You've seen the good - My Top 10 Experiences Backpacking in Southeast Asia - and now it is time for the ugly: My Top 10 WORST Travel Experiences Backpacking in Southeast Asia. It is not all $0.75 beers and life changing encounters (although it mostly is). The following experiences truly made me question why I even did this, but hey - life is the journey, not the destination. It takes the bad to appreciate the good. All's well that ends well... I am one cliche away from forgetting I ever ate crickets.
Without further ado.....
MY TOP 10 WORST BACKPACKING EXPERIENCES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA:
10. HEAT MIGRAINES (EVERYWHERE)
It didn't matter how much water I consumed (in fact, I probably consumed too much water). If I spent a day exploring an ancient temple, it was guaranteed that I would have a migraine that night. The exploring, the climbing, the Southeast Asian heat... my 23 year old body couldn't take it. I came to expect it, and tried to prevent it, but never to any avail. All I could do was cover my face in tiger balm, drink a cup of coffee, and hope no one turned the lights on in my dorm room.
9. BEEING FOLLOWED IN LUANG PRABANG
In the.... 5? days since I have returned home, I have been asked if I have had any "scary encounters" multiple times. Sorry to disappoint all the naysayers who were certain I was going to get kidnapped. The story I am about to tell is the only one of its kind. Southeast Asia is very safe for a female on her own.
So, remember the Alms procession in Luang Prabang that I threw a fit about on Instagram? Well, it starts very early, and I ended up having to leave my hostel at 4:50AM (still dark out) to catch it. Within moments of walking up the street I realized someone was following me. Startled, I turned around to see a man 5 meters behind me.
"Oh, I'm sorry, you scared me!" I said to him. Typical female apologize for... what did I do wrong again?
I kept walking up the street and he kept following. When I would stop, he would stop. I sized him up. He was very tiny, and if it came to a confrontation, I was larger than him... but I didn't want it to come to a confrontation. The main road in town was 100 meters ahead of us. Should I run for it? I didn't want to do that either. I turned to the man and looked him dead in the eye. I raised my two hands and screamed, "STOP," and then kept walking. He didn't follow.
So, moral of the story is... maybe bring a friend if you want to walk alone in the dark? Luang Prabang is very safe, I just got unlucky.
8. EXTENDED BUS RIDES IN CAMBODIA AND LAOS
You see that bus? The one without a door? Yeah, that's the bus I traveled in from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Don Det, Laos. I couldn't possibly romanticize this one - it was awful. In Vietnam and Thailand, tourism is enough of an industry that there are luxary tourist buses. In Laos and Cambodia? Not so much. The buses give you a ride, yes, but they also have other purposes: dropping off locals, making deliveries, ect. Don't expect extra room on your bus. If there is space, it will be filled (with locals, with a delivery). I had a friend who sat ear to ear between cases of Pepsi for 12 hours.
The bus is crammed, that is a given, but then there is the driving. And the lack of AC. And no open windows. I no joke wondered if it was possible for me to suffocate on one of my overland buses in Cambodia.
7. THE BUS TO PAI FROM CHIANG MAI IN THAILAND (762 turns in the road)
Before the bus ride to Pai, I had never gotten car sick in my life. When I told my mom I spent the entire ride hunched over a trash can, praying the world would end, she was shocked.
"What? That never happens to you!"
Well, it did, and let me tell you why- 762 turns in 82 miles. The ride between Pai and Chiang Mai is so famous for being awful, some people fly it. My advice? Don't go in the dark, and get a seat up front.
6. SEEING THINGS THAT CAN'T BE UNSEEN
I was in Asia less than a week before I saw my first fried dog, so no, that isn't something they joke about. This is deserving of its own post (which it will get soon), but yeah, plan on leaving SE Asia with scorched eyeballs.
5. CROSSING THE BORDER INTO LAOS
After 10 hours in several busses all under the umbrella of number 8 on this list, it was finally time to cross into Laos and get our on-arrival visas. What a nightmare. See: getting tricked into paying for forms from a random man who did nothing with them, walking over the border on foot with no one around, entering an empty customs office, paying fee and fee for pretty much anything the guards could think of, waiting in the baking sun while our bus got searched, watching everyone get interrogated, giving away pretty much all of our money... it goes on and on.
I ended up becoming close friends with the people I crossed into Laos with, and hung out with them for weeks afterwards. It was one of those experiences that bond you together.
If you're getting an overland visa-on-arrival in Laos or Cambodia, good luck. It is possible, just plan on having a lot of time, and a lot of extra USD cash.
4. GETTING BED BUGS IN LAOS
How many times have I been backpacking? Twice. How many times have I gotten beg bugs? Twice. It is inevitable when you sleep in 30+ beds, and are aiming to stay in the cheapest places.
Still, as common as they are, it doesn't diminish the horror when your face, hands, and any other area you leave exposed while sleeping are covered in lines of red dots. They itch, are unsightly, and worst of all - it is nearly impossible to get rid of them while in Southeast Asia. You need hot water, a dryer, or a freezer - guess what is very hard to find in SEA? All three of those things.
One must wash all their clothes, leave their backpack out in the sun, and hope for the best. Also, don't bring your backpack straight into your house when you return - run it through the dryer first.
3. GOING TO THE HOSPITAL IN VIETNAM
As if I hadn't told this story enough times before I got home, I literally landed in Pittsburgh and went to my parent's holiday party within 12 hours. Now I really have told this story too many times. If you want to hear about it (which you do, trust me), check out my post on it here.
2. GETTING ATTACKED BY MOSQUITOS IN THAILAND
Picture me: 1:30AM on my last night in Asia, in the common room of my hostel, applying to jobs. Not exactly the crazy last night I had imagined, but I was motivated to get work done. I thought why not seize this large, albeit strangely timed, burst of energy?
Just before 2:00AM I threw in the towel and went to bed. I was changing in the bathroom of my dorm room (because that is what #hostellife is), when I looked down at my legs. My jaw dropped and my heart started racing. This couldn't be happening. I actually pinched myself. This had to be a dream.
My legs were covered, and I mean covered, in bug bites. It looked like I was having a severe allergic reaction. I went into full panic mode, imagining the worst. I counted the bites - I had over 130 on my legs alone. I figured, odds are, I had to have some sort of tropical disease. So, what did I decide to do next? Stay up until 6am researching mosquito-borne diseases in Bangkok.
Long story short: I am fine (and extremely grateful - just look up dengue fever and you'll understand my panic). The extreme stress these bites caused me bumped this experience to number 2 on this list. ALWAYS bug spray, folks.
1. QUITE LITERALLY RUNNING OUT OF MONEY
Here we are, the worst thing that happened to me in Southeast Asia - running out of money. For the record, I don't mean that in a cute, haha, I spend so much, way. No. I mean I literally spent all of my money, and had no way of getting more.
This is a long story, and one I don't particularly like sharing without a drink in my hand. Please learn from my mistakes: make sure you have your card BEFORE you walk away from an ATM, get money out before you are down to your last $5, check the expiration dates on your backup cards, don't spend your emergency cash... are you getting the picture of what happened?
I made an entire post on what to do if this happens to you. It completely details how you can go from penniless, to back in the money within minutes. Check it out here!
Thats all folks! Remember - *insert cliche about life having speed bumps here*
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- My Central Vietnam Hospital Experience
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