14 Surprises and Unsurprises about SE Asia

See surprise #6
See surprise #4

After over a month of traveling in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, here are some of the most notable surprises and un-surprises:

On Hotels…

  1. Happily, and not really surprisingly, all the hotels we’ve stayed at have been beyond acceptable in terms of cleanliness and service. We’ve co-habitated with lizards and occasionally small ants, but we all maintained appropriate personal space.
  2. There’s no standard hotel toiletry kit or bathroom setup. Some hotels have nice little soaps, others have crappy ones. Some have small toothbrushes and combs, and only some have shampoo. Shower curtains are rare, so I am now used to getting everything in the bathroom wet. Pro tip: be careful where you leave the toilet paper.
  3. The idea of a “weekly rate” or extended stay discount seems foreign here. We’ve occasionally found it is less expensive to book on Expedia or Booking.com than to walk up with cash and ask for the best price. It makes me wonder if those companies send “best rate” spies or something.

On Getting Around…

  1. Scooters are awesome! I did not appreciate this until we got here. Overnight trains are fun too. It’s been surprisingly easy to get around everywhere, on everything from taxis to tuk-tuks to bikes.
  2. Sidewalks are mostly used for parking here. When people walk, which has been rare everywhere we’ve been, they walk in the streets, and traffic just buzzes right around them.
  3. Wifi has been available almost everywhere. Hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants all will provide their password when you sit down and ask. Even big airports like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur had free wifi. I thought we might want to upgrade to a cheap local data plan, but access has been so easy we’re just using wifi.
  4. We were worried about scams but haven’t had any problems yet. Maybe it’s Adam’s large size or beard, but I haven’t even noticed anyone looking at us funny. I’ve done some pre-research for each city on how to get cabs and how much things should cost, so perhaps that helped.
  5. English has been good enough to get by in all the cities and touristy places we’ve visited so far. We learned only a few words everywhere we’ve gone, which was not my original plan. In our defense, tonal languages like Vietnamese are extra hard.
  6. Credit cards are not widely accepted, and most hotels and tours charge an extra 2-3% to cover their fees. On the flip side, my bank ATM card and credit card remain un-compromised after a month of occasional use, unlike some other places (I’m looking at you, Brazil) where they didn’t last a week.

On Packing…

  1. My 33L bag of tricks has been sufficient to get us through almost all adventures. Nothing has been discarded yet except a few empty toiletries and I’ve only picked two new things. I bought a tank top for dirtier adventures or working out in Thailand and also gained a small brightly colored purse.
Even cloudy sunsets are good. Chang beer is good when it’s cold.

And Unsurprisingly…

  1. The food is great! (Although it is perhaps surprising that we haven’t been sick at all.)
  2. All the local domestic lager beers are very similar to each other and to any other domestic lager you might get anywhere else around the world. Which is another way to say that they are not very good. At least they’re usually pretty cold. We’ve only seen a true IPA at one or two places. I hope to find more soon as Phnom Penh has a few micro breweries within biking distance.
  3. It is as hot. Very hot. We are usually the sweatiest people around. Thank goodness for wool t-shirts.
  4. And, of course, on a positive note for humanity, locals and other travelers have generally been kind, patient, welcoming, friendly, and helpful.

3 thoughts on “14 Surprises and Unsurprises about SE Asia”

  1. Wait, the first post after the one on meditation retreats isn’t, “we survived the meditation retreat?” I need details on 10 days of silence….although definitely glad to see you emerged and didn’t decide to forgo technology forever! 🙂

    1. Sorry! User error over here, should’ve noted that that was an auto-post. Good thing I spent some time sharpening my mind. More to come soon.

  2. So glad to see you, sweet Leslie!
    I look forward to reading more about your experiences.

    If you need a smile, think about the duck who walks into the bar…..

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