Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Travel Tips for S.E. Asia ñ Redneck Style!

by Kenny Peavy

What to bring: If possible just bring one lightweight carry-on piece of luggage. If you do, it really simplifies things for check in and baggage claim. Also youíll find that you can by most things in S.E. Asia for a fraction of the price youíd pay at home. So keep that in mind as you look at this list. If you donít already have it, consider buying it when you get here. Besides, most of the stuff youíd buy in Wal-Mart is made over here anyway, just cut out the middleman and save some dough.

1) basic clothes- shorts and t-shirts are all youíll need 99% of the time.
2) light weight long sleeve shirt and pants- if you want to visit any mosques or temples you are sometimes required to cover yourself.
3) sport sandals- like Teva etcÖ
4) toiletries- Your basic toiletries but donít worry too much about 1st aid, shampoo, tooth paste etc. You can get that here.
5) flip flops- if youíre gonna stay in any hostels or guest houses youíre most likely to share showers. I donít know about you but the prospect of a case of (Tinea sp.) ainít that appealing to me. By that way, thatís Atheletes foot. I just wanted to show off my biological knowledge.
6) umbrella- this is very handy.. a small fold up kind works best
7) rain jacket- also very handyÖ get a very light weight breatheable or a rain poncho. You rarely need these but when you do itís usually a downpour and youíll be glad you had it
8) book- chances are that youíll spend time at a bus terminal, airport etc. A good book comes in handy and relieves the frustration from late buses or trains. I also have quite a few you can borrow. Just donít be bringiní books entitled Why Islam is Stupid or something like that.
9) Nalgene water bottle- they come in handy. The water bottles here are leaky.
10) coffee press- if youíre a coffee drinker bring your own press. Real coffee is hard to find in rural places. Itís mostly instant Nescafe. In the cities you can find coffee shops like Starbucks etc..
11) pillow case and sheet or sleeping bag liner- If you spend any time in the grungy backpacker hostels youíll want something to lay your nogginí on. The pillows and sheets in the cheapest places can be kinda questionable.
12) ALWAYS carry a roll of toilet paper with you! (see section on toilets) The toilets here rarely have it, they have a water hose for squirting yourself off. Besides, wiping your bum what the left hand is for right? Youíll need it if you indulge in some of the spicy stuff and suddenly realize that it wasnít such a good idea to ask for extra chili padi. It also helps to carry it in a plastic bag in case it rains. Soggy toilet paper is no fun. Does it sound like I write this from experience?
13) if you plan to play ultimate frisbee with us (we play every Monday night)- youíll need running shoes

Attitude- One of the most important things you can do is to be patient and slow yourself down. When you get here youíll realize that things work differently and sometimes not at all. They ainít always as efficient as weíd like them to be. Buses, trains, and even service in restaurants can be frustrating if you let it. Businesses here ainít customer oriented. They donít work for tips and ëthe customer is always rightí is not their philosophy. (travel tip: if youíre thirsty order two drinks. They donít come back and ask you how youíre momma is doing or if youíre enjoying your meal or none of that nonsense). Some places even cook dishes one at a time, so an order for several people can take a while. Buses frequently break down and taxis ëget lostí and drive you around the city. Itís all part of the adventure. It personally took me several weeks to break out my ëwestern modeí, the feeling that I needed to be constantly busy and things needed to meet my schedule. I wasnít even aware of my own impatience. I say this because a friend, who I thought was a seasoned traveler, just visited. He wanted to be constantly on the go. When taxis were slow or buses were late he got upset and frustrated. I wanted him to slow down and enjoy the adventure. He wanted to cram in as much as possible. The Western attitude ainít too purdy when you see a fat, sweaty white guy screaminí and holleriní at the locals because his triple egg omelette didnít have gouda cheese and portabello mushrooms like he gets at his favorite cafÈ back home! Youíll notice the locals never seem to get frustrated. Actually, they do. But itís not culturally acceptable to show it in public. I really like the slower pace and the attitude here, but it does take some adjustment time to get used to. Besides, thatís why you came here ainít it? If you wanted things to be ëlike they are back homeí then you might as well go to the nearest Super Walmart and have yourself a Samís cola and some ridged potato chips. I doubt any of my good friends would ever exhibit that kinda behavior, but I point it out for your entertainment pleasure. Keep a keen eye and youíll see at least one of those blokes at every bus depot and airport.

Cultural Sensitivity- since you are a foreigner you will be easily forgiven if you accidentally step on some toes. But if you blatantly or purposefully do dumb stuff the consequences could be a serious ass whoopiní!
Donít worry- I routinely break these rules, but it is good to be aware of them.

1) pointing- it is considered crude to point with the index finger. Use the thumb or the whole hand.
2) feet- itís considered rude to show the soles of your feet. Keep your feet on the ground or, if you cross your legs try and point the feet to the floor.
3) dress- youíll see lots of European women wearing spaghetti straps etc. I think itís rude. The local guys will love it though and youíll figure that out pretty quickly. The society is pretty liberal but itís disrespectful to be that blatant in flaunting your equipment. Muslim women wear a whole range of outfits from the shawl covering the head to skirts. Try to wear something that covers the shoulders.
4) religion and politics- avoid discussing these topics with strangers. Some people feel pretty strongly about the stuff.
5) left hand- try to eat with your right hand only. The left hand is considered unclean. You thought I was joking about the toilet stuff didnít you? Also, make sure to shake hands with the right hand. And if handing something to someone use your right hand and touch your right forearm with your left hand. I will demonstrate when you arrive.


1) The King- NEVER say anything bad about the king.
2) Buddhism- NEVER say anything bad about Buddhism
3) Monks- try not to touch a monk. They have to go through an arduous cleansing ceremony if theyíre touched.
4) losing your temper- never lose your temper with a Thai. They are very peaceful and are disgraced if yelled at. They will probably hold their anger in, but if itís released it could be vicious.
5) same as Malaysia- the general rules for Malaysia also apply here regarding dressing modestly, religion, politics, pointing and being mindful of your feet.

14) Toilets- yep, this topic is important enough to have itís own section. Now lemme start by saying that most toilets here are simply porcelain holes in a wet floor. It sounds gross and it is. Most of them smell like fermented poop. As I mentioned before, the Asian mode of cleaning involves a water hose. As a result theyíre perpetually wet and smelly. For boys itís ainít that big a deal. For girls it can be kinda scary. For anyone that has gotten a bout of spice or bacterial induced ëstomach upsetí it can be quite upsetting. I will leave it to your imagination. The nicer upscale restaurants will have western style toilets and sometimes theyíre even clean enough for you to sit on! Lemme tell ya, you ainít lived until you have pooed in a squatter in the third world during a downpour while watching mosquito larva squiggle about in the vat of water, intended for cleaning your arse, next to you.

Food- the food in S.E. Asia is unbelievable. Itís one of the main reasons for traveling to the region. Itís some of the tastiest and spiciest youíll ever have. Itís seemingly infinite. There are whole books dedicated to the subject. Just open up and give things a try. The local food-stalls and roadside food is the best and cheapest. Just exercise common sense. If it looks like the leftover turkey and dressiní you discover in your fridge in April then donít eat it.

vegetarianism- It ainít hard to find vegetarian food if you know where to look. But be aware that a lot of dishes are cooked with fish stock or chicken stock. Also be aware that youíll be missing out on some of the best food offered. The biggest difficulty is the communication barrier. Sometimes they donít understand and sometimes they donít consider fish, shrimp etc. as meat. Only red meat is meat to a lot of people. So if you ask for ëno meatí it may come with shrimp or fish. Also fish products turn up in the weirdest places, you may not suspect it to be there. Especially the soy sauce, it often has fish stock. If you order vegetarian and they ask ëis egg OK?í then you know they understand. Theyíll usually only ask that if they comprehend that you only eat vegetables.

In Thailand say, ëkin jehí which means vegetarian.

In Malaysia most people understand English, but saying ësayur onlyí or ësayur-sayuraní will work.
You may have to compliment that with ëno chicken, no pork, no beef, no fishí in Malaysia.

In Thailand say ëmai gai, mai muu, mai plaaí

Modes of eating: you are likely to have a range of implements for shoveling food into your jawls. Chopsticks and forks and spoons are routinely offered, but the most common way to eat is with the hands (remember to use the right hand only- the left is reserved for your butt!). Just scoop it up and plop it into your gullet. Yes, there is a method. You roll the rice up into a neat ball. It takes a while and if youíre good you can eat a meal with no food getting above the first joint of your fingers! Good luck! I still havenít mastered it. But just donít freak out if you see grown people playing with their food and rolling it around in their hands.


1) shots- you should probably at least get hepatitis shots. The first time I came I didnít get any at all. Consult the CDC website (www.cdc.gov- I think?) for information. They tend to err on the side of caution. I doubt youíll be in malaria territory and Iíve heard the treatment is worse than the disease. It really is a personal decision and I can only give limited advice. Just go to the health department for the shots. Theyíre about 1/5 the price as a private doctor. The UGA travel clinic gives good advice but they are also VERY expensive. So what you do, is go there and get the scoop on what shots you need and then truck it over to the Health Department and give the list to the nurse. Youíll ge the same exact shot for about 1/10 the price. No joke!

2) drink bottled or filtered water only
3) try to drink at least 3 liters a day. If you donít youíll find yourself with a horrible dehydration headache.
4) make sure your food is cooked fresh. Iíve eaten at every roadside food stall I can find between Singapore and Bangkok with only minor troubles. Just make sure itís freshly cooked. If in doubt, donít eat it.

Places to see: I have copies of ëThe Lonely Planetí for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. You can buy it ahead of time if you want to so some research but I would suggest researching the Internet and saving your $15. You can borrow mine when you get here. Iím assuming youíll want to have cultural and outdoor experiences without much touristy hassles. So thatís what Iíll focus on.


Kuala Lumpur- capital of Malaysia.
Highlights: twin towers (tallest in the world), Chinatown, Little India, National Museum, National Mosque and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Cameron Highlands- hill station
Highlights: 1000 ñ 1500 meters elevation with cool weather, tea plantations, birdís galore, jungle trekking, cloud forests.

Melaka- ancient port city
Highlights: Portugese settlement, Sino-Portugese architecture, antiques, ancient trading port.

Tioman Island- tropical island
Highlights: coral reef snorkelling, jungle trekking, highest diversity of herpetofauna in the South China Sea!, plants, birds etc. galore!

Tasek Bera- protected wetlands sanctuary
Highlights: Orang Asli tribal village, tigers, tapir, birds, snakes etc.

Frasiers Hill ñ hill station
Highlights: birds galore, cool weather, jungle trekking, peace and quiet


Bangkok- I have a love/hate relationship with Bangkok. Itís a huge dirty city. A lot of touts try to sell you everything under the sun. They can be very annoying. My advice is to go see it for a few days and then go and see the rest of Thailand. Thereís a saying that ìBangkok is a city next to Thailandî that is to say that to experience ërealí Thai culture get out of the city.

Highlights: Chatuchak weekend market, Temples galore, canals, any kind of food you want etc..

Krabi- so far my favorite town in Thailand. A little funky, reminds me of Athens in a way.

Highlights: offshore reef snorkeling, sea kayaking etc.

Khao Sok National Park- a beautiful national park in S. Thailand

Highlights: Hornbills, elephants, mouse deer, trekking, caving etc.

Ko Samet- a small national park island in E. Thailand. I have just spent a month living in Ban Phe Thailand. Ko Samet is just offshore. Itís REAL Thai culture, few foreigners and very SLOW pace of life.

Highlights: real Thai culture, slow pace, corals,

Thale Noi- wetlands bird sanctuary in S. Thailand

Highlights: birds galore, largest bloon of lotus and water lily in Thailand, fishing village, few tourists

Of course there are lots of other places. I have only mentioned the ones Iíve been to. I havenít mentioned Borneo or Northern Thailand like Chiang Mai, both of which I have heard are incredible. If you have questions just e-mail me.

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Useful things to know

Malaysia- words are pronounced phonetically as you would read them with very few differences from English. Since Malaysia was a British colony most people speak good English.

one more= ësatu lagií probably the most important phrase you can learn after ëtoiletí and ëbeerí. Use this phrase to order another beer.
water = ìairî pronounced ayer
food= ìmakananî
eat= ìmakanî
drink= ìminumanî
toilet = ìtandasî
mens = ìlelakiî
womens= ìwanitaî or ìperempuanî

caution = ìawasî
no smoking = ìdliarang merokokî
Thank You= ìterima kasihî
beer= ìcarlsbergî or ìtiger beerî

Thailand- Itís a different story here. Most folks only speak broken English. The country is mono-cultural compared to Malaysia so there hasnít been as much need to establish English as a form of communication,

greeting= ìSawadee Kaaî if youíre female
= ìSawadee Khapî if youíre male
water = ìnamî
food= ìahanî
toilet = ìhawng namî
Thank You= ìKhap Khun Khap (male)î and ìKhap Khun Kaa (female)î
beer= ìbiaî or ìChang biaî or ìsing biaî (Singha)

speaking of beer:

The beer here is a bit more potent than back home. It tends to be 6-8% alkeehol as opposed to the wussy 4% we get in the good ole U S of A. Enjoy! My favorite is a thick, rich black stout called Royal Danish Stout. At 8% alkeehol I can only handle about 2 or 3 at the most. Drink up and hold on to your knickers! Just make damn sure you drink plenty water before you snooze.

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