We’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
I 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 chalkboard 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.
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.
This 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 commonplace, 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.
Once 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.
Just 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.
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.
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.
I 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 a while. 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 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.
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.
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?
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.