Here are a few of the things I've learned while on the move in Asia.
Roadside Gas - in Cambodia at least, gasoline comes in recycled plastic and glass water and soda bottles. The first time a tuk-tuk driver pulled up and poured a liter of gas into his vehicle I was astounded, but then I noticed that there aren’t many gas stations, especially in the touristy areas. So the obvious solution – gas by the bottle!
Honking is a Language – It took me awhile but I have learned the Asian language of honk speak. From the short, non-urgent beep (which just means “watch out, I’m behind you”) to the repetitive, long beeps that signal “Get the hell out of my way!”, I could now drive the roads of Asia if all that was required was understanding what is being said with each blast of a vehicle’s horn.
Check Please – You will never be rushed after finishing a meal in Asia. In fact, I recommend sitting facing where the servers hang out because otherwise you may get a crick in your neck signaling for the check. But be prepared to whip out the cash while they stand there because wait staff doesn’t just present you with a bill and then walk away.
Tuk-tuks – I’m now in Vietnam and there are no tuk-tuks here – at least in Ho Chi Minh City –and I have to say it’s a relief. Although unless you have a private driver or drive yourself, in the other countries I visited, tuk-tuks are essential to getting around for travelers and even the locals. The constant calls of “tuk-tuk, madam” really grated on my personally though.
Suggestions – Be careful about making suggestions because they will always be viewed as criticisms and create embarrassment for the business owner or manager.
Luggage Carts are Free – At the airports, the luggage carts are free and plentiful. This makes getting around a terminal much easier and keeps the traffic flowing well.
Toilet Paper – I cannot stress enough that it is REALLY important to keep a packet of tissues on you, even if you’re headed to the mall. You never know when you will run into situation where toilet paper is not provided.
Leave Shoes at the Door – In many establishments, from spas to small hotels, you may be asked to leave your shoes at the door. This is especially true for temples.
Not Too Squeamish – As much as possible, leave your attitudes at home. This means when you eat at outdoor restaurants recognize that the occasional rat will go scurrying by and when walking the city unpleasant smells may assault you at any time. Also that noisy gecko (yes, they click loudly) in your room is actually your friend, eating the odd insect. I named mine Gary.
Watch the Water – Most people realize that drinking the water in foreign countries is dangerous but don’t forget to use bottled water for denture care and not to rinse out your mouth in the shower.
Learn How to Say Thank You – I fully intended to learn a few phrases of the language in every country I visited. That hasn’t happened but I have learned how to say thank you everywhere I’ve gone. Everywhere except the Philippines this has been warmly received and produces big smiles. Even better, I’ve found asking the names of drivers and anyone you see regularly astonishes and produces wonderful reactions.
Don’t Plan Too Far in Advance – This little bit of advice I’ve just recently learned myself. As a traveler, you will stumble on great places in which you want to stay longer or even visit that wasn’t on your original plan. Tying yourself down too much can also cost you. If you’re flexible and can wait for last minute bookings, you can save a lot of money when airlines and hotels have to fill empty seats and beds.
Don’t be Put Off by All the Warnings of Scams – Everywhere you go, abroad or even in your own country, there will be scams or chances for muggings or more. Take normal healthy precautions, but don’t be too obsessed with caution. You’ll ruin your trip. Also, wherever you go, there will also be good people. I’ve definitely experienced the kindness of strangers in my travels already.