10 Things I Hate About Southeast Asia

Hate about Southeast AsiaWe’ve been in Asia awhile.  More specifically, we have been in Southeast Asia for quite some time.  Perhaps too long.  We arrived in Kuala Lumpur in February of 2013, thrilled to have escaped Central America.  We felt instantly like we were home.  And, here I am, writing the ten things I hate about Southeast Asia.

When I told Eric I was writing this post, and what I titled it, he asked are you sure? Do you really have that many things to hate about Southeast Asia? 

Hate is a very strong word.  In fact, I think like a lot of people, I have a love-hate relationship with the region.  Most days, I love it.  But, then, there are those days, well, the hate takes over.  And, yes, hate is too strong a word.  It is really a mild irritation.  Or whatever is slightly more than a mild irritation.

When we first arrived in 2013, I wrote about the things that become obvious when you spend time in Southeast Asia.  The things that are a little different.  It was a series of observations entitled You Know You’re in Southeast Asia When.  These were all of the little things I found charming about the region, including tiny plastic stools, motorbikes, squat pots.  The time has come where the charm has warmed off.

Many of these things were a novelty at first. But just like the excitement of a new toy on Christmas morning, the excitement erodes. Observations that once were a novelty ultimately just wear you down.

It’s not that I am done with Southeast Asia, or that I don’t still love the region. I am not looking to divorce Southeast Asia. I just need a little bit of a break.  For now, I do indeed have a list of things I hate about Southeast Asia.

Breaking it Down – What I Hate About Southeast Asia

Honking

Hate about Southeast AsiaI love the motorbike and scooter culture in Asia, and I am happy that we have both learned how to drive motorbikes during our time here.  But, Vietnam has pushed me over the edge, particularly with the honking.  Drivers honk in intersections, to pass other drivers, and for no reason whatsoever.  It becomes instinct so that a driver always has one hand on the horn, pressing it firmly every few seconds. 

Some of the trucks and buses in Vietnam have this one particular honk, which lasts about 20 seconds, starting high and ending low, in a honking sound that I find similar to nails on a chalk board now.  It is all so loud.  Right now, this is the top of the list of what I hate about Southeast Asia.  I don’t think I will ever find it charming again.

Noise

It is not just the honking.  Everything is very loud, particularly music.  I am not sure what benefit there is from playing music at a wedding so loud no one can speak to one another, for blocks around.  Or, why does the hotel across the street from us find it necessary to blast the speakers during drunken karaoke? 

We were with a friend at a bar in Dong Ha a few months ago.  We were winding down the evening anyway, but suddenly they turned the volume up on the music to a deafening level.  We all immediately got up and left.  Even outside, getting into taxis, we still could not hear each other speak.  Louder is not always better.

Trash

Hate about Southeast AsiaThis was one thing I never found charming to begin with, but I am tired of the attitude towards trash and plastic consumption.  Throwing trash on the side of the road is common place, including near the beaches (a huge problem on the Bali beaches).   In Bali, trash is often pushed to the side of the road and forgotten, or dumped into the streams and water irrigation system, and forgotten.  In Vietnam, there is at least a concerted effort to clean up the trash, with road crews out regularly cleaning up the messes from the prior evening’s drinking and eating. 

I also judge a beach by how clean it is.  Often times, they fail my test.  When we arrived in Danang earlier this year, the beaches were pristine.  The beaches are lined with adorable penguin trash cans to encourage people to toss their trash appropriately. 

Hate about Southeast AsiaOnce the weather turned nicer and people started using the beach, there has been an increase in the number of cigarette butts in the sand.  Yucky.  They do have garbage cans all over the beach, which is more than I can say for Bali, which shows effort. I just hope the beaches stay as beautiful as they are.

Plastic

Hate about Southeast AsiaJust as there is often no thought about where the trash ultimately ends up there is also no thought about how much plastic is being introduced into the environment. Plastic water bottles are everywhere, and we are just as guilty.  We try buying the largest bottles we can (like 5 liters or 20 liters), but it is inevitable when traveling.  We are always provided plastic bags when shopping, even when we bring our own bag. 

What put me over the edge, though, was a visit to the Big C supermarket. I was provided a large plastic bag, which was sealed over my purse, to keep me from stealing at the local supermarket. A huge amount of plastic for no use whatsoever. 

Hate about Southeast AsiaMoisture

We barely survived the rainy season in Bali, and I was tired of spending my days combatting mold in our villa.  I generally have no problem with the heat in Bangkok, and the beads of sweat running down my back. But, the moisture in Danang put me over the edge.  Our towels were never dry, my capri pants were generally moist each morning when I put them on, and our bed linens were moist as well.  I have come to hate the word moist

Mold

And mold.  That’s another inevitability.  One morning, Eric took out our passports for the first time in about 3 weeks and they were covered in green mold, and smelled nasty.  So much for them being our pride and joy.  In Bali, I had a sports bra come out moldy.  It went directly to the trash.  We try to combat the mold with sun, and little tricks like adding chalk to drawers, but whatever we try to do, the mold and moisture always wins.  This is one thing that I think I will always hate about Southeast Asia.

Burgers

Hate about Southeast AsiaI love the food in Southeast Asia, generally.  And, when I am not in Asia, I crave the food.  But, that doesn’t stop us from craving comfort food while here.  That includes burgers.  We have been looking for decent burgers for awhile.  We came close when connecting through Kuala Lumpur, when a Johnny Rockets came out like a mirage.  But, the meat was prepared halal, which ends up meaning no flavor. I thought Eric was going to spit out his burger it was so bad.

We were able to rectify the problem at another Johnny Rockets in Seoul, but aside from that it has been very hard to find a decent burger.  There is one place in Bangkok that rocks.  We ate there twice in a week.  Otherwise, it’s a constant struggle to find this kind of comfort food.

Sugar

Hate about Southeast AsiaSugar in everything. I used to love a good syrup drink, bright red and full of goodness. Now, no matter how I hard I try to explain no sugar in my drinks, sugar is still hidden in there somewhere.    Sugar is often hidden in the form of condensed milk.  No sugar when ordering a Thai iced tea means it’s okay to add sweetened condensed milk.  And, as much as I love my Vietnamese coffee, I shied away the last few weeks because I can’t drink it black, and I am tired of the sugar intake in the condensed milk.

Variety

We have life ADD.  There’s no secret about that.  When in Europe we wish we were in Asia.  When in Asia, we wish we were in Europe.  When in Spain, we are missing Italy.  When in Vietnam, we miss Bangkok. (One place we don’t miss: Bali). 

The same goes for food.  I miss the variety of food that comes with a big city, which is why I love Bangkok for what it offers.  But, my current complaint is exemplified by cereal.  There are roughly 10 choices for cereal in this region.  I’ve been amazed that shops in Ubud carry the exact same selection of brands that shops in Danang carry.  There is more to breakfast than banh mi and pho, but there are also more cereals than Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Special K, and 8 kinds of chocolate cereal.

Feeling Big

I think we just need to get back to a region where we don’t stick out so much, particularly with how big we are.  I’ve already written about what it is like traveling with big breasts, but it is just our size in general.  Okay, it’s also the breasts. I’ve been getting plenty of stares as I run along the beach each morning.  One day, a guy videotaped me.  Both ways, on my run out and my run back.

We’ve broken plastic stools, or have gotten our butts stuck when trying to get up.  Of course, this might not change in Europe where, despite the normal size of people, restaurant tables, hotel rooms, and showers tend to be quite small, making us feel like giants anyway.  But for now, I am tired of feeling like a giant in Southeast Asia.

So there you have it, the ten things I hate about Southeast Asia.  And, before I get a ton of hate messages, I know in the end I do love Southeast Asia.  We will be back in a few months, and I will be in love with the heat, the motorbikes, and the tiny plastic stools on the side of the road.  But, for now, Southeast Asia, we are on a break.

What do you hate about Southeast Asia?  What do you love?

25 Comments

  1. I liked your post, I’ve spent probably 18 months in SE Asia and India and while most of the things you mention annoyed me at first I found that I got used to it – I understood the method in the honking, didn’t hear the noise so much or the trash and got used to sticking out (in India you often feel like a celebrity and people are always asking to take pictures with you.) I got used to all of these after a couple of months and it didn’t annoy me anymore. Now I’m wondering if after some more time I will feel like you! So where’s next for you?

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    • I think there was a trend for me: novelty, then I got used to it, I would say “why does that surprise me”, and then it started to annoy me. Some people will never be annoyed by this stuff, but for me …. well, it does.

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  2. I’ve been living in Southeast Asia for tree years (Luang Prabang in Laos, then Bangkok, then Phuket and now Bali) I cannot stand the little short handle brooms! And the dirty mud puddles when it rains (I always thing they are full of turd). The dogs ripping apart the garbage before the truck comes down my street. Thai coffee was great for a while untill it wasn’t… i wrote about it; http://bit.ly/1z7bfLW
    i have been following your love hate relationship with Bali for a while now. We decided to live in Renon instead of Ubud, for the same reasons you ended up hating Ubud. Oh and the custard pies in Portugal! Mama mia que rico!

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    • I am glad to know I am not alone!

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  3. I’d probably add even more to it… I’m definitely not a big fan of South-East Asia actually I don’t think I want to come back there, as I’d rather spend my money on rediscovering Africa or Latin America. Mostly because of how locals treat foreigners in Asia, but then looking at the amount of young backpackers I’m not surprised that finding an authentic experience out there and not being treated like a white source of money is nearly impossible 🙁

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    • It’s definitely hard to find authentic experiences, although I am not a fan of Central America at all. At least Southeast Asia has better food!

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  4. I hate all the plastic and trash! It is so horrible how little most Asians respect nature! 🙁 If they just realized how much it will help tourists get a better impression of their countries if they would just keep nature clean….Haha, feeling big! it is so true! Every time I looked at clothes a little Asian almost yelled: “No no, you need bigger size! This’ too small. Bigger size for you!”- Sure, I am not the smallest person, but I do not need a reminder every time I just look at something… 😉

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    • It is something we talked about repeatedly in Myanmar with people in the tourism industry there. At the time, everything was clean when we were there in 2013, and we encouraged them to keep it that way. No one wants to tell their friends to visit a destination loaded with trash ;(

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  5. I’ve called SE Asia home since 2004, so I’m admittedly biased–I love it, warts and all. Every region of the world has its problems–I’d rather live with these problems than any the rest of the world has to offer. We live in China right now. I’m really surprised that, if, when you live in Malaysia, that you would be offered plastic bags everywhere, because as of several years ago, a policy began in which grocery stores and lots of shops in general began charging for plastic bags, so bringing your own bag is a necessity…or you’ll be walking around the mall carrying the 3 shirts you just bought in your hands and hoping that no one thinks you stole them. 🙂 Here in ShenZhen, China, the same policy is in play–I think the first words my husband learned in Mandarin post-arrival were “do you want a bag?” Which all cashiers ask–the bags cost maybe 30 cents, but we don’t want them. 🙂
    It also does help to be relatively small for a foreigner. My husband and I are both petite, and can shop anywhere here–but the stares don’t stop, no matter what size they are. Just this weekend I had a fun conversation on the metro with an elderly little grandma whose 8 year old grandson couldn’t stop staring at me. She said he thought I was pretty and poor little guy was so embarrassed.

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    • That’s amazing to hear about the plastic bags and China, what a great step in the right direction. We are in Portugal and the same applies. Unfortunately that has not hit most of SE Asia. And, yes, in China everyone stares!!!

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  6. At first I though I’d refrain. Then I thought I’d openionate anyway since ur article is of direct reference to the region I live in. For a starter, most ur assumption are based on bali, indonesia which I believe does not provide enough reason to hate many things in s/e asia as a whole. Usually this part of the world offers a different set of experiences altogether & some may not sit well with the travellers from other regions. Some of the very things you hate like overdose of sugar in ur teaa is a way of showing appreciation in some parts of this region. As for them staring at big breasts, well, wouldn’t we all? I had some women staring down my pants while I was in US sometime ago..hahaa

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    • Indika, I believe you are from Sri Lanka, right? We have not been there, so I have no views yet. Most of my views for this post were based on Bali and Vietnam, where we spent most of our recent time. Although we have also been to Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand… And, with all respect, I doubt many women were starting at your pants while in the US, it’s not part of our culture to do that 😉

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  7. De-humidifiers actually work and you will be amazed at how much water you can pull out of your house each day. (8 to 16 liters) but having 3 in my home plus two A/C units changed the moisture problem for the better. I don’t drink sugar drinks…. Beer! safe, probably won’t kill you and minimal sugars. Horns? What horns. I’ve been here 8 years… its still there but has faded into the background. Western food…. do your research. there is even great Mexican in Saigon now. (La Fiesta) lots of good burger places. French, Les Jardines de la Carambole in Hue…. Magnificent. Look for the good. Its out there!

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    • We were able to use de-humidifiers when living in Bali, but a little harder to do when constantly moving. And, please tell me your secret on ignoring the horns!!!

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    • True! The mosquitos were kind of brutal living in Ubud, but since then, I have not had much of a problem. In Vietnam, I just sprayed my ankles before going out at night and I was fine. The mossies LOVE me though, and I am always itchy. It just wasn’t something that was bothering me before leaving the region.

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  8. Having lived in Asia for a couple of years I totally understand what you’re saying. I hadn’t been for about 8 years when I decided to go back for 6 months last year with a toddler in tow – which takes it to whole different level lol! But I find myself saying all the time “I’m over Asia” – I’ve reached a point where Europe is where I want to be traveling to now. I too am not ‘divorcing’ Asia, but definitely need another 10 years break from it 🙂

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    • Mala, well, I know my break won’t be that long. We will be back in October, and I know I will be excited to return. For now, I just need a little break 😉 Maybe I will see you in Europe this summer!

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  9. I lived in SE Asia from 2002-2005 and they had to tear me away to move to Europe (2006-2007). I’ve been back in the U.S. for a few years now and still miss Asian food, and the people – so we’re heading back that way next year at this time – hopefully for at least 2-3 years. I enjoyed reading your post because it reminded me that SE Asia isn’t perfect. It’s a good reminder of some of the things I had forgotten – but I was surprised about the sugar comment. I didn’t have that experience when I lived there. It seems much more common to get bombarded with sugar (and wheat) in everything in the U.S. – so I will be more aware when I go back.

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    • It is strange because the pastries and desserts are not sweet, but the drinks are, including the coffee and tea. Maybe that is what bothered me in the end, because I expect a dessert to be sweet, but not all the drinks. I still love Asia, and certainly the food, and I am sure I will be thrilled to return in October. Where are you headed Linda?

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  10. The only thing I would add, Amber, is the pollution that occurs in major cities all over SE Asia. I recall needing to wear a mask while we were in Hanoi and in KL when the fires from Indonesia were impacting air quality. We also needed to wear masks in Cambodia.

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    • Yeah, agreed Susan, the fires in Indonesia make it a mess in Singapore and KL.

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  11. I have been in Chiang Mai for 2 years now and all of your things ring true for me too. I would add lack of safe roads, disgusting pollution that is just accepted as “that time of year”, lack of unspoiled nature (there is always a t-shirt shop and vendor selling something everywhere people stop), lack of education, lack of basic hygiene, and the ever present sex trade of all degrees here in Thailand.

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    • I agree with a lot of your comments, but there is still something I love here. I just can’t figure it out!

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      • I really liked your blog so I decided that I should comment on it. First let me say that I have visited over two dozen countries so I can tell you that I’ve been around.

        But I digress I’ve been in Southeast Asia now for 16 months I’m currently in Malaysia and I can tell you that I can’t wait to leave there is something about this region that is such a drag that I can’t completely put my finger on it.

        I don’t know if it’s the people or the lack of culture in which I cannot to connect to or the fact that I hate the food for the most part and don’t get me started about the weather or just for the mere fact that technological advancements has seemed to escape this region.

        Unless you are talking about Singapore which is a country that I adore and love but aside from that Southeast Asia is just not for me.

        I spent 9 months in Thailand before coming to Malaysia and getting out of that country was a blessing it was just a hassle to get from point A to Point B as it is in Malaysia the pollution in Thailand was unimaginable and the food was horrible.

        Bangkok overwhelmed me from top to bottom and the main airport was just to big and to loud but for the most part I lived in Chiang Mai but that was not any fun either.

        Malaysia has had more ups then downs is it better then Thailand yes in some aspects but then again the weather is still the same and the food is only so so and trying to connect with locals is damn near impossible here.

        But the international airport is a lot nice here but once you get out of Kuala Lumpur it’s like you are in no man’s land the country side is completely deserted from top to bottom and good luck in getting back into town in a timely fashion.

        I could type all day and barely scratch the surface concerning my adventures in this region but I will say something positive about Southeast Asia medical services are cheap and it’s nice that I don’t have to go to the doctor to get my prescriptions at the pharmacy and they are really cheap so that’s nice and I also like the fact that I get left be and to my own devices in this region and that no bugs me like in the United States.

        Will I be back here again no way in hell well unless I’m going back to Singapore again I didn’t visit that country three times for nothing it’s such a wonderful magical place though it’s still hot there at least you can hide in the SMRT all day if you wish to escape the heat. I will truly miss that country I hope to make it back there again and soon.

        Perhaps when I get to Taiwan in a couple of months my fortunes will change but I have to dart back to the U.S. again first, at least I’m building up lot’s of airline miles by traveling lol.

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