We aren’t perfect, and we made a few mistakes along the way! Here are some:
- Brought too much! Our 35+8 litre rucksacks were perfect, but we still brought too much. Laundry is cheap and by weight, so you could bring less and wash it more. No need to bring much security; mozzie nets; sheets; towels; batteries etc. .
- Temperature and seasons differ in SE Asia. We hit North Vietnam when it was cold, and Sapa was muddy, cold and cloudy. Hence we skipped Sapa (normally lush and green). Check seasons for best route.
- We pre-booked flights in Vietnam as we thought it was going to be busy for Chinese new year. This meant we cocked up and missed Nha Trang and Dalat which we wanted to see. In the end there would not have been an issue. So don’t plan ahead too far, and just let it happen.
- We probably weren’t as sociable as we could have been. To be fair, we did socialise a lot, but because we got on so well (bless!) we didn’t really need or want any other company a lot of the time. Though no doubt we missed out a little being a bit too enclosed.
Travel Lessons Learned
- No matter how slow or thorough you are, you will always meet someone who did something extra in a place you went to and you thing “damn – missed that!”
- Everyone is different and likes different things.
- Paying $3 for a posh bus instead of $1 for a naff bus that may or may not turn up isn’t cheating, nor does it detract from the overall quality of your own adventure. Bragging rights and photos aren’t always worth the misery.
- Similarly, paying $15 for a clean room with hot shower and AC and a good nights sleep instead of $5 for a flea-pit and dirty sheets isn’t cheating, its wise.
Things we wish would change
The purpose of coming on this trip is to see different things and different ways of life, so really its unfair to hope that anything changes. Some changes are for the better, some for the worst. Tourist money though DOES help improve local infrastructure and as countries develop they will always change. Of course, you will always meet someone who says “it was better 10 years ago”….
- Wish the “TukTuk Sir?” and “Masssarrrrrrrge?” questions were less frequent, as we hate having to ignore them. Seriously, at times, you have no choice – you can’t say “No thanks” to them all. Wish Asian TukTuk drivers understood people LIKE walking! Also if they were more honest I’m sure they’d be busier.
- Wish prices were shown and market stalls were less “helpful”. We like to browse and may stumble on something to buy. We don’t always know what we want, and showing us load of stuff “For you sir?” just makes us walk away…
- Wish it was easier to chat and communicate with the locals. We try, but in many circumstances people just want to sell you something or drag you into a shop or a fake Buddha festival.
Poor, Poverty and Charity
There are lots of poor people in Asia, but there are also lots of well off people. Its not just westerners who are rich when some locals have expensive cars and houses, though most seem to value other things over material possessions. The people living in the countryside seem to be poorer financially, but with a simple age-old life they seem generally happy and hard working. Food seems in abundance and whilst we’ve seen poor areas and villages, we’ve not seen poverty where people can’t even get food.
As the lifestyle here is eons old, they only look poor to us – they probably know no better and giving money to people and especially children doesn’t actually help. All it does is encourage begging and maximizing the Westerners ATM image. Tipping for good service at an appropriate level is of course fine, but at a percentage or amount relevant. Tipping too much just migrates people to tipping tourist jobs and not jobs that actually help the economy. We found tipping at local street food stalls was completely unexpected and appeared to make their day, even though the amounts were trivial.
Remember, just being in Asia helps hugely. Don’t feel bad being here and enjoying buying cheap things by western standards. Remember everything you eat, drink and buy, and everywhere you sleep keeps lots of people employed at good rates. In addition roads and transport links are improving which are sometimes with tourists in mind, but also help the locals.
Be aware of beggars and even children with their own babies begging for either money or food. In Cambodia for example, all primary schooling is free, yet some children still beg as its easy to make a few $ per day which is a fair living. Children asking for baby milk for instance (instead of money) is a scam, as they simply return it to the shop for money! The Cambodians say: “Let Children learn and Adults earn”. Even disabled and disfigured people can be scams from parents deliberately deforming their children as they know it’ll provide them a begging income for life… Not giving in will end this. If you want to give, give to NGOs and registered charities you trust.
Not everyone is as poor as they appear! Due to the different attitudes on materialistic things, we’ve seen poor looking street vendors with new iPhones; poor looking motorbike taxis also owning brand new 4x4s etc.