I’ve been travelling South East Asia now since my stop in Bangkok, 31st July, 2019. I did spend a little time in Malaysia and Southern Thailand at the start of July before I flew home to celebrate my birthday, but upon arrival in Bangkok I’ve really covered the majority of what SE Asia has to offer. Across these last six months, I’ve been blessed to travel Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and now Indonesia. Each country varies in culture, language, history and traits, but there are a few common factors that I realised they had in common. This post is dedicated to the 5 TOP differences and culture shocks I’ve noticed travelling in SE Asia compared to the UK. One funny thing I realised is that the level of spitting phlegm – picture Jack teaching Rose the perfect technique in the Titanic – gets actually considerably worse the further down SE Asia you travel.
In fact, Laos and Cambodia were quite honestly preparing me for Vietnam where I’m amazed the locals have any saliva left – but hey, I even started joining in, because 1) Hanoi pollution is terrible and 2) when you’re visiting locals – do as the locals do, am I right? When I’m back in the UK, remind me to rein it in.
Visiting different countries makes me laugh sometimes because they can get away with so much we couldn’t in our Westernised countries. Take a look at my list below and let me know if you can relate to what I’m saying 😂
1.LOCALS VS FOREIGNERS – a difference in price for everything
In the Western World, we’re getting pretty politically correct about things, and it’s a good thing. Can you imagine London putting up signs for the London Eye, Madam Tussauds, hell, ANY tourist trap with two separate lines and two separate prices. Somehow, I just can’t see how “British people to the left and foreigners to the right” would go down. In SE Asia, it’s not the same. There’s separate prices and lines for a lot of popular sites. I mean I understand they’ll make a ton of money from charging tourists extra, but still. It’s not just the sites though, the majority of restaurants in SE Asia have separate menu prices for food and coffee depending on whether you’re “white” (their words) or Asian. I was in Hoi Ann, looking at the menu in a local restaurant for my usual egg coffee (because that was my Vietnamese obsession), and was happy to find the price was pretty cheap. My two Argentinian buddies and I sat down and happily drank all our coffees. In fact, I’m pretty sure one of us ordered two because it wasn’t outrageously priced like a lot of other places. Upon paying, the staff shook their heads and told us our coffees were double the price. We looked at each other and pointed at the menu above the counter and showed them the correct price to which the waiter shook his head and told us “No no, we forgot to change the price”. He then proceeded to find a different menu with tourist prices on, so that was fun to argue about. I’m pretty sure in the UK this would be a court case for severe racism – quickly deciding that a “foreigner” had to pay extra compared to someone British next to them having a coffee. That’s still not the end of the price difference stories. Many a time, I have had to pay EXTRA for my pee in a “toilet” – and not even a toilet because I don’t even like using a toilet seat, I prefer the hole on the ground! So there I am, a tourist on a random street in some part of SE Asia, having to pay for my hole in the ground, when the locals just go in and out for free. Perhaps the toilet steward thinks my bladder is in fact a golden bladder and I pee gold and rainbows and butterflies, but I can clarify it’s not and this was slightly taking the PISS. (Ha Ha , urine related pun, here all night).
2.PERFECTLY PRICED EGGS AND AVO ON TOAST
This is a pretty obvious one, but I will forever love the fact you have two options in SE Asia. You can always eat local (which I prefer because I find the food so tasty and I love experiencing new dishes) but if you DO want a slice of home, you can still get a western meal for a triple of the price than it would be in the UK.
I’m not one for eating my standard breakfast abroad, but there’s something very nice to see that a simple guacamole and egg option is not an absolutely, ludicrous £12 as it can be in London. And yes, I’m one of those people who has paid and will still continue to pay that for a brunch with friends, but it’s just so silly isn’t it, when you could just pay £4-5 for it here (although admittedly you need to add the £300 price to get here in the first place so I guess £304 for a guacamole and egg toast probably isn’t worth it) but still, you get my jist.
3.KIDS DRIVING MOPEDS, REPEAT KIDS DRIVING MOPEDS
Across SE Asia, riding a moped or motorbike is the most common form of transport here. The price of petrol for a week here is probably the price of a Starbucks Frappuccino and it’s just a quick and efficient way of getting through heaps of traffic. It’s been really cool to see travellers ride from one side of a country to the other with their backpacks, and such an easy way to see the city if you don’t have much time. What’s been crazy for me, is the amount of children you see riding them. I mean, I’ve tried it, I’m useless and I know how to drive a car – how they’re able to ride it, let alone see over the handle bars beats me. These kids look about 7 years old and I’m pretty sure there’s not a driving license for them. I’ll make sure to ask them for a ride next time because compared to me, they’re professionals.
4.THERE ARE NO ROAD RULES
Bullet point 3 follows nicely onto Bullet point 4. I don’t know if there’s ANY sort of test you need to be able to drive anything in South East Asia. It’s either the worst test ever, all the driving examiners full asleep during the exam or there’s no test at all and people just hop on a bike/into a car and drive from whatever age they want – and without googling this, I’m sure it must be the latter.
Similar to the spitting, I can also give the trophy to the worst possible drivers in SE Asia to Vietnam. In fact, I was pre warned by friends about it before, I was warned IN Vietnam by the locals and now I’m just warning you – good luck crossing a road. If you were in the UK, you wait for the red man to go green, you look to the right, you look to the left, you cross peacefully and happily. Sometimes a friendly driver smiles at you and slows down for you, perhaps waving and wishing you a good morning. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, we all know in rush hour, no one will let you go, let alone wave out the window but the POINT I’m trying to make is that the option is still there for that to happen. In Vietnam, the only option you have to cross a road is to pray you get to the other side. It doesn’t matter if the light is red for pedestrians, it doesn’t matter if people are crossing, it doesn’t matter if there’s a T junction and maybe it would be nice to see if there was traffic passing by – the only thing that matters is the acceleration. If you’re walking to get to the other side? Then that’s your problem if you get hit. Motorbike riders don’t even swerve for you – I’ve had to jump out of the way numerous times and my friends have got knocked. In Vietnam, you don’t look up and down, you have to close your eyes, put one step forward and hope for the best. There will be traffic coming from ALL directions, directions you wouldn’t even imagine possible because when you prepare to look left, right, up and down for vehicles, you forget that Vietnamese drivers when bored of the roads, will just mount the pavement and drive on that. And if you’re using the pavement to avoid the road? That’s also probably your fault too. So yes, what are my tips for road safety in Vietnam? TRY to look left and right, don’t literally walk out with your eyes shut – although it probably won’t make a difference – don’t speed up your walk, just look determined and pray. It really annoys me that I passed my driving test on my THIRD try – all that money I spent on exams and extra lessons when I could have just learnt and passed on my first try in Vietnam doing nothing. Oh well, you live and learn. Thanks to my friend Chris for a wonderful demonstration on how to attempt to walk on a road in Vietnam.
5.PEOPLE ARE FRIENDLY AT 7/8AM
I mean look, I was and will always be one of those people that will stare at you with daggers on the underground if you even BEGIN to talk to me before 11am. When I’ve seen people I’ve known from my old school, when I see friends, general strangers who attempt a smile? No. Don’t even try it. I will even tell you not to get offended when I dramatically put my headphones in my ears to signal the conversation is closed until I get a coffee and thus am a normal, friendly human again. In SE Asia, despite the obvious few exceptions, everyone is soooooo happy at 7/8am. In fact, the earlier the better! Laos and Indonesia win top spots in my imaginary awards ceremony as possibly the nicest community of people, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that I’ve ever met early. Clearly being moody in the morning is not something they’ve ever experienced or if so, they have some top notch DiCaprio acting skills happening.
So those are my top 5! Quite honestly I could have written so many more, specifically about how if you have a severe allergy to something, even if you can communicate in English perfectly to the chef, they just pick the bits you can’t have out and serve it to you or how in England beeping can be quite aggressive whereas in SE Asia it’s seen as a friendly warning. The list goes on, but I’d love to hear your views! What are the craziest culture shocks you’ve witnessed on your travels? Comment below!