Having spent so long living in Australia and then travelling in New Zealand for three weeks, by the time we arrived in Asia the flights had been booked for over a year! I had read numerous blogs about where to go, what to do and what to expect so despite my nerves when we landed in Bangkok I felt relaxed straight away. There are a lot of cultural differences and unfamiliar sights, smells and tastes but it all seems to fit perfectly. Within a few days it just starts to feel like the norm. Here are my top seven signs of being in Asia.
ONE – Traffic: Seriously the traffic is horrific. Upon arriving in Bangkok we ended up walking along the side of the road and then standing forever when we waited to cross the road. Most streets do not have traffic lights for pedestrians – you just have to stand and wait for a break in the traffic (in which case you could be there all day) or the best way is to just walk out and hope for the best. I’m not even kidding, forget every lesson your learnt as a kid and just go for it. Walk at a steady pace and they will go around you. The biggest shock we had was upon arriving in Saigon where the amount of motorbikes tripled and crossing the road was an even bigger challenge. Watching all the motorbikes line up at the traffic lights was fascinating.
TWO – The Smell : Smell is such a strong sense and upon arriving in Thailand I was overwhelmed by all sorts of new smells. It wasn’t only the smell of foods or incense that I was surrounded by but the smells of the city. Walking down a little side street or a big Main Street the smells were all similar but there was one smell which overpowered the rest. It’s hard to describe a smell and I’m really not sure if it was a dirty, stagnant water smell or a waste smell but its some thing I always smell at some point in the day. I’m sure everyone has their own smells that remind them of Asia and the more we travel the more recurring smells I’m noticing.
Power Lines In Bangkok
THREE – Power Lines: I noticed it the minute we left the airport in Bangkok and I’ve noticed it in every built up area since. The power cables are this huge mass of tangled black cables hanging low and looping in a coil around the pole. It’s something you never really see in cities back home because all the cables are usually concealed underground or in buildings. They are not outwardly on display. Here, they hang dangerously low to the ground barely above the roof of a building, making me question just how safe they are. It isn’t until you visit Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Saigon that you realise how well London, Sydney and New York conceal their power lines.
FOUR – Tuk-Tuks: Sure I knew I’d take a tuk-tuk before I arrived and sure I knew that seeing tuk-tuks would be a sure sign I’m in South East Asia. What I didn’t anticipate is how eager these drivers would be to take you somewhere. I didn’t expect to walk out my accommodation and be shouted at by all the drivers who were waiting outside. ‘Where you go?’ or ‘you want tuk-tuk?’. At first it was overwhelming and a little scary, I assumed they were all out to scam you. Now it’s less scary and more plain annoying. If I want a tuk-tuk I’ll ask. As a person who loves to explore a city on foot, I’m constantly being hounded by driver after driver because they don’t seem to understand I actually like walking. The best way to avoid them is to smile, say no thank you and don’t make eye contact.
Not quite a squat toilet but you get the jist!
FIVE – Squat Toilets: If you have ever been to Asia you will know exactly what I mean. These toilets are not like long drop toilets – they actually have a seat. These toilets are a few inches off the ground only and not designed for sitting on. Instead you have to learn to squat over the top and pee while your legs struggle to balance your weight. These toilets will also be missing toilet paper, instead there is a little hose to clean yourself with. If you do want to use toilet paper remember to put it in the bin, they don’t flush it down the toilet. Lastly these toilets lack a flush, see the container and scoop next to the toilet that’s for pouring water in to the pan until its flushed clean. Gross I know but it’s certainly a reality of Asia I won’t forget.
SIX – Food: This is probably the most obvious one but it is certainly something which makes you realise where you are, with each country serving a slightly different selection. Rice or noodles is sold for breakfast, lunch and dinner so trust me it won’t take long before you’ve had enough of enjoying the local cuisine. In most places it’s easy to find an alternative for breakfast: fruit and yoghurt is popular, so is pancake or some kind of egg dish. Western food is available in popular tourist places, however expect to pay up to double the price for one of these meals. I have seen strange dishes such as cow intestines, BBQ eel and ‘inside stuffs’ but you won’t catch me ordering something like that. Dishes range from mild to extremely spicy – even if you say not spicy it tends to still be hot! The food is an adventure and so far the only awful meal we have experienced was something we bought from a rural town restaurant where the bus stopped.
Shrimp and Pork Pancake Typical Vietnamese Food
SEVEN – Architecture: The cities and built up areas here are so diverse, with old, decrepit buildings next to a new modern structures. The material range is vast and the style even more so. On top of those buildings you have the beautiful temples, status and palaces. Built in bright colours and highly decorated, at first I found them fascinating but after a while you just start to brush it aside as another temple. None of them are the same but they all look similar. The buildings in the rural areas are typically tinned, wood and bamboo – mostly on stilts with only one or two rooms – these reminded me of the houses I saw in South Africa. Architecture in Asia, be it in a residential area or city, is completely diverse and dynamic.
Other signs include:
Taking shoes off to enter certain public places
The dust and dirt that gets in your mouth on a tuk-tuk
The currency and how rich you seem
Your food coming out at different times in a restaurant