Before traveling to another country or part of the globe, we already have preconceived notions about what it’s roughly going to be like. Whether it’s through films, travel articles, photographs, or even word of mouth, most people will think a place is a certain way before they even step foot there. But it’s not until you finally get there that many of your concerns will be squashed, or that it just might not be all it’s been made out to be. Southeast Asia was definitely one of those places that I’d heard so much about, and naturally thought would turn out to be a particular way. But after spending 5 months backpacking through the region, I’m about to go all Mythbusters on many of the popular thoughts about Southeast Asia, well, at least what I had thought before setting foot there. Here are our 5 myths about traveling in Southeast Asia.
You’ll lose weight
Ah yes, that good ‘ole analogy that being in hot tropical climates thinking you’ll be active every day, coupled with a change in diet, will naturally lead to you losing weight. Well unless you pick up a bad stomach bug (which I don’t wish upon anyone, it never happened to us!) I’m sorry to say that this is one myth I myself was hoping would be true. There’s two main reasons why this isn’t the case in Southeast Asia:
Part of the travel experience is sampling the local cuisine, and there’s no shortage of different things to try in Southeast Asia. The food is incredibly delicious and very easy on the wallet. Even the super budget, cash-strapped travelers will have no problems finding food options within their price range. But the one problem with Southeast Asian cuisine is it’s rooted in starchy carbohydrates, namely rice and noodles. And to top it all off, alcohol is just as cheap. You’ll probably find yourself having at least a bottle of beer a day (more if you’re in Laos where a 640mL of Beerlao goes for $1), whether socializing with other travelers or enjoying a peaceful afternoon beach side.
Which brings me to the second reason why you won’t lose weight. You really won’t be as active as you think. Sure, there are those days where you’re walking all day long sightseeing, hiking through jungles, and swimming for hours. But for just as many of those active days you have, you’ll have the same number of days where you won’t be nearly as active. 12+ hours sitting on a bus, waiting at an airport, relaxing on a beach, or just taking a day off to recharge those travel batteries don’t burn any calories. But it’s all about the experience, not about going on a diet. If anything, you’ll probably average out over the course of your time in the region.
It’s only for young, 20-something budget backpackers
Southeast Asia is probably the best area in the world where our western dollars will go the farthest. It’s inexpensive to sleep, eat, and get around, without having to share a room with creepy crawlies or rely on instant noodle soup for nourishment. Because of this, it attracts a younger crowd who don’t have as much disposable income. But while it’s true that there are a lot of young travelers who will spend months at a time exploring Southeast Asia (hello, us!), there’s a large market for those whose travel style is different and want something a little more comfortable. In almost all the major cities you’ll find 3-5 star hotels and restaurants to go with them. It’s one of those places where you can spend as little as $20 a day per person or ten times that amount if you want to. But during our time in Southeast Asia, we actually came across a lot more travelers that were in their 30s or retired couples doing the Southeast Asian backpacking trail they didn’t have time to do earlier on. We met many travelers who weren’t into the party scene and found there were activities available for all age groups and fitness levels.
I was one of those people who thought that Southeast Asia would be rather dangerous. I was worried about our stuff being stolen, getting mugged on the street, and even possibly finding ourselves in not so desirable situations. But almost within our first few weeks in Southeast Asia, I realized that there was really no cause for my concerns. Sure, you need to be vigilant about your belongings both in transit and at your accommodation, making sure you’re valuables are secure in your room while you’re not there. And unfortunately, there are those who prey on distracted, intoxicated, and even seasoned travelers with well thought through scams. It can happen anywhere in the world. But in terms of danger lurking in the streets with guns and knives and gangs. Not so much. Most Southeast Asians are very kind and generous, and want you to enjoy your time in their country. The various governments throughout the region have also been ensuring traveler’s safety, because let’s face it, if there’s a lot of crime targeted towards tourists, we’ll think twice about wanting to go there, thus resulting in those countries loosing valuable tourist dollars.
While traveling through Southeast Asia, we adopted a buddy system between the two of us, always looking out for each other’s back. We never let anyone else carry our bags, and locked our valuables up in our room using a Pacsafe when we weren’t there. We never once had any problems and felt very safe exploring even off the beaten paths.
It’s a great place to do drugs
Now, segueing off of the last point about it not being dangerous, if you think Southeast Asia is a great place to do drugs, you’re absolutely wrong! This is one area in particular where you will likely find yourself in hot water. Let me rephrase: Southeast Asia is NOT a great place to do drugs. It is illegal in all Southeast Asian countries to do drugs, with many of them holding death penalties for those trying to smuggle drugs. I have read a number of recent events leading to travelers finding themselves in a Southeast Asian prison due to drugs that always makes me wonder why people think it’s a good idea in the first place. And even if you think smoking a single joint won’t get you in the slammer, I wouldn’t advise even taking the risk. That local “guy” you just bought some weed off of who seems cool and all? Yeah, he’s most likely working with the local police who have just photographed your entire exchange and will now be coming to you looking for a payout to make the “charges” go away. It’s really not worth the hassles.
Your experience going to the bathroom will be horrendous
Yes it’s true; you’re going to have to use a squat toilet at some point while traveling through Southeast Asia. But the chances of you having to squat in a bush or over two planks of wood strategically placed over a running stream, because there’s nothing else available, are slim. Washrooms will vary in cleanliness; it happens all over the world (I was actually more turned off and disgusted by the public campsite toilets while campervan-ing in New Zealand), but for the most part they were well maintained.
You’ll also be happy to hear that I was quite surprised with the number of western style toilets accessible in each country, and even the number of public toilets available for use. There seems to be an understanding now with many Southeast Asian countries about catering to western style toilet preferences. You’ll have to get used to carrying toilet paper or tissues with you (as most bathrooms will not offer them), and even the manual flushing system involving scooping a bucket of water and giving it the ‘ole heave-ho down the drain (crossing your fingers that everything goes down, ha!), plus some hand sanitizer in the absence of soap. But I’m here to tell you that you’ll have nothing to worry about when nature calls.
Do you have any myths about traveling in Southeast Asia? Anything you expected that just wasn’t the case? Share it below!