Southeast Asia Summary

We have elected to extend our break from constantly being “on the move” and base ourselves on one of our favorite islands in the world…Maui.  It’s a 2 month stint prior to heading off to the “August Place to Be” (aka The Spa) to hang with our gang for the month.  We will continue on our RTW to different regions at the beginning of September.

So, we have left Southeast Asia behind (for the time being) but will leave you with a brief summary of our seven (7) month Flashpacking journey around SE Asia.

South-East Asia is really an amazing area to explore and once you get adjusted to the culture shock it brings, you find yourself letting go of all your worries, routines and stress that you would normally feel at home.  When traveling around Asia for an extended time, you will learn to release yourself from the daily routine and discover a whole new concept of reality. Asia simply moves at a much slower pace and what I liked most, is that time here works in approximation rather than specifics.  No worries here. It is so relaxed that you basically just sit back and go with the flow because it all somehow works out.

Southeast Asia is a perfect region to travel around for an extended period of time.  It does take a great deal of time to really dig down and explore properly which is simply not possible for a visitor staying just a few weeks.  It is the perfect area to visit if you are on a gap between jobs, retired or are fortunate enough to be ganted a sabbatical from your employer.  The region is very compact and is conducive to visiting many countries inexpensively by air, sea or bus.  The freedom of easily moving around thru different countries with each having an entirely different culture (Same Same but Different) is what really makes the region special.  We had no time constraints when moving country to country, so we took our time in each location in order to observe the unique lifestyle in each country.

What about Technology and Internet in Asia?
The internet is a huge part of the everyday lives of people in Asia, particularly social media.  Asians seem to have a love affair with Facebook.  The most popular app by far that every single Asian person utilizes (both rich and poor) is Facebook and it’s where they get all of their news flow from. The ease with which news articles, stories and opinions can be shared on the Facebook social media platform has made Asians more aware not just about what is happening in the world, but about what is being said about their country.  Many less affluent asians that cannot afford TV, get 100% of their news from their cell phones.  Many countries have the “one laptop-per-child” dream which will probably never come to fruition here in SE Asia.  However, one smartphone per human, which is just as capable as a laptop in many ways has arrived.

Iphones are top dog in Asia.  Samsung comes in second to those who can afford to splurge on a brand but cannot spring for the iPhone which dominates the upper class Asian crowd and is a real status symbol here.  I noticed that an iPhone is in the hands of just about every beautiful young Asian woman.  Those that cannot afford a new iPhone and still want to be a hipster simply buy used refurbished iPhones.  If you ever wondered what happened to all of your old iPhones you traded in upgrading to your current shiny Iphone 6, they are being put to good use and sitting in the hands of the people in SE Asia.  For those that cannot afford the refurbished iPhone, most poor villagers/farmers have Chinese made phones.  So where do these these poor villagers charge their phones if they live in basic wooden shacks in a village with no electricity?  Well, I have seen some charge their phones on a car battery where USB wires are spliced connecting to the battery.

What about Pollution in Asia?
Ocean pollution is a serious problem in Asia.  I cannot think of anything more that pisses me off than seeing garbage in the ocean or on the beach.  Thailand is a major global contributor to the swathes of plastic waste found in oceans and seas.  Plastic bags are so ubiquitous in Thailand that their largest manufacturer is launching an IPO next month.  I just wonder what can Thailand and other Asian countries do to reduce its use of plastic bags?  I know in Hawaii, the supermarkets are no longer allowed to provide plastic to customers.  You must bring your own canvas bags.  Seems like a good start.

Is it safe to travel thru SE Asia?
South East Asia is a very safe place to travel, with much lower crime rates than many Western cities.  While we have been on the road for the past 7 months, there has been about a dozen incidents with crazies in the USA shooting up innocent people in public places.  My advice is turn off CNN and Fox as they pollute your mind.  Their coverage portray foreign countries as always being unsafe.  I can tell you, we never felt the least bit threatened even walking alone on dark roads at night in Asia.

Is street food safe to eat?
Not only is it generally safe, it is also some of the best food in the world!  You have not lived until you have tasted some of this high quality stuff whipped together at street stalls.  The Loose Stools Index is bound to take a hit but the rewards are worth the risk.  A good simple rule of thumb to follow is if there is a big line of locals, odds are it’s probably good and safe, so get your ass on that same line as well!

How long do I need to travel through any given country?
If you too drop out of society, have the time and no longer have to answer to “the man”, a month in each country (which is usually what you get on a single entry visa on arrival) is somewhat sufficient to cover the highlights of each country.  The exception is Indonesia which is so vast and you will need more time here.

What is the cost of Travel?
Traveling is now no longer just for the wealthy.  We realized that traveling can be done very cheaply and all you have to do is get creative.  So to those that want to travel but are afraid of the costs, traveling does not have to be expensive.  In order to preserve your moolah:

1) Travel Slowly.  This will bring down costs, especially transportation costs.  Long term stays are definitely the way to go in order to find the best prices on accommodation.

2) Eat street food and at local restaurants.  Avoid the ubiquitous ripoff restaurants geared to tourists.  As you get more experienced being on the road, you will acquire a keen eye on how to easily spot these tourist restaurants to avoid.

3) Try to spend your days simply integrating yourself into the daily life of local living.  Avoid feeling the need to indulge in group day tours and excursions which tend to be overpriced.  You will save a ton of money and get the same exact, if not better experience doing these day tours independently.

Why SE Asia is such a relaxed place?

1) Not caring about clothes.  It is shorts and flip flops 100% of the time.  I never even packed a pair of long pants for this entire trip.  My clothes could be dirty or not match and nobody seems to give a damn.

2) Not shaving for days as appearance really means nothing.  Nobody seems to care about your appearance.  It is just not important.  What is important is that you are a righteous dude.

3) Wildlife is all around and its pretty cool.  I like waking up to jungle noises, geckos chirping and roosters crowing.  Being able to recognize which wild animal was the one making the noise always put a smile on Barbie’s face and made her quite happy.

4) Buying fresh fruits straight from the farms of street/beach vendors is a pleasure.  I remember when I used to buy fruit from supermarkets in Las Vegas, the fruit never tasted like anything.  Not so in Asia, where they are all bursting with flavor.

5) Full moons above the palm trees on the beach are quite nice.

6) SE Asia is cheap and many of the best things are free.  There are no expensive outings like back at home.  No need to spend your days shopping, no need to get ripped off at overpriced celebrity chef restaurants, no parking your car in $50 per day parking garages.  Instead, in SE Asia (all at no cost) you can snorkel in the sea, climb to amazing viewpoints, watch sunsets, or just walk around the vibrant streets and see wacky stuff on every corner.

7) Cold Showers.  Who needs hot water in tropical climates.

8) Using the same oil to repel mosquitoes and keep me smelling attractive to Barbette.

9) Any place you can be barefoot most of the time is good.  Some say, walking barefoot is extremely healthy.  It connects you to nature and grounds you. I buy that.

10) Going with the flow and not planning anything for days definitely eliminates stress.

Traveling thru SE Asia really fascinates me and has taught me more than I could ever learn in any city at home.

So, what have I learned from our experiences?

I learned of the hardship others go through just to survive.

I learned that we are all the same, although the way we live life may be different.

I learned the genuine friendliness of strangers and loved the huge smiles on locals faces.

I learned you won’t achieve freedom by making more money.  You will find freedom by working less and spending less.

The reason many travelers seem to flock Southeast Asia, is for the low cost of living compared to other western countries.  The year-round warm weather, great beaches, rich culture, awesome food, amazing unique smells and scenery and the abundance of outdoor activities are just some of the draws. The following is a brief country breakdown.

Thailand –
Was previously my absolute favorite country in SE Asia but I was slightly disillusioned by the scene there now in some of the big Thai tourist destinations.  Prices have skyrocketed and mass tourism has kinda hindered the Land of Smiles with the majority of Thai’s appearing jaded by tourists.  The Land of Smiles has transformed into Land of…..Give me your Baht.  There still remains some great spots in Thailand where this does not apply but you will need to get off the beaten path and far away from the obscene amount of freshly minted Chinese tourists who many just fail to know how to behave.

Cambodia –
Good place and a must visit.  Good people with a great attitude.

Myanmar (aka Burma) –
An absolute gem.  A must visit before the tourism floodgates open wide and things change. Traveling is all about emotions and our trip to Myanmar was one of the richest.  A real fav of ours.  It is a country you do not want to rush thru.  I would say a minimum of 3 weeks minimum is needed to cover the main areas of interest.

Malaysia –
(only referring to Peninsular Malaysia as we have yet to visit the Borneo area)
Good to visit if you have the time but other SE Asian countries seemed a bit more engaging.  We are looking forward to seeing the jungles and wildlife in Borneo in the future which should offer a completely different perspective than Peninsular Malaysia.

Singapore –
A way different vibe than the rest of SE Asia.  This island nation has their shit together.  It is the most organized place on earth. Bring your wallet and prepare to spend and eat!

Indonesia-  (Bali/Lombok)
Bali is a good place but the flood of tourists to the popular Ubud and Kuta/Seminyak/Legian areas are a big clusterfuck.  You will be better served exploring other areas of Bali.  The best beaches are on the Bukit Peninsula.  The Gili Islands off Lombok are real fun beach islands, but try to avoid peak season and the crowds.

Philippines –
Not sure why this country has avoided the mass tourism of other SE Asian countries.  If you enjoy super friendly people, love the ocean and beaches, then get your traveling butt here.  The islands are just so laid back and so are the people.

Laos –
Definitely worth including a visit to this laid back country on your next trip to SE Asia.  For novice travelers, Luang Prabang will serve as an easy introduction to Asia.

Vietnam –
We visited Vietnam on our previous trip to SE Asia and plan to revisit on our return to the region.  Many Americans think of the horrors of the Vietnam War and are a bit skeptical to visit.  Big Mistake.  Vietnam opened its borders to tourism about 20 years ago similar to the way Myanmar has embraced tourism in the last couple of years.  Vietnam is a must visit on any extended trip to SE Asia.

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes.  Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same.  You realize what’s changed, is you.” – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Hopefully, I changed to become a better handicapper.

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