Posted by somtam2000 on 16/9/2014 at 00:56 admin
From this week's newsletter (which is going out in about an hour. Interested in receiving it? See past issues and sign up here)
Soap box: Barefoot travellers
I love walking down the beach barefoot, wet sand squelching up between my toes and I'm all for wandering around the house and working barefoot. What I don't get, however, and I most certainly don't love, are barefoot travellers.
I'm not talking about people ducking around the corner and forgetting to put shoes on -- we've all done that. I'm talking about travellers who just don't pack shoes -- at all.
On a Malaysia trip earlier this year I met two French women who were travelling sans souliers on the bus from Kuala Lumpur to Alor Setar. They told me they felt it was a "more natural" way to travel and when I asked about what they did about entering people's homes, they explained they had a pack of wipes they'd wipe them over with before crossing the threshold. I bet the hosts were thrilled with that.
Can you imagine walking around KL without shoes? I feel like hosing my shoes off after an hour tramping Bukit Bintang's footpaths and these two women had spent days there walking around barefoot. Not surprisingly their feet were utterly repulsive. Jet black bases with filth up the heel like socks au naturale. They must have been going through a packet of wipes a day.
It's pretty much the norm here in Southeast Asia to take off your shoes when entering someone's house; practical reasons like cleanliness and protecting the floors play a part in this. The cultural practice supposedly goes back to when the streets and paths were all unsealed and, well, covered in crap, so by taking your shoes off you left the crud outside and the interior remained clean and unblemished. Showing up at someone's house after tramping through town barefoot is not cool. At all.
Even if you put this basic modicum of politeness aside, shoes -- yes even flip flops -- offer some degree of protection against broken glass, nails and so on that you might step on and injure yourself with. Keep those tetanus shots up to date!
Travelling without shoes in Southeast Asia is more offensive and unhealthy than it is cool and natural. If you've the slightest interest in being a traveller in tune with local sensibilities, pack some shoes -- and wear them.
Have an opinion on barefoot travellers? Let us know!
#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,061
Posted by antoniamitchell on 16/9/2014 at 01:28
Ewww! Speaking as someone who sliced my foot open on a tiny shard of broken glass at Shwedagon Paya, those people are idiots (who have apparently never heard of threadworm, either).
#2 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 566
Posted by DLuek on 16/9/2014 at 07:40 TF writer
I agree it's rather a silly thing to do. Saw a couple getting off the express boat at Phra Arthit pier a couple weeks ago with no shoes, and their feet were burning so bad on the scorching steel dock that they were all jumping up and down panicking. I can think of lots of things in Bangkok that are ill-advised, and walking around barefoot is definitely one of them. It also strikes me how some of the people who claim to be exploring the "real local Southeast Asia" are often the most out of touch with local customs and sensibilities.
I do however think that the forest monks who walk miles every day for alms with no shoes are pretty badass. These days they're few and far between; 70 years ago Ajahn Mun and a bunch of his disciples walked constantly through the as-yet untouched jungle and, as a rule, they never wore shoes. Of course, they also slept in caves where poisonous snakes lived and routinely encountered tigers, so I guess the no shoes thing wasn't such a huge deal.
#3 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,344
Posted by antoniamitchell on 16/9/2014 at 07:54
Come to think of it, I saw plenty of barefoot monks in Burma, but also plenty in flipflops/sandals. I don't know whether they typically vary their footwear depending on the quality of the surface and how bad-ass they themselves are ("I'll go barefoot on dirt roads but put on shoes in the city") or whether it varies from monastery to monastery, depending on how strict the head monk is....
Regardless, there's a world of difference between someone choosing to risk injury because of religious convictions, versus choosing to risk injury because they think it's somehow cooler or more "authentic" and "natural." Using buses, trains, cars and planes to travel thousands of miles is hardly "natural" in that sense either (ie., something our species evolved to do), so unless the barefoot travellers walked / rode donkeys all the way from their homes to SE Asia, it's still pretentious nonsense.
#4 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 566
Posted by SoManyMiles on 16/9/2014 at 08:40 TF writer
I see this all the time in Luang Prabang and it's foul. The Lao think it's gross - even the poorest person would find the means to get flip-flops. As somtam2000 points out, like it is in most of Southeast Asia, in Laos you remove your shoes to enter someone's home or business (often it is both a home AND business) and by walking barefoot, you've eliminated this courtesy and sign of respect. It's extremely low-classy.
The monks go barefoot during morning alms as a sign of asceticism and humility. Otherwise they don footwear.
#5 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147
Posted by MADMAC on 16/9/2014 at 09:07
"A more natural way to travel"?? Nude would be a more natural way to travel too. Hunting and gathering as you go would be a more natural way to travel.
I dress the exact same way here as I did when I lived in Germany. I don't get why when people show up here they think they need a total makeover - mostly as if it were 1970 and this was Height Ashbury.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by gregmccann1 on 17/9/2014 at 10:05
It's revolting. I met a 19 year old Brit walking around Bangkok in his bare feet and he said he "really wanted to get a feel for the place."
#7 gregmccann1 has been a member since 28/10/2009. Location: Taiwan. Posts: 185
Posted by SBE on 18/9/2014 at 02:40
I love walking down the beach barefoot, wet sand squelching up between my toes
I don't even like walking barefoot on the beach if there are dogs and cats about.... threadworm.
#8 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,055
Posted by MADMAC on 20/9/2014 at 00:04
SBE, there's some imagery for the group!
I am curious, why do people feel a need for a fashion makeover when they arrive here? Mostly 20 somethings. Anyone have some insight into this and also why that fashion makeover is always the same style - sort of a "young westerner in SEA" look. I never see young SEAs sporting this fashion statement. What's behind it?
#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by caseyprich on 20/9/2014 at 01:26
I can't imagine walking around barefoot to feel "more natural". I used to walk around barefoot in the very clean streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and eventually realized it was more trouble than it was worth looking for broken glass all the time. In Shanghai, where it is not uncommon to see babies defecate and pee in the streets, along with all the other trash on the streets, I would never imagine it. That goes for most areas, even spots that seem rustic I don't feel like getting a shot because I've stepped on a rusty bit of bike or nail. I agree with MADMAC above about the fashion makeover - and the comments about entering people's homes. I love a good pair of shoes at this point, and think if I had to choose anything, I'd go naked and put a nice pair of kicks on to be able to run about better than naturally.
#10 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
Posted by antoniamitchell on 20/9/2014 at 05:10
I suspect, for a lot of people, it doesn't start out as a deliberate makeover. It's more to do with the challenges of travel, coupled with a gradually evolving mindset.
Travel is hard on the wardrobe. When new to SE Asia, you sweat non-stop, so you're showering and changing your clothes 2-3 times a day (I know plenty of locals in hot climates also shower and change a few times a day, but the sweat problem is especially bad when you're not acclimatised to local conditions). However, because you're travelling, you don't have access to a large amount of clothes, so everything's in a constant cycle of wear-wash-wear-again, which causes the clothes to become ragged really quickly, especially if they were cheap, poor quality clothes to begin with (like much of what many people wear here in the UK, especially young people - disposable fashion). This is especially aggravated if you wash your clothes yourself in the guesthouse sink for whatever reason, so you don't have access to an iron and are using whatever soap you have to hand. The clothes you brought from home rapidly start looking far worse than they did when you packed them.
But by that time, you're so caught up in the oh-wow-this-is-all-so-new-and-amazing that it maybe doesn't seem that important that you're starting to look scruffy. After all, you're too busy experiencing it all to really notice. And replacement clothes aren't that easy to find if you're tall or big. And it's not like you know anyone, so what does it matter if the strangers on the streets think you look scruffy? Plus there's all these other scruffy tourists around, so it becomes normalised. Before you know it, you're part of the scruffy tribe....
Sure, some people might adopt the look deliberately, because they think it looks cool because they associate it with a certain travelling lifestyle (no responsibilities, endless days of hanging out on a beach, talking nonsense with other travelers, getting drunk on cheap beer, whatever) to which they aspire.
But for loads of others, it's probably more accidental than anything else.
At least, that's my take on it. I remember on my first (and so far only) really long trip, realising the one pair of long trouser's I'd brought had gotten rather ragged, and wondering if it mattered enough to go through all the hassle of finding a replacement pair of trousers that fit (I'm really tall, really curvy, and could stand to lose 20 lbs - not the sort of shape and size catered to in Asia). I eventually decided I looked ridiculous and spent some time shopping the next time I passed through a big city. But I remember that initial feeling of "who cares what I look like?"
#11 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 566
Posted by MADMAC on 20/9/2014 at 08:27
Interesting take Antonia. The part I haven't figured out is why they always wear the same kind clothes. Fishermans pants, cotton shirts, checkered scarfs... When I rode into Mut Mee guest house, riding something that wasn't a Honda wave but actually a decent bike with my buddy, we were wearing what we always wear - Jeans and t-shirts. It was as if we were alien beings. Everyone stopped and starred. And they were all dressed the exactly the same. I found it bizarre. Have to include it in my movie.
#12 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by MADMAC on 21/9/2014 at 01:20
Oh, and the boys always seem to want to get their hair done with this ridiculous rasta look. As if they were Jamaican. Strange.
#13 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by caseyprich on 21/9/2014 at 13:49
Jeans are essential for travel. So are a good pair of shoes and some sandals rather than flip-flops. That's all for me.
#14 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
Posted by antoniamitchell on 21/9/2014 at 14:24
Caseyprich: bare chested and commando?
Personally, I hate jeans when travelling - too heavy to pack, too hot to wear, and take too long to dry when you wash them. But I will go heavy on the footwear - I love my hiking boots! Yes, they take forever to put on and off, but they're the only thing I can walk 10 or 15 miles in without tired feet.
Madmac - I'm with you there: I don't get white guys in dreads. They all remind me of Rastamouse (http://rastamouse.com/)
#15 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 566
Posted by caseyprich on 21/9/2014 at 16:46
Noted, I meant that top-wear is all sorts. Cotton t-shirts, a few linen button-ups. I usually pack two pairs of shorts and some linen pants, so the jeans are for the cool evenings that can come on or when riding a motorbike.
#16 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
Posted by MADMAC on 22/9/2014 at 01:14
Antonia - I'm with Casey on the jeans. I don't find it all that hot here. But I am climatized. But I'm OK with other kinds of clothes, it's just this standard Khao San road issue backpacker uniform I don't get. When backpackers come through Muk (and there are not a lot, a couple a day maybe) I can easily identify them and separate them from the young school teachers who live here from their attire. They have this unique way of dressing that you can spot a mile away. There's some sort of group think going on there that I would love to get to the bottom of. Almost as if they were trying to express their new found identity and individualism by dressing exactly like all the other backpackers. This is worthy of psychological study.
#17 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by antoniamitchell on 22/9/2014 at 01:35
>>Almost as if they were trying to express their new found identity and individualism by dressing exactly like all the other backpackers.
It's not really surprising, though, is it Madmac?
Teenagers (and plenty of people into their twenties) have always tended towards tribalism in their dress. Goths, EMOs, preppies, sk8terbois, new wave hippies, maid-cafe lolitas, whatever (I'm old enough to be out of the loop now - no idea what the current trends are).
They come to Asia as backpackers, and if the scruffy hippie in dreads and fisherman pants is the most common tribe, that's what they fit in with. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them to make it noticeable. I would probably think it looked even more funny if they stayed in their home tribes (picturing goths climbing in and out of longtail boats in black patent stilettos and full length velvet cloaks or black leather trousers).
What's probably more interesting is the etiology of the look - who were the first backpackers who started this whole thing, and how did the presumably varied look in the beginning distill down to those particular elements? Dreads I can understand, even if I dislike the look, as it essentially takes away the need to worry about your hair (don't need to wash and style it, get it cut regularly, or worry about constant bad hair days due to humidity, sweat, and wearing a sunhat or motorbike helmet). But why fisherman pants? They're neither comfortable or practical (no pockets).
#18 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 566
Posted by MADMAC on 22/9/2014 at 07:36
I missed all that. My tribe was the US Army and I joined it at 18. I was never rebellious either. In my early teens I just dressed "Normal". The dreds are a little strange too though - cause their hot. A buzz cut would make much more sense for the guys (which is what I sport, although I have no choice). Throw on a hat to avoid sunburn. Some of these guys do where hats - wool hats! Some sort of Justin Bieber like look to go with the dreds. Talk about hot.
The scarfs too - loosely slung around the neck.
Of course, this all explains why my buddy and I got looks at Mut Mee. Wrong tribe.
#19 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by gecktrek on 26/9/2014 at 03:22
i'm a 'whatever-floats-your-boat' kinda guy, if people choose to go bare-foot, that's fine with me, personally, I would never make that choice, plus there is always the potential of being cultural-insensitive in some SEA countries.
My first exposure to the ubiquitous fisherman pants occurred in KSR back in the 80's, and instantly fell in love with them, buying an armful of different colours to take home. With each subsequent KSR visit, looked forward to seeing the latest colour combinations... to this day, I still find them the most comfortable daily wear while travelling through SEA! Long may they reign!
#20 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 171
Posted by MADMAC on 27/9/2014 at 02:31
The funny thing is on the Fisherman's pants I almost NEVER see a Thai wear them except in massage parlors. On the street? Maybe once a month I'll see some guy wearing them. Extremely seldom though. I was sitting on the Mekong one time playing Thai chess and a guy walked by wearing them - a white guy, with hair all over the place and all kinds of **** in his face. The guy I was playing thai chess with look at me and just shook his head. He found it as strange as I did. But I am with Gecktrek on one point - whatever floats your boat. It's a free country.
#21 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by bringit on 12/12/2014 at 06:56
the real question here is.. is the real reason they don't wear shoes is because they just simply cannot afford them?
#22 bringit has been a member since 12/12/2014. Posts: 3
Posted by Tennouji on 12/12/2014 at 09:43
In my early teens I just dressed "Normal".
Madmac: I expect there were older people muttering about the youth of today at your "normal" teenage style!
Perhaps all those youngsters in the guesthouse were thinking that you and your mate looked like typical middle-aged ex-pats in Asia! You can spot them a mile off...
Antonia- I had dreads about 25 years ago and, yes, you do wash your hair! I used to get so fed up with strangers coming up to me and saying, "How do you wash your hair?" I used to reply, "Not that it's any of your business but with shampoo. And you?"
I can't imagine not wearing shoes travelling; my feet are usually in a right old state after a trip as it is. There was a girl when I was at uni who walked around barefoot but she was more lunatic than pretentious.
#23 Tennouji has been a member since 22/9/2007. Location: Japan. Posts: 139
Posted by MADMAC on 13/12/2014 at 05:31
"Perhaps all those youngsters in the guesthouse were thinking that you and your mate looked like typical middle-aged ex-pats in Asia! You can spot them a mile off..."
That's because we are middle aged expats. That would make us easy to spot in that sense I suppose. I dress like Thai middle aged guys... they're easy to spot too. What gives us away?
"is the real reason they don't wear shoes is because they just simply cannot afford them?"
If you can afford a plane ticket, you ought to be able to afford shoes! Otherwise skip the plane ticket and buy some shoes! Priorities.
#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by opheliafae on 15/3/2015 at 21:33
I wouldn't choose to go barefoot, but I wouldn't look down on people who do. If they want to have dirty feet and possibly step on a rusty nail or bit of glass, that's their problem.
#25 opheliafae has been a member since 4/1/2015. Location: United States. Posts: 11
Posted by MADMAC on 16/3/2015 at 07:56
Ophelia - good point.
#26 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Posted by Pescados on 29/3/2015 at 13:01
Sounds like a recipe for tetanus or infection. Also, probably horrible for your feet and ankles to walk that much barefoot.
#27 Pescados has been a member since 29/3/2015. Posts: 3
Posted by addiehampton on 4/5/2015 at 01:02
I do not like people going barefoot while travelling .In fact,I always pack 2-3 pair of Footwears and only prefer going barefoot while walking near beach side or at home .
#28 addiehampton has been a member since 4/5/2015. Posts: 1
Posted by wanderer143 on 3/6/2016 at 11:07
Works for a few, but not really my cup of tea!! I can't imagine. Walking barefoot on a beach is perfectly fine.
#29 wanderer143 has been a member since 2/11/2014. Posts: 136
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