Southeast Asia forum
Bad Experiences and Words of warnings
17th August, 2009
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I would like to know about people's bad experiences and words of warnings about their travels to South East Asia. Where not to go. Where not to stay. Where not to eat. What not to do etc..
#1 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 01:20
27th December, 2008
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For me, this is a relative question. I only know a bad place when I compare it to a good place. And, after I've scored a few 'bad' places, I've learned the basics to avoid.
The question is also subjective. I live on a great beach. I've yet to see a beach of equal standing in SE Asia. So, I could say don't go to such-n-such a beach, only to offend another person who lives in mid-west America and thinks the beach is great.
So, to your question I would like to know about people's ...words of warnings about their travels to South East Asia. I would say listen to what others say, but keep an open mind, and don't close your mind to any place, any option because of your or other people's prejudices.
#2 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 06:28
Pretty general question, but here's some off the top of me head (with reason at end of each):
a) Don't catch a long distance bus from Khao San Road (theft is endemic)
b) Don't catch a bus from Khao San Road to Siem Reap (they're all scam buses)
c) If you're concerned about theft: If your rooms has a safe use it. If the guesthouse has a safe, use it. (thieves all know the best stash places in a room)
d) Stay in control (drinking 100 beers and walking home through a slum is silly)
e) Don't travel with pot (or any other drugs) on you. (Effectively becomes trafficking rather than possession and can drasticly effect the penalties)
f) Ignore any well dressed dudes with mobile phones who befriend you in front of a sight or attraction telling you it is closed. (They be shysters)
g) Don't buy gems (Scam)
h) If at all possible avoid getting in a physical fight with locals. (You'll quickly find yourself fighting three or more people)
i) Always wear a motorcycle helmet (the roads are just as hard in Asia as in your home country)
As for where not to go -- really depends on your interests -- one man's paradise is another's dog brothel.
What not to eat?
I'd eat anything and if it made me sick, I wouldn't eat it again.
P'haps others will have more to add...
#3 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 07:49
Avoid being out and about in Sihanoukville at night. Especially in the wee hours. My buddy went there and on the way met another guy. Both ended up getting robbed at gun point.
As far as my friend goes, he's a dumbass who was out looking for pot at 3am alone, so he had it coming. I don't know about the other guy but he was on facebook begging all of the people he had met throughout his travels for money.
Also, when in any poor country be weary of any local that wants to be your friend. It usually results in them attempting to extract money from you in some form.
Also, use a money belt. And each day put your daily allowance into your wallet. This will keep your stash safe and help you budget.
#4 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 08:04
Don't argue with police or soldiers, especially if they are drunk.
Don't carry any parcels for any one any where for any reason.
Don't really know any places to avoid, they're all good.
I'd disagree about freindly locals, I'm freindly right back with a big old grin. Any one looking for money is obviously wasting their time.
#5 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 10:04
I can't think of any serious 'warning' stories. For me, every experience (whether good or bad at the time) is all part of the travel experience. The main consideration is to do your research so that you have realist expectations.
- don't overplan your trip. Have a rough outline of where you think you're going, but be flexible enough to change it on a whim when you find something that grabs your interest, often off the beaten track.
- read up on the different scams that are out there to help you avoid the worst of them
- understand that getting from A to B is not always as simple as jumping on a bus. Those bus rides can be some of the worst experiences you'll have. But.... the worse the bus ride, the better the story you have to share later! You need to understand that they break down, they are overcrowded, they are hot and stuffy, they play atrociously loud and violent DVD's dubbed in bad English, they break down, they are over crowded - and did I mention that they break down and are overcrowded??)
- be sure to build in some relaxation time into your itinerary. Aim to spend a minimum of 2 nights (preferably 3) at most places. Packing and unpacking, and scouting out new accommodation every day and constantly being on the move can be exhausting and unrewarding. Be sure to take the time to ENJOY what you are seeing.
- don't worry about doing all the travel guide 'must sees'. One person's idea of a 'must see' may not be YOUR idea of a 'must see'. Work out what it of interest to YOU.
- remember this is YOUR adventure. It should not be about how many countries you've seen or what distance you have travelled, or seeing what all the guidebooks suggest you see. It should be about enjoying the experience, learning about the people that you meet and their culture, and experiencing a bit of life in the country(s) that you are visiting. Slow it down and ENJOY your adventure. Aim for quality, not quantity. (This is something I know, but still struggle with when I know that there is so much to see in a limited timeframe.)
#6 Posted: 29/8/2009 - 18:13
Always keep your valuables on your person unless in a safety deposit box at where ever you're staying.Just be sensible about everything and you'll be fine.One other thing-never say anything detrimental about the Thai King and the Royal family if you visit Thailand.
#7 Posted: 30/8/2009 - 14:18
Don't eat at crappy road side stands - unless you like getting the runs. The food is often not hygenically stored or prepared, and it usually tastes like crap.
Forget romantic notions about SE Asian culture. It's just as screwed up as everyone elses culture.
#8 Posted: 31/8/2009 - 15:26
Try not to go to too many places where there are only other western backpackers.
Aim for plenty of variety.
Eat well. (What your mother told you is correct. It'll keep you healthy).
I reckon I can usually spot a scammer at 10 paces, but if you can't - be wary. But remain open minded, not everyone is out to get you.
Accept that at times you will be scammed. Don't get too upset by it as the amounts are hopefully small.
Be sensitive to where you are. Nobody likes a gobby drunk.
Have access to more money than you think you'll need.
Don't just tick off must see sights. Inevitably your highlights will have nothing to do with them.
#9 Posted: 4/9/2009 - 20:27
11th August, 2009
Location United Kingdom
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I don't agree with "Don't eat at crappy road side stands - unless you like getting the runs. The food is often not hygenically stored or prepared, and it usually tastes like crap"
I had some brilliant food in Thailand from every available source and never got ill from it. road side vendors are great if your on a budget and they serve perfectly edible food. I imagine the food is no more dangerous than that of the greasy kitchens of franchise burger bars and the never ending mcdonalds plastic crap. Being overly cautious may result in missing out on some great experiences.
Only time I got ill was a night of Thai whisky -avoid at all costs its evil stuff!
#10 Posted: 22/9/2009 - 22:57
I can only speak of my experiences and that of my Thai wife and my friends here... my wife won't eat at road side stands because they make her sick. I do eat at them on occassion. But I do so with some reluctance. Firstly I don't much like the food - pad Thai not withstanding. And secondly I don't like getting sick.
#11 Posted: 22/9/2009 - 23:21
11th August, 2009
Location United Kingdom
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thats fair enough. Just didnt want anyone put off from trying the food coz i thought it was brill, although food is a very personal subject, regardless of culture. Im due to head back there soon but I fear im now jinxed by my earlier comment!
#12 Posted: 23/9/2009 - 22:39
I don't think so. It either works for you or it doesn't. Some people are into it... nothing wrong with that. That's why they make Porsches and Fords. Everyone likes something a little different. The only thing I find curious is when people just assume "the food is delicious". Ahhh, not always. Especially where I live, they eat stuff that would make a billy goat puke.
#13 Posted: 25/9/2009 - 03:21
I looove Thai street food (even in Isaan - is that where you are, MAC?) and I've been living in Asia long enough that it doesn't disagree with my stomach any more.
#14 Posted: 25/9/2009 - 14:58
However long that is, it's longer than two years. Though, since I don't love it... I don't eat it often. So it might take a very long time.
#15 Posted: 25/9/2009 - 16:20
Never get in a "taxi" that's not clearly marked as such. When in a taxi, make sure a meter is on and never agree to a taxi driver's "special good price for you" without the meter. Also be well aware of exchange rates before you get there - a lot of tourists get scammed just as they get through the airport when they're too flustered to stop and think about how much 1000 baht or 500,000 dong really is. Especially in Vietnam, taxi and bus drivers will try to get 500,000 from an unsuspecting tourist for a fare that should only be 50,000 (for example). Also make sure to always count your change, and in plain view of the vendor, b/c people will try to short you on change. A few times in Thailand I've given vendors or taxi drivers a 500 baht note only to receive change as though I'd given 100. Finally, don't rent a motorbike or anything else from someone who doesn't seem super reputable, or just rubs you the wrong way.
#16 Posted: 25/9/2009 - 21:12
So I went to the night market tonight, got some spicy pork over rice with egg... went through me like **** through a goose!!!
#17 Posted: 25/9/2009 - 22:54
If that was "phat grapow moo kai dow," your reaction to it may have been more due to chilies and oil than any microorganisms. The term "like **** through a goose" has an explanation that has more to do with birds than with illness.
I agree that food there isn't always hygienically prepared. Plus it is often not displayed, transported or stored safely. I think that the main reason for this is that there is a general lack of education on the part of the vendors, which usually stems from a more important issue ... their socio-economic background ... which means no time for education. Only time for work. This also partially explains why most do not have proper facilities (things as minor as water jugs and soap that would allow foodhandlers to wash their hands once in a while.)
For what it's worth, the most significant contaminant found in Thai street food is an exotoxin produced by bacteria that we all have on our skin called Staphylococcus aureus. It is produced when the bacteria are allowed to invade openings in the skin, causing infection. The most important feature of this toxin is that it does not denature when exposed to high heat, like most of the other contaminants (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) found.
The ingredients may be contaminated to begin with, but upon exposure to high heat they are usually made safe. However, if a foodhandler has cuts/abrasions on his or her hands and does not cover them, or wash them (which is usually the case), he or she can transmit the toxin to the food, and the toxin remains in the food regardless of whether or not it was cooked. Toxins are the cause of true food-poisonings and the body reacts to them as they would with nearly any other poison ... vomiting, and soon after eating.
Another common bacteria that produces a heat-stable toxin is called Bacillus cereus (or B. cereus!) which is mostly found in rice and is often the cause of illness after eating Asian foods.
So, in a way, it might be safer to eat street food than restaurant food because one can, at least, take a look at who is cooking and what the facilities (knives, cutting boards, storage displays, etc.) are like. This isn't always possible in restaurants, and there is little in the way of government oversight there. It's getting better, though.
#18 Posted: 26/9/2009 - 02:48
Two things I forgot to add ...
1) The UN and WHO have done a handful of food safety/microbiological studies of street vendor foods in Bangkok over the last 20 years, or so. These studies have shown that there is a higher prevalence of pathogenic microorganisms and contaminants (chemical and physical) in street vendor drinks (such as soy drinks, fruit shakes, etc.) than in foods.
2) Despite all of this doom and gloom, I've not once been sick in Thailand from anything I ate, although the burning discomfort in the lower region brought on by the consumption of too many chilies is no stranger.
#19 Posted: 26/9/2009 - 03:34
"If that was "phat grapow moo kai dow," your reaction to it may have been more due to chilies and oil than any microorganisms. The term "like **** through a goose" has an explanation that has more to do with birds than with illness."
Indeed Phat Grapow moo kai dow" is something I eat fairly often. So it isn't the chillis and oil... although the oil might have been a factor this time, as she used a lot. But my body rejected it VERY quickly. Could have been the rice as well - no way to know really. I've never had problems with this menu item before. So I don't think it was the food selection per se.
This is the reason I eat so rarely at the night market. I have gotten the shits there more times than I can count (when I am there, though, it was seems appealing, so sometimes I give in).
#20 Posted: 26/9/2009 - 17:57
Goodness me! How alarmist people are! I am a 50 year old woman and had a two-month holiday (June and July 09) in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Went by myself and had a good time. No specific plan, vague itinerary. Stop being so precious and stop worrying.
#21 Posted: 26/9/2009 - 18:37
Actually I agree that this is a chilled out place - but most of the people who come here seem to have stars in their eyes. As if Southeast Asians weren't people, but some sort of other being that are elevated or something. So a few posts covering the drawbacks probably doesn't hurt. Generally speaking, at least here on travelfish, you don't see a lot of negative feedback. A little, but not too much.
#22 Posted: 27/9/2009 - 01:07
Thank you for your comments. However, I didn't say that the Southeast Asian region was 'a chilled out place'. If visitors apply the same amount of caution in this area that they would anywhere else, things should be fine. Travellers tend to dwell on what might happen to THEM, rather than concentrating on presenting a respectful and dignified demeanour. In short, be polite, and don't drink the water.
#23 Posted: 27/9/2009 - 06:36
"In short, be polite, and don't drink the water."
#24 Posted: 27/9/2009 - 08:14
"However, I didn't say that the Southeast Asian region was 'a chilled out place'."
No, I did.
"In short, be polite, and don't drink the water."
I agree with being polite - that opens almost every door here. I do drink the water, our water here in Muk is treated. But can't say that for all of southeast Asia. Fair enough.
#25 Posted: 29/9/2009 - 17:14
To add my 2 cents on street food...
I've gotten a real stomach illness (beyond just the 'too many chilis' issue) three times total in Southeast Asia - once in Bangkok and twice in Vietnam. The two in Vietnam were relatively minor but the one in Bangkok was the most hellish few days of my life! In all 3 cases, though, the food poisoning was from food consumed in a sit down restaurant. I've eaten at tons of roadside street carts and have not as yet had a problem. (of course now I will since I'm writing this, knock on wood).
The fact is that there are virtually no health codes for food vending, be it a restaurant or outdoor kitchen. So the cleanliness of food really depends on how clean the vendor keeps it - it could be a horribly dirty restaurant kitchen or an excessive compulsively clean street cart vendor. Depends on the individual in charge.
But this is true only to a point - I recall seeing a pick-up truck sitting around in Din Daeng with a ton of fresh raw beef just sitting open to the air in an area with tons of dust and traffic pollution. Chances are that beef was going to several different vendors, some small restaurant and others street cart. So, health standards for meat/food industries are also far below western standards. When eating in Southeast Asia, one really just has to be careful that everything is fully cooked and hope for the best, at a restaurant or on the street.
#26 Posted: 30/9/2009 - 01:14
Let me know when you get settled. Would be fun to meet up with you and have a beer when I make it to Bangkok. I'll take you dancing and you can check it out. We're always looking for new Salseros.
#27 Posted: 30/9/2009 - 12:32
24th September, 2009
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The only time I have ever been sick in thailand was on the train. I ate at some dodgy places, but the overnight train to Surat Thani was the only time I got sick. I would recommend not eating for 12 hours rather than eat that food again. I have photos of my sisters and I eating the food, and you can almost see the bacteria. The three of us got sick and it was the worst train ride of my life. I wont make that mistake again!
#28 Posted: 30/9/2009 - 13:05
I ONLY EAT processed foods (snickers are good) prior to a long bus or train ride. Once my night bus reaches Korat, I do eat there, because I've eaten there often and don't get sick... which I consider a good sign. But otherwise I am real careful about eating just prior to travel. I need energy, but don't want to get sick while on the bus.
#29 Posted: 30/9/2009 - 13:17
My apologies for posting this, as this discussion ought to have ended at number 24. However, MADMAC, writing "I agree that this is a chilled out place" implies that you are agreeing with a statement that someone has made.
I'm sure we've all had gastro at home, but no-one seems to want to discuss their stomach unless they have become ill after eating mouse testicles in the Moluccas.
Anyway, enough said.
#30 Posted: 2/10/2009 - 19:01
"I agree that this is a chilled out place" implies that you are agreeing with a statement that someone has made.
"I'm sure we've all had gastro at home, but no-one seems to want to discuss their stomach unless they have become ill after eating mouse testicles in the Moluccas."
People have more gastro issues here for three reasons:
1. They are exposed to bacteria they don't get exposed to back home.
2. Food prep standards are not much subject to health inspection, and standards are therefore lower to non-existent.
3. Some people who don't eat spicy food back home don't respond well to it when they are exposed.
#31 Posted: 3/10/2009 - 13:30
In response to street food - I've always eaten from street vendors and agree with others on this thread that it's usually a very safe and hygenic way to eat. Only had stomach problems twice - once in Bangkok after too much Mekong and once while staying at the Holiday Inn in Cairo! I'd definitely recommend street food. The only thing I'd not recommend is the ice cubes that they often put in the glasses for your coke or whatever - NOT a good idea as it's just tap water.
#32 Posted: 30/11/2009 - 14:52
Another word of advice.
Do NOT - repeat - DO NOT leave your guesthouse on the first night there, get really drunk and then forget which soi you are staying on......
Trust me on this - you do NOT want to do it - it is not fun belive me...... lol
#33 Posted: 30/11/2009 - 15:16
And sorry - one more thing (I'm on a roll here - just tolerate me please, I'll go in a minute), don't wait until you've lost 6kg in 7 days through stomach problems - best to see a doctor or take some imodium way before then. Good for the diet, but not great for the heart. But then, perhaps I'm just stupid!
#34 Posted: 30/11/2009 - 15:20
I still disagree on street food, but otherwise endorse your comments completely. I mean, getting drunk and not knowing where you hotel is... wandering the streets of Savanakhet late at night and don't know where you going... I'm glad I've never done anything like that.
#35 Posted: 4/12/2009 - 09:41
I know, it's not a good look Mac! Just glad I wasn't alone! And it was a long time ago when I was still single......
Re the street food, I've always been able to eat this and have no problems and I've no idea why. In fact both of my kids have travelled with my husband and I since they were babies and they too have eaten street foods as youngsters and not gotten sick either. Maybe we just have strong constitutions! :)
#36 Posted: 4/12/2009 - 12:24
Having said that though, I draw the line at deep fried baby birds (whole - complete with feathers, beaks, etc), fried insects, frogs on sticks ..... etc......
#37 Posted: 4/12/2009 - 12:33
I have been many times and always for longer periods of several months in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and I never had any problem with food. I eat nearly all, also in food stalls, but I open my eyes... and I not drink the tab water, but the filtered water is ok. Never any problem, but India and Sri Lanka are different.
Be careful in the cooler months and use a blanket at night, otherwise you can get a severe cold, I had one, which did not go away for more than 3 months. All the tablets and antibiotics did not help at all.
#38 Posted: 8/12/2009 - 23:59
6th February, 2012
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I was on the beaches in Sihanoukville recently. Its pretty incredible what you learn when you become 'familiar' to the locals.
I bought a few beers for one local. He told me that it is common to invite tourists to go on a good-will mission with him for the day. He will take you to visit the families in the rubbish pits, the homes of the elderly and blind, and a stop at some local organizations for kids. The money donated is shared amongst the 'guide' and the employees of the organizations, unbeknownst to the leadership of the NGO's. He said on one fruitful day, he was given over $1,000 US to build a well. The well was built, but with funds previously collected by the NGO.
The kids selling bracelets, fruit, etc. on the beach are no exception. They don't take the money 'home to their mothers', as they would like you to believe. They have bosses who control the funds. If they think the kid is withholding money, or doesn't earn enough in a day, he is beaten. One kid told me the real money is made by scamming the tourists. A popular scam is taking the tourists to the central market to buy a uniform, so they can go to school. A $6 uniform will cost $40 at the right stall. The kids return the uniform and keep half of the profit. This kid told me that several of the boys are receiving monthly deposits from tourists (as much as $50/month), who think they are financing an education. He did say that most of the beach kids do go to school, but only for 3 hours a day. The kid said he "thinks it is wrong to lie or cheat someone, but it is also wrong to be hungry". I got the impression he heard this from someone else.
#39 Posted: 6/2/2012 - 12:45
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