Often when people hear you’re travelling to Southeast Asia, you get showered with a load of advice that is well-meaning but mostly useless. Here are some of the most oft-repeated ‘rules’ that should probably be discarded if you want to actually enjoy yourself while you’re there.
“Stay in Bangkok for a few days and do some shopping”
Bangkok is a smelly, overcrowded, polluted, trippy nightmare. You can’t walk down Khao San Road at night without being harassed by pimps trying to get you to go to a ping pong show (hint: it’s not so much two guys, two bats, one ball as it is one girl, five balls), and almost all the tourists are completely drugfucked. Bangkok should be arrived at, briefly observed, then promptly ditched en route to one of the islands.
“Avoid street food”
I was great at sticking to this rule for about 9 hours. Four Chang beers and a vodka pineapple later, and the allure of $1 pad thai was just too strong. Obviously you should avoid anything that doesn’t look or smell fresh, and once you’ve dropped food on the ground you should leave it there. Seriously, just leave it there. I learned that the hard way with a pancake and a wet sidewalk in Laos, and my roommate will attest that the outcome was not pretty. In any case, the street stalls are generally food-poisoning free.
“Guard your passport with your life”
Your passport is definitely more important than your video camera, the USD$300 you just withdrew from an ATM, your new collection of pirated DVDs, and the belongings of all your friends’ suitcases combined. But for fuck’s sake don’t strap it to your chest every time you go outside. Once someone spots you with a money pouch, not only do you look like a douche but you may as well be wearing a “ROB ME, I’M STUPID!” sign on your back. Leave it in your suitcase.
“Practise your bargaining skills on the locals!”
Heaps of people take the bargaining culture way too far when they visit Asian markets, embarrassing the locals and making themselves look like stingy jerks. We watched American tourists in Laos walk away from one stall owner when she wouldn’t lower the price by FIFTY CENTS, and the look of disappointment on her face was heartbreaking. The money means a lot less to you than it does to them, so when the amount you’re fighting over is something you wouldn’t even notice missing from your wallet, don’t be an arsehole.
“Stay away from popular tourist areas”
It’s now apparently uncool to do the typical route from northern Thailand, over the border into Laos, then on to Cambodia or Vietnam. Yes, it can be boring to interact with mostly Aussies, Brits, Americans and Kiwis when you THINK you’re travelling in Asia, but it’s worthwhile remembering that these spots are popular for a reason. You don’t get points for avoiding awesome places just because you think you’re too good to mingle with the masses. In fact, you get minus points, because you think you’re superior when really you’re just being a wanker. No matter where you go these days, you’re not going to get off the beaten track, so the best thing to do is just shut the fuck up and order another whiskey bucket.