If you are a backpacker, a budget traveler, a human being with a sense of adventure, then you must drop everything you’re doing and plan a trip to Southeast Asia.  Once you have experienced it for yourself, you will realize that the world can be much more exotic.  There are certain things about this region of the world that cannot be duplicated anywhere else, especially in your office cubicle.  And when you return to Southeast Asia, there are specific signs that remind you of just where you are.

You’re riding in a Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk and Taxi at the Night MArket in Pratunam Bangkok Thailand
A Tuk Tuk in Thailand. image source: captainkimo.com

One of the first things you might do upon arrival in Thailand or Laos, is take a Tuk Tuk to your guesthouse or hostel.  Think of a tricked out three-wheeled golf cart.  These bad boys zip around city streets and country roads, weaving in and out of larger cars.  There are no windows or doors in a Tuk Tuk, which allows the wind to blow in your face and the sights around you to be in full view.  One thing to note about riding in Tuk Tuks– agree upon a price before you get in.  Bring your bartering pants when you travel to SE Asia, and remember to have fun with it!

Motorbikes are whizzing past you

Motorbikes are the main mode of transportation in Vietnam. image source: wikipedia

As you are riding in that Tuk Tuk, you may notice that cars are heavily outnumbered by motorbikes and scooters.  Motorbikes are the most popular vehicles in SE Asia, especially in Vietnam.  You will see anyone riding a motorbike– a kid, a grandma, a dog.  Yes, anything goes as far as motorbikes are concerned.  Locals will pile up all sorts of personal belongings on the back of the bike: furniture, large sacks of food, boxes of who knows what.  Surprisingly, I have witnessed virtually zero accidents.  The mass of motorbike riders has a feeling of controlled chaos…and you will love it.

The colors are bright, and the smells are…pungent

The markets in SE Asia are vibrant, and full of things you don’t find back home. image source: raredelights.com

After cruising around the city in your two or three wheeled vehicle, you may want to peruse a local market.  Whether it’s a weekend walking market or an everyday night market, there is no better place to get a sense of the local culture.  The stalls are full of exotic fruits and mind boggling animal parts.  Your olfactory sense will detect anything from fermented to rotten to downright putrid.  Embrace it all, the smells are endearing.  Take the durian fruit for example.  It’s a delicacy in SE Asia, but smells so intense that you cannot transport it on an airplane or bring it into your hotel.  Drink in the sights and smells, you will never experience anything like it.

You are sitting in a little plastic chair, at a little plastic table

A bia hoi stand in Vietnam. image source: honeytrek.com

Finally, after all of your exploring you will find yourself sitting on a little plastic chair enjoying some street food, a cold beer, or a cup of tea.  These little plastic tables and chairs are my most vivid memories of traveling in SE Asia.  There is something about going to a far away land and rubbing elbows with locals of all ages and classes, all enjoying the same bowl of noodles or glass of bia hoi.  There is no more authentic SE Asian experience than this.

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