What is like to travel in South Asia?

What is like to travel in South Asia?

Quick positive and negative facts on our trip in South Asia

As our traveling through South Asia almost comes to an end, we started talking and reliving some of the experiences we have had in the last 6 months. We have been through some happy, sad, surprising but mostly unforgettable moments. Things we would like to share with you today and leave you with the feeling of what is like to travel throughout this part of the world.

Positive

1. South Asia is absolutely beautiful. There are places with breathtaking views with rice-fields, volcanoes, turquoise beaches along with amazing cultures and fine food. We were shocked many times to find out a country or city is a lot more developed than thought previously. Like Cambodia and Vietnam. We didn’t think we would see and experience such beautiful scenery in countries where less than 35 years were destroyed by wars.

2. It is quite cheap. The average budget for all of South Asia was about $65 a day, for the both of us; including lodging, meals and activities. It is incredible to find out how affordable things really are. For example, prices can be divided by three to four in Asia for branded items sold in the USA and Europe. We bought a (real) North Face jacket for 40$..!

Regarding the accommodation, we stayed in beautiful and confortable homestays or smaller hotels for less than 20$ a night for the two of us including breakfast. For exemple in Hue, Vietnam, the Four Season hotel has been the best one in term of quality service for $16 dollar a night. In terms of food, western food can be more expensive but local food is definitively very cheap like $1.50 for a Pad Thai in Bangkok. Our impression was that the money goes a lot further for every dollar we spend. Keep in mind though, what you may spend on a day to day basis is what one person makes in one month. If you get a chance to meet and talk to one of the locals, you will see they only make on average no more than $90 a month.

3. It is fun to learn about the cultural differences as well as customs for each country. An example in Bali, we learned that men and women before they wed, they have to file their fangs as it symbolizes the end of their crazy single years.  The goal of this trip was to get to know different culture and habits. We have not been disappointed as we can really see now how the world is diversified and different for the north to the south or west to the east.  From time to time we had to get you used to a different way of living and behaviors. For example in India, if we had to ask a question to a local person, he/she would give us an answer no matter what. Right or wrong ! So you better check a couple of times if the information is correct. In Vietnam, people have this culture to eat small portions of food throughout the day on the street or the beach with chop sticks. In Thailand people can be more reserved at time and very respectful. In Cambodia or Indonesia, the sense of community is very present. Everybody helps each other and there is no shame to talk to each other or ask for help.

4. Food is really great. From the local street Pad Thai in Bangkok to the local warungs in Indonesia, serving Gado-Gado, the local dishes can be incredibly good. We enjoyed the different cooking classes to take the time to understand where the different flavors and tastes come from. We treated ourselves sometimes to more expensive meals but at the end, nothing beats local places.

5. You will have unforgettable memories no matter what happens. Like the snorkeling in Pemuteran with hundred of fish, or The Gili islands with sea turtles. The magical city of Ubud. The sunsets in Phu Quoc or Senggigi. Or others not so nice like the apparently 16 hours bus in Vietnam which actually took 23. Or the argument with the taxi driver in Probolingo. Also, you get to make awesome new friends, fellow travelers who are probably doing the same as you or just on vacation. We have met many people who we shared a beer or dinner with and will remember them forever. 

Our general impression has been that people are much more religious, welcoming and respectful. We never really felt unsafe anywhere we went. It is definitively a very calm civilization with a lot of history and great culture and habits to learn from.

Not so positive

1. To never be able to blend in! Everywhere we went, the locals knew we were not from there. It seems obvious but we will always be the white people. We are sure after a few years of living and learning the language, we could blend in more easily as we saw with Simon and his village. Now Simon is part of the village but while we were there, local people would never ever eat with us. To sit together and share a meal with us is something that Balinese people would never consider. Were they to shy, ashamed ? Ashamed of what ? It is difficult to understand. We definitively and sadly saw this barrier many times between white and local people.

2. Bargaining for everything. It can get a little tiring at times. Most of the time the prices are high touristy prices and any question for information can have a financial purpose behind. We got used to it and try to “go with the flow” without being ripped off. Now, we rather walk than take a taxi. We avoid shopping unless is necessary. At the beginning, it was quite fun to bargain as we could get really good prices for things we needed, but it definitely gets a bit annoying after a while.

3. Never ever trust any taxi or tuk-tuk driver in any country in South Asia. We found out several times that they would try to take advantage of us at all costs. In Bangkok, a tuk-tuk driver told us that some sightseeing were closed or closed for “lunch” where in fact wasn’t true. In Lombok, a driver told us that prices were set by the government and they cannot negotiate. After 10 minutes walking around, we found transportation for half of the price or even more. Or in Hanoi, they have rigged meters.. etc, etc. We learnt to be always beware of taxi drivers.

4. The amount of massages and taxis service offered are outstanding. In Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries have massage ladies on the street stopping tourists for a massage. Same for taxis. The problem is that it is every 5 meters in some places !! Not kidding. It can be really annoying after a few days. “Yes pleaasse massssagge” “Taxi Yes Taxi Taxi “ have been heard hundreds times.

In addition to this, many of these service can be fake or not in line with the local authority rules. Unqualified massage ladies, that have let us couple of time with some uncomfortable pain in the back. The fake taxis gave us random prices always higher than the normal price and the risky thing is that if they are not registered they can take you anywhere. We always try to see if the services we ask for are real and certified.

5. The food is good but.. ! We unluckily got sick for not so fresh food. Lydie is vegetarian but I got food poisoning three times during my stay and all of the time coming from eating chicken or fish. The conditions in where they clean or cared for products are sometimes not the most hygienic, and I learned that the hard way. We always make sure before ordering any meat, that the place looks very clean. It is also, of course, a question of luck but we are sure the precaution we took after these bad experiences saved us from being stuck in the bathroom for few days.. !

But overall, it has been an amazing experience to travel in South Asia, we learnt so much about different culture, people and us. We will be leaving Indonesia at the end of the year to go discover Sydney and South America as of January. We look forward to sharing more articles with you and wish you all a beautiful 2015 full of surprise, love and travels 🙂

Quick numbers after 6 months of travel:

Lessons learned:

  • Never trust taxi or tuk-tuk drivers
  • Trust yourself only and double check always the information (prices, temple open hours, hotel locations, etc, etc).
  • Be careful where and what you eat.
  • Most importantly, to take time for us, to breath and live the present moment. Our beautiful planet has so much to offer. We just need to be open to receive !