Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia. Four countries in two months and in only two weeks from now these amazing two months will be over. It’s time to rethink what I’ve experienced and learned during the last couple of weeks:
1. Fruit tastes so much better over here.
Honestly, if I had never come to Southeast Asia, I would have probably never known how AMAZING pineapples and mangoes can taste. I’ve already been in love with those fruits back home but seriously: They taste sooo much better over here. I am not quite sure yet whether I’ll be able to fully enjoy pineapples and mangoes in Germany ever again. 😦
2. Bargaining is fun!
Good lord, I remember how much I hated bargaining when I started travelling in Morocco. I even wrote about it in “Die hohe Kunst des Handelns”. It sucked. But after a while you get used to it and then it’s actually fun. A lot of fun. Once you’ve brought your pokerface to perfection and know how to counter all those streetwise vendors it’s easy-peasy. I promise.
Edit: You need to be a bit of an actor though. One of the best tricks: Tell them the price you’d be willing to pay. Look at them as seriously as you can. And then just walk away if they don’t agree. In 95% of all cases they will come running after you and yell “Madame! Madame! Okay!”. Ha.
3. Bargaining with Tuk Tuk drivers is not so much fun.
And now forget everything you’ve just read because bargaining with Tuk Tuk drivers is horrible. The problem is that most of the time they are in a much better position than you. An example: It’s 9pm, it’s pitch-dark and your guesthouse is on the other side of town. You really want to go back safely (without getting robbed, raped or just plainly lost) and you want to go back NOW. Good luck with bargaining…
4. I love reading.
So far, I always made it back safely and even though I might have spent a couple of extra dollars for overpriced Tuk Tuks there’s always enough money left for the nice things in life. Like books. As a child I have been an avid reader, spending mornings, afternoons and evenings in my bed and devouring novel after novel. During high school and university this has changed significantly because, as you all know, there is often just not enough time to read all those textbooks AND a good novel. Right now I have plenty of time and thus I’ve rediscovered my passion for good books. I’ve just purchased a very promising exemplar called “Flying” (cliché confirmed) and I’m really excited to read it!
Note to my future self: If you don’t have enough time to read at least one good book a month, your time management is rubbish.
5. Everything over here is “same same but different”.
You can book a tour, make a reservation at a guesthouse or order a meal: Be prepared that you might not get what you’ve actually wanted. Or what was promised by the travel agent / guesthouse owner / waiter. Getting exactly what you want is a quite German (or let’s say European) thing. Here in Asia people simply don’t care about a slight change of plans. As long as it somehow resembles your original plans, it’s fine. Even though this line of thought sometimes drives me crazy I have to admit that it makes life easier and a lot more relaxed.
6. You get used to anything. Eventually.
I got used to the “same same but different” mentality. To filthy tab water. To horrible guestrooms and uncomfortable transportation. To bugs, cockroaches and ants. To a level of humidity that makes you shower at least three times a day. To having noodle soup for breakfast (which is actually really yummy!). To spend more money on a postcard than on a whole dinner. Not to do anything useful for days. To have dirty clothes and unshaved legs (oops, did I just say that out loud? Well, sometimes that’s backpacker life). To eat banana pancakes every single morning.
Sometimes all you have to do is giving things a chance. Well, except for the clothes and the legs and the dirty water. I could really do without that.
7. Traffic rules are totally overrated.
German policemen would love to work here in Southeast Asia. Seriously, they could stop and fine people all day long. Because no one actually cares about traffic rules (which practically don’t exist), right- or left-hand traffic (it’s usually both or something in between) or speed limits (most of the time you’re more concerned with potholes than speed limits). While crossing the street first scared the sh** out of me, I’m now pretty confident. You just have to go with the flow and never ever stop walking. Or go backwards. Because that might actually be your death sentence 😉
8. Massages are the most wonderful treat.
Why on earth do I never treat myself to a massage back home in Germany? Okay, the answer is quite simple: They are unbelievably expensive compared to massages in Southeast Asia. I just had a 90min traditional Khmer full body massage for $15! Still, I need to get massages more often. It just makes you feel so much better.
9. Being thankful is important.
Having seen the poverty people live in I become more and more thankful for growing up in a country like Germany. It is a real privilege that most people forget during everyday life. Here in Cambodia I met some of poorest people in my life and I am still shocked by their living conditions. Shabby huts, one single room for the whole family and no running water – sometimes it feels like being put back into the Medieval Ages. Nontheless you’ll always see people with a smile on their face! Oh, and no matter how poor, they all seem to own a TV and a smartphone. Hello 21st century!
10. If you never try, you’ll never know.
The by far most important lesson I’ve learned: Try. Let yourself be immersed in a completely different world, indulge in exotic food and have a go at anything you’re interested in. You don’t even need to travel the world, just go out wherever you live and try something new every single day of your life. Life can get boring pretty easily and it takes some effort to leave that cosy comfort zone most people build around themselves. But life is not always black and white, it is about using the whole box of crayons…
Always happy travels!