50 things to expect in South East Asia – Part 1: Hostels

Arriving in Thailand on the first day of my travels, I had no idea what to expect.

But this is what I found, the Good, the Bad and the ugly.

Here’s 50 things you should expect in South East Asia!

Part 1: Hostels

Before we get started, if you have travelled through South East Asia before, then these posts might not be as interesting to you as it may be for someone contemplating backpacking in this part of the world for the first time. Still an interesting read and it will definitely make you reminisce on your amazing adventures in South East Asia.

As well as this, if you’re going to be staying in hotels during your trip, you could probably skip ahead to Part 2: Partying.

1.They’re cheap

In South East Asia, you can find hostels that are damn cheap. Seriously cheap. Like $2.00USD cheap. But you’ll find out that there’s a fair few sacrifices if you’re going to the cheapest accommodation you can find, as you’ll find out below. But hey, if you can save a bit of cash and spend it on other things, why not get used to it?

I’ve slept in hostels with 30 people in a dorm room, and in other hostels with ants running across the floor. But I would do it again because it only cost me $3.00 and it was actually kind of fun.

Tip: Make sure you always check a site like www.hostelworld.com for reviews and cost as this can save you the agony of a bad hostel.

Also don’t forget to book in advance in high season. August – April

2. Bed Bugs

The first bane of my existence. Bloody Bed Bugs. Though they’re rare, most people will have an encounter with bed bugs at least once on their trip. They’re small round brown bugs about half the size of a grain of rice, and the suck your blood at night and leave a terribly itchy bite. Now most hostels that are even semi-decent won’t have beg bugs, but sadly if your staying in giant rooms with plenty of beds and paying the bare minimum for your dorm, these little sucks are going to find their way to your skin eventually. The itchy bites are just horrendous and make things pretty miserable for a few days.


– You can sometimes spot bed bugs by tiny brown stains on the sheet or the mattress.

– Sometimes they live under the mattress or in the bed frame.

– They don’t start to itch for a few days

– The itch bites are usually in a tight collection somewhere easily exposed on your body.

– If you find bed buds, tell your hostel staff, demand your money back if they find any signs and either move rooms or even hostels.

– If you keep getting bed bugs where ever you go, they’ve probably made it into your bags and clothes. This is pretty rare but if this happens, wash your clothes and leave EVERYTHING out in the sun all day. This should sort them out.

– Treat the bed bug itch with some tiger balm or something similar.

3. You can’t drink the tap water

For the most part, Asian tap water isn’t drinkable. Unless you’ve got an iron stomach or you’ve lived with it your whole life, drinking water out of the tap is a quick way to spending a day or two frequenting the toilet. You will almost certainly get sick at least once. Whether it’s food poisoning or something similar, you don’t want to be putting yourself at risk of illness unnecessarily.

Tip: If you do get sick, make sure you keep your electrolytes up and eat basic foods like crackers, rice and bread. Avoid milks, fats and sugars.

Kids at a rural café – Just chillin’.

4. It’s cheaper to eat out than cook

Budget backpackers in Europe tend to become fantastic rudimentary chefs quite quickly. In S.E.A. you won’t find that many hostels with a kitchen simply because it’s so much cheaper and easier to eat out every night. Buying groceries can be tricky when you don’t speak the language and you’ll be susceptible to inflated prices as a foreigner. Instead, eating at a cheap local restaurant with a basic English menu might mean paying 30baht (roughly $0.80) for a delicious noodle soup in Thailand.

And don’t forget: When you’re not eating dinner, it’s even easier to pick up some amazing street food while you’re at it.

5. Throw the toilet paper in the bin

What a lot of people don’t realize before they get to South East Asia (and some people don’t even get it when they’re there) is that the toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet. Typically most cities don’t have the infrastructure to have a stable sewage system, and though this is only rarely noticeable (sometimes you get a not so pleasant smell), this means that flushing all that paper down the loo just blocks things up.

6. Toilets aren’t the same as home

Building on the whole lack of toilet infrastructure, as you head out into the less developed areas (which often proves to be the most rewarding part of a trip through Asia), you’ll find that most toilets don’t flush and wont have toilet paper. So that’s when you need to squirt away you’re comfort zone (double entendre, yeah I went there).

Using the ‘bum-gun’ is great fun and actually much cleaner than western toilets. If it’s available, give it a shot and use the soft, warm trickle of water to you-know-what. If there’s no bum-gun, and no toilet paper. You’re going to have to use your hand. (So bring some spare toilet paper).

As well as this, toilets often don’t have a flushing system. And therefore you’ll need to get used to using the bucket of water in the washroom to flush it yourself. No one’s going to judge you if you get the odd splash on your crutch, but they will if you don’t flush at all.

The view from my room in the Darling Hostel in Pai, Thailand.

7. Washing done for you

I know that in most parts of the western world, the wonderful rotating luxury – the washing machine – is found in most hostels and guest houses. That being said, as you leave the most highly developed parts of S.E.A. You’ll find that in order to get your washing done, you’re either going to have to do it by hand (do it in the shower, it works), or pay a lovely old lady to hand wash your disgusting excuses for clothing and hang them up herself.

What this means is typically you pay per kilogram of laundry, and drop it off and pick it up the next day all fresh clean with only one pair of underwear missing (jokes, you’ll be fine).

The view from the Vagabonds Hostel on Koh Rong, Cambodia.

8. Sometimes no air-con

Though most hostels and hotels in all the major cities have air-conditioning and you won’t have to do without it often, as you head towards the smaller touristic towns and villages, you’ll find that a lot more places simply don’t have air-con. You’ll find yourself taking a few days to adjust to sleeping in the heat, but trust me you will get used to it. And you’ll eventually find yourself appreciating it as you won’t get sick from the climate changes and dry air from the air-condition. A simple fan is more than enough to do the job.

9. Foam Mattresses

Right, so I’m going to have a little bit of a rant. I HATE foam mattresses. I would honestly prefer to sleep on the ground – it’s much better for your back. Foam mattresses are the second bane of my existence. But sometimes you just have to do it. A little tip from me is try to find a hostel with stringed mattresses if you can. Especially if you need a good nights sleep. If you spend 4 months in S.E.A. sleeping on foam mattresses the whole time, you’ll feel it by the end. Rant over.

A tour of Bangkok’s temples with the hostel.

10. Tonnes of activities

Hostels in Asia typically have tonnes of activities on offer. Most of the time they earn a commission on the activities they sell, but this means that even an average hostel can give you a pretty great selection of choice for what to do that day. There’s plenty of treks, boat trips, elephant rides (I wouldn’t encourage this for ethical reasons) as well as remote canyons, beaches and waterfalls to explore. If you do some research before hand, most hostels will be able to set you up with an activity for the day and even transport there and back.

An example would be a day package that I bought on a whim in Chaing Mai. For 800baht, roughly $20.00USD at the time, you could get picked up from your hostel in the morning and spend all day going on a hike through the local nation park which included waterfalls, kayaking, swimming, a traditional lunch and dinner and an elephant ride. I actually cancelled it when I found out there was going to be an elephant ride back because that’s not on.

PS It’s important to remember that with all the ugly sides of this, it’s still an amazingly charming part of the world and none of these points should dissuade you from your adventures there.

PPS Elephants don’t belong in captivity for entertainment.

If you think I’ve forgotten anything or want to share your experiences, leave a comment below.

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