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I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The five ‘P’s that best describes South East Asia are:
I’m talking about South East Asian tourist destinations such as Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui or Krabi in Thailand; Bali in Indonesia; Langkawi in Malaysia; Nha Trang and Hoi An in Vietnam; and Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
Now that I have travelled to a great number of these South East Asian countries, they all appear to have one thing in common. What I call the five ‘P’s of South East Asia: open sewers, loads of rubbish on the streets and roadsides, housing conditions that are worse than our slums, putrid water that is undrinkable, hazy smoggy skies, traffic chaos on the streets with scooters and cars like ants scattering everywhere and peddlers pushing their wares – from fake Rayban sunglasses to Rolex watches.
Housing in some parts consists of tumbledown makeshift huts made out of corrugated iron or chipboard with grass thatched roofs and dirt floors. Some of the more prosperous households have goats, cattle, pigs and chickens.
It is not unusual for motor scooters to carry a family of four – dad, mum and two children. No helmets, no protective clothing or footwear in most instances. Scooters are also used to transport all types of goods, such as building materials, ladders and shopping. There appears to be no road rules or giving way – just this constant stream of scooters zigzagging through the traffic all honking their horns to get out of the way of one another.
The fresh food markets sell all kinds of local produce with fruit and vegetables, non-refrigerated fish and seafood and pieces of unidentifiable cuts of meat just lying in the hot sun with flies buzzing around!
Children as young as 5 years can be seen begging for money or selling souvenirs like friendship bracelets or postcards. I guess the necessity to earn money to survive takes precedence over attending school.
Young teenage girls can be seen in the more populated tourist cities working as masseurs or bar girls. They all speak a limited broken English and scream at you in their high pitched voices as you walk by “mass-aaage”! The bar girls will dance for you on the bar tables for money with a repertoire of dance moves that would make Beyonce blush!
The streets are a mish-mash of uneven footpaths – some paved and some with cracked and broken concrete. The footpaths are used as parking space for hundreds of motor scooters so you take your life in your hands by trying to negotiate the narrow streets and laneways on the roads rather that on the paths.
You decide you want to go to the beach to relax on the sand on a sun lounge, only to find out that these sun lounges come at a cost! You pay a small amount to hire the sun lounge and then get pestered by a constant stream of peddlers trying to sell you sunglasses, colourful sarongs, cheap jewellery and fresh slices of pineapple or mango.
To avoid the constant ‘pestering’ you then decide to take a dip in the sea, only to find plastic bags and bottles washed up on the shores. This is prevalent at most of the more populated beaches, however if you get out of town the beaches tend to be more pristine.
The beaches are frequented by the more mature Eastern European ladies and men all donning the briefest bikini or “budgie smugglers” they can squeeze their portly figures into to. There are no inhibitions here!
Walking through town you are constantly asked whether you would like a Taxi or Tuk Tuk, when all you really want to do is walk! You swelter and sweat in the humidity and wish you had taken that bloody Tuk Tuk, because the temperature is always around 30 degrees and the humidity at around 100 percent.
So in reading all this about South East Asia, you would possibly be thinking “why on earth would anyone want to visit here”? Good question! I can give you at least five good reasons to travel to South East Asia:
But more than this most of the people in Asian countries are beautiful, hard working, family orientated and happy to please. They go beyond the call of duty to make your experience in their country the best it can be and always greet you with praying hands and a lovely big smile on their faces.
So is South East Asia the right travel destination for you? I think it is an acquired taste and like a lot of things in life you need to try it at least once to make up your own mind. For me, I unreservedly give South East Asia the “thumbs up”!
Read more about culture shock in Asia from fellow bloggers Two Tall Travellers.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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JulieMay 31, 2016
You’ve described South East Asia very well -both the good and bad – some of the loveliest people and arguably the best food in the world – I haven’t been for a number of years – I just fear it is groaning under the weight of western tourists and the humidity makes me grumpy ?
KathyMay 31, 2016
Yes you are spot on Julie, it is groaning under the weight of western tourists, particularly on some of the small islands and cays that we visited off the coast of Thailand. There are just too many boats and too many day-trippers on these tours. Can you imagine what the long term impact of this will be? No more pristine tropical islands and beaches. Tourism is the life-blood of a lot of these South East Asian countries so I would hate to see people ceasing to travel here. :)
JoMay 31, 2016
So great that you haven’t sugar coated the area. There are pros and cons to most destinations but many people are disappointed with how SE Asia has changed over the years. Its stiil great but as you say there are downsides. Great post! Ps thanks for your email today and response on the blog. Much Appreciated x
KathyMay 31, 2016
I probably did come over a bit strong! I do love South East Asia obviously by the number of times I have travelled here. Like you say there are many pros and cons. I think it is becoming far too touristy. :)
raehilhorstMay 31, 2016
I just love the look on your face with the scooters behind you. Yes you did sum up well and I love the 5 P’s xxxx
KathyJune 1, 2016
The first time I had to walk amongst these hundreds of scooters I was terrified (as the photo shows). Like I say – South East Asia is an acquired taste. :)
Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)May 31, 2016
It’s good to hear the other side of things Kathy. I don’t think you came over too strong at all.
KathyJune 1, 2016
I wrote this article while I was still on the cruise ship travelling around SE Asia, because I was in shock with the amount of rubbish, poverty and pollution in these countries, when I saw money being squandered on Chinese New Year decorations. It seemed absurd that money is not used to clean the place up a bit and make it more sanitary. :)
KarolinaJune 4, 2016
I love South East Asia and I agree with everything that you have written here. There are some bad things about it but we it’s still my favourite place on Earth :)
KathyJune 5, 2016
Yes I love SE Asia too, obviously by the amount of times I’ve travelled here! For some people it can be a little confronting at first but you need to overlook the bad to see the good. :)