If you’re sick of all the ‘Eat. Pray. Love’ advice, all that life coaching that appears on memes and tells you what to feel, this blogpost might be able to help. If not, just skip to the bit about not renting a moped. Here you find the 10 lessons I learned from travelling Asia.
And remember, never rent a moped.
1. Pod Hotels are more than Novelty
These things, the pod or capsule hotel, are often visited in an ironic way by tourists and backpackers in Japan.
Culturally though, they are quite fascinating.
Most only admit men. Tattoos are either frowned upon, or banned. There is usually a large collection of comic books, a huge stone bath, and a ton of men in medical gowns smoking themselves silly whilst watching baseball.
Crucially, they are cheaper than most hotels and frighteningly comfortable. Plus they’ve enough beds to nearly always have vacancies.
A genuine practical choice.
2. Singapore is mainly awful
Don’t worry, I’ve done a fair wack of research before forming this opinion. Not only have I spent a solid, and dull, week there but a close Scottish friend also had the misfortune of growing up in its stuffy controlled atmosphere.
Lets start with the good: the food is cheap, varied and quite incredible. Especially at the hawker centres. Other then that, well, it’s clean. I suppose.
Then, the bad: there are heavy taxes on anything fun, like beer, cigarettes or smiling. The possession of drugs is punishable by death, so the city seems to have been turned in a giant banker’s paradise.
You can be fined, heavily, for almost anything, like chewing gum and riding a bike under an underpass. Painfully sterile, it’s built on the backs of a service class and some dubious democracy.
Just sack it off and go to Malaysia – everything Singapore has with its soul intact.
3. Korean Drinking is Self-Destructive
Travelling, and living in, South Korea for a while teaches you that their society – still reasonably closed and hierarchical – likes to drink.
Businessmen, well everyone, is often found blind drunk from the night before sleeping on the streets.
You drink with you boss, you drink doing business, you drink in the clubs and sports teams, you drink based on age, you drink to be happy and you drink to be sad.
Thankfully their booze and their food is incredible. As are the hangover cures.
Korea, perfect for a long drunk weekend. Who knew?
4. Always have a plan B (And C and D) in China
Money doesn’t buy your way out of everything in China: but information does.
When you’re backpacking you can often just pay your way out of trouble, if worst comes to worst. But in China money won’t buy you that security, without putting you on a boring stuffy tour.
Make sure you use official taxis. Make sure you have Chinese sentences written down to show people. Make sure you know of a place where the staff may speak English (Starbucks is weirdly good for this).
China is as stressful as it is wondrous.
Learn the symbol for ‘Internet Cafe’. Never trust anyone who approaches you, especially if they speak good English.
Basically, plan you trips A to B to C to D, and always think of a way out when Plan A fails.
5. The Russian like Vietnam, the Koreans the Philippines and the British have infested Thailand
Weird how certain countries are attracted to certain places. Vietnam (and weirdly Israel) is very popular with the Russians. I have been in entirely Korean nightclubs in The Philippines, there’s a huge one in Cebu City for instance.
Everybody has their Magaluf.
It’s a shame that parts of Thailand are now almost exclusively foreign. It’s the only place I’ve ever taken a public bus that had none of the public on it, just backpackers.
Still, outside the tourist traps the country is, of course, incredible.
6. Don’t Rent a Moped
I mean, it looks cool. They are cool. But in every group of 10 English twits there’s one hobbling on crutches with half his skin, fingers and a left eyebrow missing.
It’s not worth ruining your holiday.
Dorky I know. Call me boring if you want. But. It’s just not worth it. (And I’m sensibly afraid of foreign hospital bills).
7. Hotels are cheaper than hostels in Vietnam
The default go-to is the hostel for the young traveller. But surprisingly, in places like Vietnam and Cambodia, it’s cheaper to get a hotel room. In fact hostels can be quite rare as a result.
Rubbish if you’re travelling on your own, but a point worth considering.
8. Avoid all Official Tours
This is best advice in Angkor Wat.
The beautiful collection of temples in Cambodia is basically a small city in itself. To see it properly, freedom is the name of the game.
The planned tours they sell you involve a lot of money and being harassed by restaurant owners and hawkers.
If you just rent a bike and travel to all the little temples on the map, you’ll have a great time.
Be free. Do things for yourself, it’s often cheaper and far less stressful.
9. Borders Require Meticulous Planning
Not all borders are the smooth EU affairs we’re used to.
Some, especially the Thai – Cambodian border (Aranyaprathet – Poi Pet) are a complete nightmare.
It’s worth researching blogs on each border you need to cross for up to date information.
It’s not just a case that they might overcharge, sometimes taxis will take you to a fake border and try to get you to pay for extra visas. Or, as happened to me, after I’d dodged three or four traps, was taken on a fake public bus to a fake petrol station, before hitting the city two hours late.
All in all I was only overcharged about $10. But the stress was acute.
10. Malaysian Borneo is the Winner, Always.
If we’re being positive, for a second, and we should for a change in this post, Borneo is incredible.
A mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Western and Indigenous populations, the area’s culture and history is as diverse as the food and fauna.
Part of the Malaysian north used to be run by a British adventurer family like they were kings, the ‘White Rajahs’ of Sarawak, whilst North Borneo was a British colony.
The area suffered in the war. It has the highest mountain in SE Asia in Mount Kinabalu. Some of the world’s best diving, lagoons and rainforests are there.
There is a controversial palm oil industry. Tones of oil money and a whole Muslim micro-nation nestled inside its borders.
Bonus: 11. One last thing…
Never travel to ‘find yourself’, you might find that you’re a d!ck. Other countries weren’t put there for you.
Travel to see what’s real, whether it be smog and chaos in China, gridlock in Bangkok or wild (not captive) orangutans in Borneo.
Thanks for reading this post! We hope to see you soon, coming back for more.
Did you enjoy these 11 lessons from somebody who’s travelled the whole of Asia?
Just drop a line in the comment section if you did.
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