RAMBLINGS OF A SOUTHEAST (SE) ASIA TRAVELER: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam
#1 IN THE BEGINNING
Where to go in SE Asia:
Everyone asks me, “How do you know where to go when you travel?” Well, let’s admit it right here, I am a traveling fool. If I haven’t got at least 3 trips planned at one time, I breakout in a very itchy rash. In addition, I am not writing a travel guide here, but I can tell you it doesn’t matter where you go. I sincerely advise and hope you keep some of my ramblings in mind wherever you go because I have experienced what no one should have to. Here are my top 5 suggestions:
- Do THE tourist things (get a good guidebook, i.e. Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, other)
- Be seen at THE tourist places
- Eat/drink THE tourist food/beers/cocktails (forget the water)
- Stay at THE tourist accommodations making positively sure there is a working air conditioner somewhere at the place you stay (hopefully in your bedroom).
- Wear THE tourist garb (don’t try to hide the fact you are a real tourist)
YOU ARE A TOURIST & YOU MUST ACT LIKE IT – Wear your tourist status like a fine spandex bikini. The locals expect it, your country expects it, and your friends and loved ones you left at home expect it.
TRAVELER HINT: 1. Something to keep in mind & believe me you won’t forget, SE Asia is so hot and steamy you’ll feel like you are in a never-ending sweat hell – that’s why the working air conditioner is almost your lifeline to sanity, and 2. always, always, always, always be generous and tip often. You never know when you will need help with transportation, directions, translation, whatever from the local person you just befriended with a tip. In SE Asia, the larger the tip, the more the local person will help you when in need. If you don’t tip or tip small, expect huge language barriers and other unforeseen hurdles. Something to keep in mind: The approximate average MONTHLY salary for a laborer in USA dollars in Thailand is $180, Cambodia is $195, and Vietnam is $185. Honest, I did not leave out any zeros.
Making sense of what to pack – 5 MUST HAVES in your bag in SE Asia
TRAVELER HINT: DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN YOUR TRAVEL BAG THAT CAN BE DEFINED AS NEEDLESS OR USELESS (which is most everything you think you need, but really don’t). We will also skip any mention of clothing as clothing just makes the daily climate worse, but since nudity is strictly forbidden in SE Asia, I’ll leave any clothing decision up to you.
First and foremost: Secure your passport in a slash-proof pouch that can fit nicely around your neck and under your shirt. Always carry the pouch with you on airplanes, buses, and ships; but leave your passport in the hotel safe if possible unless you really want to stay in SE Asia for the rest of your life. Make at least 3 passport copies (1 might be enough depending on your level of forgetfulness) and pack in your travel bag, shoe soles, or underwear. Also, it’s a good idea to include 1 Master or Visa credit card in the pouch around your neck & under your shirt. As an aside, the world DOES NOT like American Express, Discover, Travelers Checks for good reason, but that’s another rambling discussion.
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Second most important: USA toothpaste & toothbrush. On a long trip greater than over night, maybe 2 or 3 toothbrushes should be packed. Do not rely on the free toothbrush and toothpaste they give you on the long flight or the freebies at the hotel. I did several times and ended up with a mouth full of bristles and toothpaste with the taste & consistency of glue (some sort of a design flaw I never figured out). Always keep in mind that no one likes to be around you or will answer any of your dumb ass tourist questions if you have bad breath. The local SE Asia people can tolerate a lot from a tourist, but bad breath is NOT one of them.
Third: There is nothing wrong with packing at least 3 pairs of breathable, quick drying, easy to wash underwear regardless of how long the trip. The travel catalogs have these great undies for girls and boys called ExOffico. Key Words: Breathable and washable (use body soap not shampoo unless you want short hair frizzes).
Fourth: A dry washcloth is really something you cannot be without. Now here’s where I’m coming from here: SE Asia takes hot and humid to a new level of suffering. You can’t even breathe most of the time, and all you can think of is getting to any kind of air-conditioning and having a beer with ice (refrigeration is not a priority in SE Asia). You are adventurous, curious and want to gain knowledge of your surroundings so get out, rub shoulders with the locals, explore the terrain, climb on ruins (not really, they don’t like that), take endless amounts of digital pictures (you’ll show to a couple folks back home but never look at again), etc.
Oh, back to the dry wash cloth. You will endlessly use it to wipe the sweat out of your eyes so you don’t have to walk around with blurry vision & you can see the sights with all the clarity of an honest-to-goodness tourist. Honestly, I have never been to a place where everything on you sweats profusely including your eyelids. As an aside, depending on your girth, you might want to upgrade to a bath sheet. Believe me, you will thank me on this one.
Fifth: Meds from home. Though SE Asia, in the counties where I went, has mostly wonderful healthcare and pharmacies (there are exceptions of course), some meds you will want accessible at all times are:
Motrin: Helps with excessive amounts of Chang and Singha beer you guzzle in Thailand, Angkor Beer in Cambodia, and Hanoi and Saigon beer in Vietnam. Helps with sleeping on European-type concrete beds, helps with the never ending “trekking” to those not-to-be-missed tourist highlights.
Bug Spray: SE Asia guidebooks will always tell you to bring bug spray. In 8 weeks, I never saw a bug. It’s too dam hot for them and a case of malaria has not been reported in any of the three countries I visited in at least six months (or since the last rainy season). But I guess, bug spray wouldn’t be a bad idea just in case.
Scopolamine trans-dermal behind-the-ear motion sickness patches: Obviously helps with motion sickness on long-tail boats. But is really good for any sort of upchucking. A 24-hour bout if the dry heaves will make a believer out of you and really messes up a good SE Asia time. Of course these patches are prescription and not cheap, but anything that really works isn’t cheap in the good old USA. They last for 72 hours.
Did I mention, plenty of ballpoint or gel pens? Why? Well, how are you going to get in any SE Asia country if you don’t have the pen to fill out the little forms they give you on the plane? More on this in #2 of the series.
Also, I welcome ramblings from you. Questions, comments, discussions are encouraged and possibly appreciated. If your rambling requires a response from me, please be patient as my Internet connection really sucks bad, and I am not clinging to my computer every minute.
Till the Next Post,
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