That’s not because your home roads are crazier than in Asia — far from it. It’s that several months of alternating between right and left-hand driving (left in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia; right in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) has inevitably taken its toll and left you distinctly confused, whilst the moped madness of places like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Bangkok have firmly erased the concept of a pedestrian crossing from your mind.
From that lucky-charm anklet you just had to buy (how else are you going to achieve peace and prosperity?) to the YOLO-embroidered wristband you now regret (I speak for myself here), to the wristbands proudly lining your arms as well-deserved marks of Laos tubing achievements, the majority of your body is now covered in string — and maybe even the odd elephant tattoo, done with a bamboo needle and lots pain the traditional Thai way.
The ‘bum gun’ is the holy grail of toilets in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s a hose which squirts out high-pressure water to clean the nether regions (arguably more hygienic than the classic Western wipe). Toilet paper is a rarity — to the extent that when you return home you no longer know how to use it (and maybe even find yourself reaching for the shower head).
Southeast Asia without bartering is a bit like Britain without rain — unheard of. Trying out bartering back home, however, is a different matter and all it’s likely to get you is evacuated from the premises.
In Thailand, you can have a heaping plate of pad thai for the same price as your cereal bar back home, five fresh fruit shakes for the cost of your bus fare, or a suit for the price of some (nice) socks. A restaurant dinner in Cambodia costs around four dollars (if you’re pushing the boat out). A whole day canyoning in the beautiful town of Dalat in the mountains of Vietnam costs $25.
In the major cities of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, tuk-tuks and moped taxis are often cheaper and more adventurous alternatives to standard cabs. Tuk-tuks are a first choice in Cambodia, whether for a trip to the harrowing Killing Fields, or to spectacular Angkor Wat. Traditional taxis just don’t cut it anymore.
If you’ve been to Hoi An in Vietnam, chances are you’re currently sporting something you got custom-made there. It’s tempting to return with a new piece of luggage stuffed with bespoke clothing because it costs around a tenth of the price you’d get it for in your home country.
Rice with curry, rice cakes, rice balls — a typical Southeast Asian diet consists largely of rice, noodles, and rice noodles. That’s not to say there’s no variety from Vietnamese pho (flavorsome noodle soup) to fresh spring rolls, Thai green curry to coconut soup, Cambodian amok to stir-fried tree ants, Southeast Asia offers delicious cuisine with something for every palette — except potatoes and bread.
Travelling in Asia means talking to anyone and everyone. But you’re no longer on a night bus in Southeast Asia, it’s a city commuter train in rush hour. Your neighbor has her head buried in her tablet. Another is bobbing his head up and down to the music blasting out of his hipster headphones.
Life in Southeast Asia is so vibrant — the streets are alive with smells, sounds, and sights, the architecture is sparkling and colorful, floating markets glide over the rivers as vendors sell produce from their boats, outdoor culture is king, and street food vendors are everywhere. You yearn for those crazy travelling days and that impulsive lifestyle you once led on the shores of paradise (from Cambodia’s Koh Rong to Thailand’s Koh Tao) and realize the only way of rediscovering that version of yourself is by hopping on a plane back over there — and fast.