is as you tramp the city streets actually is.
  6. Embrace the taste of pancakes and fruit shakes. They are amazing!
  7. Sitting in a “friends bar” is the best way to cure a bucket hangover. Let the antics of Joey and Phoebe wash away the pain of the night before (Koh Phangan and Vang Vieng have the best ones complete with fruit shakes and pancakes)
  8. It is impossible to have only 1 bucket…Motos Saigon
  9. Have a few drinks with your fellow backpacker before you agree to spend the next few days travelling with them.
  10. Motos are fun… and dangerous – pack Band-Aids… lots of Band-Aids
  11. Try to acclimatise yourself to the hot weather by not using air con; don’t be disappointed if you don’t succeed.
  12. It is impossible to drown out the Cambodian/Vietnamese pop played on the local buses with your iPod.
  13. Don’t expect Western food to taste anything like you have ever tasted before – give it up otherwise your taste buds will hate you

    Cooking School Cambodia

    Cooking School Cambodia

  14. The longer you travel the less you use the hand sanitizer as you realise that it really makes no difference except in your head.
  15. Take a cooking class or three – best way to experience the local food, meet people and spend a pleasant evening.
  16. Don’t trust monkeys – they are cute and devious
  17. All material possessions are replaceable – repeat this to yourself as you realise something of yours has been stolen.
  18. Fire dancing is best left to the professionals if you care about your arm hair and dignity
  19. Nobody can get an audience moving and grooving like a Thai cover band.
  20. Careful when taking off your thongs (flip flops) when entering most shops and restaurants, someone else may mistake them as theirs and you will leave with mismatched thongs
  21. It is inevitable that your bus will break down… On a hill.Monkey Batu Caves
  22. Prepare to argue with other travelers about whether that girl, is in fact – a guy.
  23. All the good temples are at the top of hundreds of stairs… your thighs will burn baby burn!
  24. You will plot the DJ’s death once he has played the same song 6 times in the last two hours
  25. You are having the time of your life – don’t sweat the little things!
Paradise found: Langkawi

Paradise found: Langkawi

Too Old?? I Hope Not!

How old do you have to get before staying in a hostel becomes creepy? This is a thought that is worrying me as my age has moved from a number to be proud of (Dah, I am like 21 I can like do what I want!) to a number I choose not to name (How old am I? Gee, well… cough – run!).  Soon there will be a point where my presence will be viewed with raised eyebrows and askance sideways glances – ok well maybe not that soon, but one day definitely.

Now I know some of you are saying – “Seriously why would you want to stay in a hostel, ewwww” and don’t get me wrong, this is a very valid reaction to have.  Hostels can be over crowded, noisy, dirty, unsafe and uncomfortable…. But then so are some hotels. There is a huge difference between a bad hotel and a good hostel – but if you find a GREAT hostel then there are some massive plusses to staying there.

  •  It’s cheap – as I am yet to win the lotto this is a huge plus, but as I no longer work in retail and have a “real” job I can also afford to stay in the somewhat nicer versions as opposed to the ones with fleas.
  • If you are travelling alone –  it’s a great place to meet people due to the room sharing and communal areas – check out this great blog on “How to travel alone and not be a creep” for some more ideas on how to meet people.
  • Local Information – Those who work in hostels are usually backpackers themselves and so have gathered a wealth of information on what they think would be useful – they usually let you pick their brains for the price of a beer!
  • Location – there are always great hostels in the location you really want to stay at, usually two streets over from the 5 star hotel where as the budget hotel is generally about three bus rides away.

There is an art to choosing the right hostel, though it’s something that is learned from experience rather than a blog. Once you have stayed in a few you learn how to spot them and steer clear! I was procrastinating from writing this blog by reading other people’s blogs about hostels and came across the Bemused Backpacker who gives tips on how to choose a great hostel.  As I read through the list of things to note,l I realised that all of these seemed rather obvious to me (a hostel veteran) and yet, I couldn’t think how I would explain to someone how they would be able to make the same judgement as I would.

Location – One of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE hostels (big call I know) was Bumbles in Queenstown. When I looked at the map of where it’s located it appeared to be slightly out of town.  Indeed some of the reviews said that it was a little out of town which added to my anxiety that it would be a bad choice.  I was travelling on my own and so wanted to ensure that I wasn’t too far outside the thick of things. Well, I decided to chance it and trust my gut that it wasn’t that far and that those people who wrote the reviews were wusses! Ha – it paid off.  Less than a 2 minute walk from the centre of town (though Queenstown isn’t that big so most places are a 2 minute walk from the centre). As it wasnt in the middle though, it was a little quieter at night.  Best of all, it was on the opposite side of the town to big hotels and so had beautiful unrestricted views of the lake framed by ice capped mountains.

The view from my hostel room window at Bumbles Backpackers

The view from my hostel room window at Bumbles Backpackers

It’s Cheap – Cost is relative, decide what your safety and a good nights sleep is really worth.  I have stayed in some flea-bitten places – literally! What I have discovered is that no matter how much money you might be saving – if the place is uncomfortable or unsafe it isn’t worth it.  In Vang Vieng we stayed in a tree house style hostel called SpicyLaos.  Those we had met on the South East Asia circuit recommended it as a great place to get the full tubing experience… we stayed two nights there before we grabbed our stuff and splashed out on a hotel room.  It wasn’t the bugs, or the fact that your pack was sitting in the dust if you couldn’t lug it up to your bunk. Or even the makeshift bathrooms that reminded me of an old-fashioned Australian outhouse.  We didn’t feel safe. Vang Vieng hadn’t quite reached the infamy that it now has when I was there – but it wasn’t far off.  After a few red bull buckets you wanted a place where you could feel safe and secure – not have random people walking through at all hours in all states.

Tubing the Vang Vieng!

Tubing the Vang Vieng!

If you are travelling alone – is never easy but can be hugely rewarding.  When I was at university I participated in the Student Exchange program and headed to San Diego in Southern California – or SoCal. If there is one thing you should do at Uni – that’s it! My first week in Sunny SD was in Hostel USA – I chose it because everywhere else was booked out. Just my luck! Indeed it was – that first night I met two others who were participating in the same program as me and heading to SDSU, instant friends! Next I met one of the girls who worked on reception – who was also in charge of fun. And fun is what was had – there was a pub crawl, a beach trip, a sea world trip, a taco Tuesday and dress up party. When I left for my dorm room a week later I was no longer travelling on my own. Find a place with great staff, it can change everything!

Local Information – Generally those who run hostels are a travellers dream.  They are friendly, happy and fountains of knowledge. Whether you are looking for the best pancakes in Dubrovnik (thanks Hostel Villa Angelina) or want an authentic Vietnamese imperial feast  (cheers Hue Sport 2) having someone point out the way or give you that insiders tip can change a trip.

Imperial food art

Imperial food art

I really hope that I am not too old to stay in hostels, as they offer so many different experiences that don’t quite reflect when in a hotel.  However, I am going to pick them more carefully now that I know what to expect – I have had bed bugs two times too many!