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 3: Culture and Food
Just a reminder, if you have travelled through South East Asia before, these posts might not be as interesting to you as it may be for someone contemplating backpacking through this part of the world. Still an interesting read and will definitely make you reminisce on the amazing adventures you had in South East Asia.
Exploring the amazing cultures and delicious foods is why most people venture to South East Asia. Let’s check it out!
21. Welcoming and Generous
In a general sense, once you leave the overly saturated tourist areas, local people are really quite kind and generous. I’m not saying that people in these highly developed tourist locations aren’t friendly, but they’ve become quite accustom to the tourist trade.
When striking up a conversation with a local from the smaller towns, they’re really quite welcoming and now and then will offer a night in their house or village. When working on Koh Rong, Cambodia, the local staff often cooked their own authentic dinners – something you’ll never find in a restaurant – and were extremely eager to share it with me. They laughed and clapped as I found their food either too spicy, too sweet or just delicious. One of the highlights was being fed an endless supply of muscles marinated in probably the most mouth-watering broth ever.
The GIANT reclining Buddha in Bangkok
In order to take only a quick look at what to expect in terms of food in South East Asia, I’ll have to be pretty general and state the obvious – There are tonnes of rice.
Kidding, there’s more to it then that. Generally Asian people like to cook lots of stir-fried dishes with little to no bread or wheat. Chicken and park are the most common meats as beef standards are quite low. Expect some cheap meals like Pad Thai, Fried Rice, Noodle Soul to be consistent throughout this part of Asia. Other meals including a delicious plethora of noodle and rice dishes are available.
It’s supposed to be quite common in Asia and although I didn’t get to give it a shot, I met a few people who managed to get around quite easily. So long as you can communicate that you have no money and don’t want to go to the local taxi rank or bus station, most people said they didn’t wait around for long and manage to get most places hassle free.
As always with hitch hiking, use common sense.
24. Cheap local food
I said earlier that it’s cheaper to eat out instead of cooking your own food. And this is true. But make sure you eat at the right places. Sometimes you’ll have a pretty amazing choice of top end restaurants charging prices more similar to what you would pay back home and serving a selection of dishes from around the world. And that’s not what your there for right? Make sure you ask your hostel where the best markets are and you’ll find some amazing street food from mushrooms wrapped in bacon to amazing baguettes to and entire choice of bugs and arachnids. One of the best things about South East Asia is the food.
Tip: If you want to find the best food, eat where the locals eat.
When shopping in the east, everything has a flexible price. Whether you’re trying to shave the cost off of a new silk shirt or halving the price of a Tuk-Tuk ride, getting used to haggling for most things is something everyone should do. This is part of the culture here and can be easily mistaken for a scam or foul play – and sometimes it is. The basic idea is that if you’re willing to pay the price for it, then great. But if not, how much are you willing to pay? Something to remember is don’t start haggling for something unless you actually really want it. Because it is frowned upon in these cultures to offer a price and then not accept the trade.
Tip: Don’t be afraid of haggling, you won’t survive without it. Be sure to jump straight into it and get some practice in, it will save you loads of cash in the future.
Street markets are a beautiful and vibrant place.
26. Corner shops
Just like every other backpacker, I love a good corner shop. The most notable is 7/11 which has everything from toothpaste, to alcohol, to ham and cheese toasties. I could write and entire book on 7/11’s Ham and Cheese toasties. But when it’s 3:00am and you’ve been drinking Chang Beers all night and you just want something greasy and delicious, this is the way to go. Most of the time if you need anything, you’ll head to 7/11 and find it there.
And when you can’t find a corner shop similar to 7/11, theres stalls. And they are EVERYWHERE. Chances are, you’ll be sitting in the back of a minibus driving through the middle of no where in Laos and see an old woman on the side of the road selling Oreos, Coka-Cola and the likes. You can find a lot of things in these stalls, but you’ll love it if you just need to find a bag of chips or a scorpion in a bottle of home-brewed whiskey.
If anyone knows how they manage to do this and it still be economically viable, leave a comment.
A classic look at the rustic and busy outer Bangkok.
28. The ‘If it fits’ style
No doubt you’re going to see this at some point on your adventure through South East Asia. An entire family consisting of two parents and three children, only one with a helmet, riding a scooter through the busy streets of any major city. Or a guy riding his scooters with a mound of straw taller than a human sitting on the back. Sometimes even a kid younger than 10 who barely fits is riding his scooter around the place.
People from this part of the world, with quite relaxed laws about this sort of stuff, have a way of making things just fit. You’ll see people living in tiny spaces, or jamming as many products onto a wall as possible. They’ll ride their scooter through the tiniest gap in traffic and jam up the entire motorways. It’s great and all, just hope they don’t squash your backpack into a minibus the wrong way.
29. Scooters and transport
With such high congestion on the roads, it makes sense for most of the population to be riding scooters. They’re great fun to ride as a tourist as well, if you’re safe. Always learn to ride first and if its your first time riding a scooter don’t just jump straight on and put away. According to the Daily Telegraph, “In Thailand alone, 38 locals and tourists die each day and another 500 are injured in motorcycle accidents.”
With all that said, some of the highlights of my trip were riding around the beautiful streets of Pai, North Thailand going from canyons to hot springs to caves and at the end of the day, to the top of the mountains to watch the sunset. I did all of this with my scooter gang as we paraded around with our 125cc scooters like the biggest bunch of gangsters the east has ever seen. My bike was pink, I called him Scoopie because of the giant Scoopie sticker on his side right next to the love hearts.
Aside from scooters, locals and tourists alike can get around in all sorts of trains, buses, minivans, taxis and tuk-tuk. It’s important to know the best price to get somewhere, and if your going over night look for a sleeper bus (which has reclining seats and blankets) or a hotel bus (which puts you next to some unfortunate soul in a tiny bed just big enough for the both of you).
Me and my scooter gang. Somewhere in Thailand.
Lastly, the traffic. I’ve said that the roads are usually heavily congested due to poor transport infrastructure. Crossing roads as a pedestrian is an art form in itself in this part of the world. It takes a lot of getting used to.
Crossing Traffic: In order to cross a road with slow but consistent flowing traffic , just look at where you want to go and walk slowly toward to the other side. Don’t change directions, stop or do anything unpredictable.
If you think I’ve forgotten anything or want to share your experiences, leave a comment below.
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Now check out Part 4: Tourism, click the link below.