The almost 4 months we've spent in South-east Asia have been absolutely wonderful. Along the way, I noted down some things that I found unusual or interesting. Below I've listed said things and by means of a preface I want to state that these are only observations and that what I spotted may not be native to the region at all.
- Pond's (the toiletry brand).
You can pick up this quintessential brand with its cold cream along with lots of other products almost everywhere in SE Asia, particularly Thailand.
- Ovaltine and Milo.
Chocolate and chocolate malt drinks are very popular in SE Asia, Ovaltine especially in Indochina. They are drunk both hot and cold and are considered a 'healthy' beverage for children and adults despite their very high sugar content.
This American biscuit is pervasive and a go-to for many backpackers at truck-stops when you're weary, tired and not feeling up to eating a 'pork' stir-fry that's been sitting out all day.
This is essentially a mini cake sold in packages of 6. It's like a deep wagon wheel with marshmallow in the middle and chocolate either side. We haven't actually had any while we've been away (I'm pretty sure I'd love 'em) but we did notice them EVERYWHERE in SE Asia.
- Maggi noodles.
There isn't a hawker/street food stall, café, buffet or low-key restaurant in SE Asia where you can't find Maggi noodles on the menu somewhere. In case you don't know, Maggi (Nestlé) noodles are a thin, MSG-laden, cheap, flavoured packet noodle that are considered a staple food in a lot of Asia (particularly developing countries). It was a little annoying being presented with Maggi when we ordered noodle dishes, especially considering they cost a few pence but we were bring charged at a standard main course price. It seemed though that they weren't seen as low-quality and cheap by local punters, but rather a preference over and above home-made or 'proper' noodles.
'Basics' (to us) that are VERY expensive
- Dental floss.
After a month in India with all manner of curries wedged in-between each tooth cavity I was desperate to give my mouth a good flossing when we got to Thailand. Unfortunately, it turns out that dental floss doesn't appear to be in such high demand as on average in SE Asia it cost around £4.
This staple was another steep purchase. Often the cheapest mini roll-on I could find was over £2. Perhaps I'm just used to buying my toiletries at B & M... Also, as I'll discuss shortly, the majority of the antiperspirant/deodorants had whitening properties in them so I didn't have much to choose from. I did ponder whether my underarm hair might go blonde.
Now I must be clear here, by alcohol I mean everything but beer. Bottles and cans of beer were often cheaper than water in restaurants and even some newsagents. Spirits and in particular, wine, were really expensive. I wasn't too surprised by this as I imagine the majority of it is imported but we were a little shocked that the so-called 'tax-havens' such as Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore didn't have alcohol at all cheaper than what we'd get back home in an off licence.
Milk isn't expensive everywhere in SE Asia but it is in most places. It's almost always UHT carton milk and usefully for us, soya milk is often cheaper and sometimes easier to get hold of.
- When in Laos, our Mekong river tour guide told us that Laotians HATE Indian food. Apparently they just don't enjoy the flavours. When we spent a night in the Mekong river-town of Pak Beng, we had to persuade Ka our guide to eat in the Indian restaurant where he ordered only Lao food.
- Hand soap in bathrooms is ALWAYS watered down.
If you're lucky enough to find some liquid hand soap in the bathroom (or even a sink for that matter) then expect it to be very diluted. This means that there isn't any lathering and instead you just feel like you've washed your hands with slightly perfumed tap-water.
- People just don't have road rage.
I can only think of one occasion where a driver shouted and gesticulated at another driver and considering we've been in hundreds of vehicles over 4 months on all sorts of roads is pretty amazing. In addition, the roads in most of SE Asia are very congested and/or in bad condition with most drivers seemingly following little if any road-rules as we'd know them.
- 'Hocking up' phlegm is a popular pastime.
Men, women, boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds have a penchant for aggressively clearing their throat and then expelling their sputum. They have no concern for how loud and nauseating they may be and which pavement they litter their phlegm with. This is one of the only things that I struggled to look past - my sensibilities were just offended and I couldn't help but feel a little ill when I saw and/or heard it.
- 'Motorbikes and mopeds/scooters are the primary vehicles on the road.
This one is fairly well-known but I just didn't realise the sheer volume and universality of it. Everyone rides on two-wheels; whether old or young, poor or wealthy, male or female. And don't think that the number of passengers affects the mode of transport - there could be one or five people needing a lift somewhere and a motorbike/scooter would still be utilised.
- The majority of petrol stations have servers.
I always envisage rural 'gas stations' in the deepest depths of the USA as the ones with pump attendants. But in SE Asia, fuel is almost always dispensed by an individual who usually has a decent-sized wad of cash in their back pocket for change.
- There was a distinct lack of 'Engrish'.
Much to my disappointment there were hardly any examples of nonsensical or badly translated English. In fact I saw more correct usage of the apostrophe and 'there, their and they're' in SE Asia than in Harpurhey, Manchester.
- Pyjamas are a popular outfit.
Just like Edge Hill, Kensington or Belle Vale (Liverpool reference), you would often see women walking around carrying out their day-to-day activities in their pyjamas. Said pyjamas are usually a matching top and bottoms with some sort of children's print like Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty or Spongebob Squarepants. We couldn't figure out if the pyjamas were sold and worn as 'normal' clothes or whether their categorisation just didn't matter to anyone.
- Mobile street-vendors would record themselves on an old hifi, strap it to their vehicle (usually a pulling cart or bicycle) and play out their recordings.
An ingenious sales technique if you ask me. Obviously we didn't know what the recordings were saying as they weren't in English but I reckon it would be something along the lines of "come and get your tasty snails/nuts/random metal bits".
- Germans are everywhere.
German travellers seemed almost omnipresent in and around SE Asia. We met more Deutsch-landers than any other nationality,
- Plastic is EVERYWHERE.
Without even considering the mounds and mounds of plastic bottles we've sent to landfills during our time away, Southeast Asia is a plastic-lovers paradise. With every purchase at a 7/11 or equivalent, you're presented with a plastic bag for all your items, including separate smaller plastic bags for anything cold, as well as a few plastic spoons, forks and straws - just in case.
In addition, a lot of drinks (hot and cold) from street stalls are served in small plastic bags - much like the ones we might use for sandwiches back home. We'd often see bags of drinks hung off railings, tree branches and handlebars - awaiting the return of their guzzlers.
- Bob Marley songs are often heard.
If you pass any bar or pub catering to backpackers you're highly likely to hear one of a handful of Bob Marley classics. Usually Three Little Birds, No Woman No Cry or Jammin' would be blasting out onto the street. Of course everybody enjoys a bit of Bob Marley from time to time but when you're hearing the same three songs on repeat day after day, night after night it does get a little annoying. I felt sorry for the modest little workshops and cafés often next-door.
- My name is a good ice-breaker.
This applied to India too but having a name like Aisha certainly served me well in SE Asia. Whether it be in a tuk tuk or hostel or street-food stall, my name was always a conversation starter. Thanks Mum and Dad!