So switching gears a little here, and jumping over to Asia!
My first time in Asia was after a nice, long flight from Barcelona-Doha-Kuala Lumpur. I arrived in the big, incredibly diverse, and modern international airport with wide, tired eyes, and the incredible need to pee. Going to the bathroom, I made my first acquaintance with Mr. Squat Toilet.
Ah yes, the squat toilets – a frightening hole in the ground that expects you to have the aim of a rocket launcher and doesn’t even provide toilet paper. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to flush it. If not… well, you get a bowl and a tub of water to pour in afterwards.
After that lovely experience, I walked out of the air-conditioned terminal and hit a never-ending wall of humidity; sweat began to form on my brow just minutes after standing outside waiting for a taxi.
But, my despair quickly lifted; I was on my way to a good friend’s house, and it was Christmas Eve. I eventually got to her host family’s house and was greeted by her host sister, and grandparents. Extremely welcoming, they ushered me in and immediately fed me. Char Kuey Teow, one of my favorite Malaysian dishes, was the first thing I ever ate in Malaysia, and it was definitely not the last time I enjoyed it.
I was lucky – my friend Carmen was there for about six months by the time I got there, and she showed me some of the ropes, things to keep in mind in Malaysia, and the rest of Asia. So here, I’ll some share some tips for an introduction to S.E. Asia – a wonderful cluster of countries full of a variety of cultures, foods, and amazing sights to marvel at.
My first time in this part of the world, it was a little new, a little different, but the learning curve is small – and enjoyable. Sometimes it reminded me a lot of being in Central America, and sometimes, it was a completely different world. Overall, S.E. Asia quickly became a favorite of mine, and I can’t wait to return.
So without further ado, an introduction to Asia:
1. Try the food – try ALL the food – Unless you have an allergy that prevents you from eating certain foods, I highly recommend trying every dish you can get you hands on. And remember the names! You’ll quickly pick out your favorites, and will most likely want to order them again. You’ll have an easier time conveying what you want (plus, you’ll feel accomplished) and the locals will smile with your knowledge. It’s also incredibly cheap – we’re talking $2-3 for a huge plate of noodles.
2. Make an attempt at the local language – It’s really easy not to do this. Many people speak some English – it’s the common language for most tourists to speak, and it’s best way for the tourism industry to survive – so it is really easy to get by speaking only English. But, I urge you make an effort, at least to learn some basic phrases. It’s so interesting learning the different tongues of different countries, and again, you might get a few smiles with your effort.
3. Do not fear the squat toilets – You might have been thoroughly put-off by my experience above, but I assure you, it’s really not that bad. Also, this has been the norm here for many, many years, long before the western porcelain contraptions, so it must do something right. Once you get accustomed to them, you might also prefer them! Also, keep an eye out for the bum gun. Yes, instead of toliet paper (sometimes it is provided), you are given a bidet-like hose for cleaning purposes. It is useful, and some might say, more effective. I say, don’t knock it until you try it.
4. Go to the beaches – Because they’re gorgeous! The waters are clear and inviting, the sand is luxurious, and you can spend all day doing absolutely nothing. Or, absolutely everything. On a few of the more touristy beaches, especially in Thailand, you can easily rent kayaks and paddle boards, you can do some rock climbing, or just take endless walks on the beach. S.E. Asia is also one of the best places to learn how to dive, or get your diving certification if you have experience. It is a lot cheaper, and you can find some very good teachers.
5. Go to the mountains – The opposite to the beach life, the more arid, but just as striking mountain regions are just as appealing. Hiking, waterfall exploring, and good times are frequent. These regions are still a bit touristy, but not nearly as much as the beaches. You might have more of an opportunity to get in touch with local tribes, and learn about the many different cultures that thrive in the hills. I had the amazing experience of staying in a hill tribe for a few weeks, and it is one of my favorite memories. It is also interesting to see the different parts of one country; traversing from one end to the other, and seeing the country and landscape change is beautiful, and quite amazing.
6. Check out the nightlife – Stories are told about the nightlife in S.E. Asia. From the famous Khao San road in Bangkok, Thailand to Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, there is something for everyone, and many fun nights to be had. Check out a rooftop bar or two; you can enjoy a drink, take in the amazing views of sprawling, lit cities, and feel incredibly awesome.
7. Take note of different cultures’ traditions and customs – There are tons of festivals to go to in Asia: Tết (New Year) in Vietnam, Thaipusam (a Tamil festival) in Malaysia, or Songkran (the New Year’s water festival), well-known in Thailand, to name a few. It is nice to go to as many as you can – you can get a sense of the local customs, as well as have a ton of fun! Also, be wary of things you do that might seem offensive to others. This is best learned when you are in a particular country, but it can be helpful to do some research before you go. A good example is the King of Thailand: be wary talking about the King in a bad light; he is a much loved figure in Thailand and commands a great deal of respect from his people. I’ve seen quite a few ignorant people violently thrown out of places after talking ill of him.
There’s more, but tips can only help so much; the rest you have to figure out on your own. It’s a little daunting, but it’s all part of the fun, and most of the time, those mistake you make will turn into some of your best stories.
Until next time, happy travels!