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10 Amusing Quirks you Need to Know about Southeast Asia

South East Asia has become a hub for backpackers from all over the world, and our trip was nothing short of incredible. When travellers visit places far and wide, we tend to notice amusing quirks and traits different from our own, and Southeast Asia was no exception! One of our favourite reasons to travel is to celebrate our differences and experience a culture shock everywhere we go and, although sometimes it feels overwhelming and can be a complete assault on the senses, there really is nothing better or, in this case, more amusing.

We’ve gathered together ten quirks that to a local may not appear be quirky at all but, to an outsider, are downright snort-worthy.

1. Bum guns are severely underrated - who doesn’t like a jet of water shooting up your crack?

For those of you who are unsure what a bum gun is, the official term is a bidet sprayer; found next to every toilet to spray your bum with after pooping! Quite often there is no toilet roll in sight, so getting used to a bum gun is the first rule of backpacking Southeast Asia. It actually makes complete sense - if we got fecal matter on our hand, we’d wash it, not just wipe it with tissue, right?! They’re also great for ladies on their period for the same reason. They can be a shock to the system when you first use one, especially the often-freezing temperatures but, once you get used to them, there’s no going back. Make sure you check the pressure before using them though, unless you want your morning deuce to double up as a colonoscopy! We learnt this the hard way in Singapore when we were nearly blown inside-out...

2. The main ingredient for every meal of the day is rice - including breakfast and dessert!

At every hotel and hostel we stayed at that said ‘breakfast included’, they meant rice and curry. No cereal or sausages in sight! At Mingle Hostel in Malaysia, we had the best egg curry for breakfast and it didn’t seem weird at all. Mango rice was the most popular dessert found on most menus; but after having a rice starter and rice main, we often skipped rice dessert. During our travels in Vietnam, we visited a rice farm at a local homestay where we planted our own rice and ploughed the field in the traditional garments and soggy, holey socks! They told us that rice consumption amongst many Asian Countries exceeds 100kg per person per year - and when you consider that a regular 1kg bag of rice from Tesco feeds 5 people, that's 500 rice dishes a year per person!

3. Grab Car is BAE - Bouncy, Affordable and Easy!

Grab car is similar to Uber but with a cash option, so you pay your fare like a regular taxi which avoids those dreaded conversion fees for using your ‘card’ abroad. Taxis are known to rip you off, especially when you’re standing there with your bucket hat, backpack and money belt; whereas Grab tells you the price based on the mileage, without any awkward language barriers. Expect your Grab to arrive 20 minutes after the time stated as traffic can be crazy if they’re driving through the centre. Our first Grab was less than £2 for the both of us for a 15 minute drive to our Hostel in Kuala Lumpar. We couldn’t feel our bums afterwards though - apparently suspension hasn’t reached there yet. Just a reminder that you’ll need internet to order one! You can either buy a local sim for your phone or find a wifi spot.

 

4. Phlegming is to South East Asia what queueing is to England: A way of life.

Apparently, it isn’t seen as disgusting or rude to forcibly eject an entire lung, as you hear and see it on the streets and in restaurants while eating! There is no shame in it, and nobody bats an eyelid. On our second night in Bangkok, we were sitting at an outside table and we had to endure the sound of everyone walking past, and on the table next to us, gobbing up. “Oh well, better out than in, I always say!” Cheers, Shrek...

5. Who needs shoes to eat? Restaurants often ask you to leave your shoes at the door!

You may already expect to leave your shoes at the door before entering a temple or spiritual place, but we hardly wore our shoes at all when heading indoors. As you walk along the streets, you see piles of shoes at each doorway and some even have dedicated baskets or bags specifically for customers’ shoes. This is generally done for cleanliness purposes, as a lot of Asian life is centred around the floor; sitting, eating, praying. On the first night of our Thailand tour, we went to a beautiful wooden restaurant where we first experienced removing our shoes at the door, and were invited to sit on cushions on the floor to eat! Although it was a bit uncomfortable, it was certainly a more authentic experience than the Argos chairs and tables provided at our next meal. A word of warning - not everyone cuts their toenails. Some of the toes we saw were scary.

6. They take the term ‘waiting’ quite literally. Order now, eat MUCH later.

There is always a small ratio of waiting staff to customers, so you need to be really good at waving someone down without being disrespectful. Even when you’re (finally) handed a menu, the pictures won’t match the listed dish, causing delays when the food arrives, or the English translation is incorrect, also causing delays when the food arrives. Waiters sometimes don’t write your order down as a sign of confidence, and loads come out wrong. This happened regularly, especially in Thailand where we waited up to an hour several times, usually after the food was wrong once or twice. Unfortunately, we had very few positive experiences with service time at restaurants but for the cheap price and the best God damn Pad Thai or Massaman Curry you’ve ever tasted, it’s worth it.

 

7. Thai massages are amazing: Intrusive and agonising, but amazing.

To put it quite frankly, your head is always in their crotch or bosom. It is a very intimate experience, but not in the sexy, sultry way you’ve seen in pornos - these masseuses are not afraid to put their full body weight directly on your squishiest parts in the most unflattering way they can. When doing your feet, they use what looks and feels like a pen to push into your pressure points, which is more uncomfortable than being tickled for hours on end. During our group massage in Bangkok, there were 15 of us to a room, and the only sounds you could hear were loud clicking and yelps immediately afterwards, and the occasional full-on chat between the masseuses. By the end of the massage, we were fully qualified contortionists.

 

8. ‘ONE FITS SIZE ALL!’

It is an eternal struggle to find clothing at any market, and when you finally find a size 12 or above, chances are the phrases plastered all over them are utterly nonsensical. When travelling to 5 different Countries in Southeast Asia, you don’t expect to see the exact same 5 items for sale on every visible market stall, but apparently that’s a thing! Although men sometimes have the option of larger t-shirts, the clothes were no bigger than my thigh. I managed to buy 1 item of clothing the entire trip, and when I lost my only bra at a sketchy hostel, I had to go without for an entire month - please be aware, if you’re not already, I have a delightfully large pair! Not only were the sizes non-existent, but we had to double-take several times when seeing an English slogan on a shirt. Phrases you might see include, but are not limited to, “I love me, fun” and “Where’s mine phone <3”. Please see photo examples for more joy.

9. It’s so *beeping* loud! Beeping at all hours of the day is apparently essential to every driver on every road.

If you get beeped in the UK, you expect it to be a scrawny white boy in his corsa with his crew; here it’s a smiling 84 year old Vietnamese man with 10 boxes, a new window and your mum’s new mattress balanced on his scooter. It isn’t deemed to be aggressive and it’s certainly not to get a female’s attention; they do it purely because it’s the thing to do. We had to get a cab to go back to the airport in Hanoi, and our driver was in the habit of beeping twice, a bit like morse code, every time he touched the accelerator. Of course, we found this highly amusing and called him the beep-beep man, because we’re 10 apparently. There are actually 5 million bikes to 8 million people in Hanoi, so no wonder it’s a bit noisy! Of the two though, we’d take the sound of beeping over the sound of phlegming any day.

 

10. It’s as cheap as chips! Well, as cheap as rice.

Southeast Asia is an absolute gem of an experience, and you just cannot beat the prices. With cigarettes costing 80p and a beer costing less than £1, you can really imagine how easy it is to get carried away! Our 222 mile journey from our Hostel in Singapore to our hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was £10.15 including a coach, a bus and a Grab. That’s £2 cheaper than a day travelcard in London. We stayed at a £3 hostel in Hanoi with free beer, free breakfast, free tours, a cinema room and a games room, plus enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet in Luang Prabang, Laos for £1.50. We drank at a 10 baht bar (25p) in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and had several £1 pitchers of beer in Hanoi. To top it off, we got stick-and-poke tattoos for £20 in Krabi and went parasailing for £20 in Penang, Malaysia.

We adored Southeast Asia, and would encourage anyone and everyone to visit there, on a smaller budget, at some point in their life if they’re able to. We’re here to help you find the cheapest flights and tell you about the cheapest and best places to visit, so shoot us a message and we’ll help you organise your trip for free. Click here for more information.

Feel free to check out photograph from around Southeast Asia here!

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