Picture winding your way through crowded markets, sampling a plethora of different culinary delights. You’ll stop at a fresh fruit stand and spent five minutes bartering down from forty to thirty baht, before you realise you’re haggling over sixteen pence. You sink your teeth into the freshest mango you’ve ever tasted, spilling it all down your front, but it doesn’t matter because you’re in Asia.
I was lucky enough to spend a whole seven weeks on this fabulous and vibrant continent, travelling through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia . I’m technically ‘studying abroad’ in Perth, Australia, one of the sunniest cities in the world, but ‘studying’ is a very loose term. It’s more like endless road trips and holidays to far flung corners of the world. And one of these spontaneous holidays started with a 4am flight to Ho Chi Minh.
Tip 1: We’d heard bad things about Asia: people disappearing, muggings at knife point, even murders. We’d heard that it was a very dangerous corner of the world, and you had to step with extreme caution. We’d effectively heard the worst. Now I’m not saying that I wasn’t on my guard the whole time, but my first tip for you is to expect the best of people. During my two months in South-East Asia, the worst encounter I had was a woman charging us a dollar to park our bikes by her restaurant. Admittedly, she was very pushy and annoying, but that’s not the point. So my advice is to assume that everyone is kind and willing to help- the innocent until proven guilty outlook on life. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t still be cautious and sensible, but it restored my faith in humanity when I realised that the majority of people we met really were selfless and just trying to help.
Tip 2: We’d also heard horrible stories about food poisoning. Everyone we met along the way had suffered from at least one bout of horrible illness, and from a variety of different foods. But that’s just the point- food poisoning is so hit and miss there is no point in steering clear of so many foods that you fail to get the proper Asian food experience. We ate street food every single day, and my friend got food poisoning one of the few times we ate in a restaurant! I was lucky enough to avoid it, but my tip would be to enjoy everything to the full and just hope for the best! Obviously, if something looks riddled with salmonella maybe don’t try it, but being too cautious means that you’d miss out on the likes of 30 baht (25p) Pad thai, freshly grilled skewers, freshly made smoothies, Khao Soi…I could go on forever!
Tip 3: We made the mistake of booking our return flight, and spent the whole holiday regretting it and planning around it. We did have the luxury of a lot of time which meant we could have been flexible had we not booked the flight, but it actually went down in price the day before! This wasn’t surprising, as we’d chosen to fly at 4am on New Year’s Day, so that was a highly interesting experience… But not booking or planning in advance allows for spontaneity- one of my favourite things in life. We were in Da Lat, Vietnam, when we met some people and decided to take the night bus to Hoi An. Sixteen numbing hours later, we arrived in Hoi An, where we decided to rent motorbikes and bike the four hours to the imperial capital Hue, via the Hai Van Pass which is featured on Top Gear. We then decided we’d had enough of Hue, and biked back along the back-jarring roads. Although I couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards, it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip.