By Jed and Caitlin
Long Bus Rides
There is a pretty well-developed airlines system in SE Asia (You may have heard of Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia), but the budget traveler can't afford frequent flights all over. Therefore, we were often forced to take very long bus and/or mini-van rides, which were often worse because you get packed into those vans. In a week stretch, we had four 10+ hour bus rides. The buses are old, grungy, crowded, hot, and take forever. Sometimes the pee breaks are just pullovers on the side of the road (which doesn't make you feel very comfortable in countries like Laos that have millions of unexploded bombs). But hey, for a ride that's only $10, sometimes you have to risk peeing in a landmine infested field.
We find backpackers everywhere on our travels, but they are especially abundant in SE Asia because its known to be extremely cheap. We have nothing against backpackers per se, as they are just younger and more budget-conscious versions of ourselves. But they are often disrespectful in large droves. When you are trying to unobtrusively observe a new culture or interact with locals and large groups of young, drunken, loud tourists are around asking where they can get drunk and go tubing, it interferes with your experience. One of the unfortunate consequences of travelers discovering a wonderful place is that often the place begins to change and cater to the travelers. Many times in SE Asia, this was especially apparent and instead of being able to experience Thai or Cambodian culture, it felt more like Spring Break in Cancun. It took us some time to figure out that the well-trodden path was not always the most beautiful or culturally-rich plac,e but the place with the most relaxed-drug laws.
This barely bothers Caitlin because she is so used to it that she doesn't even really notice it, but I am definitely sensitive to the constant yelling directed at our attention. The worst offenders are Tuk Tuk drivers, who pull up along side of you and shout at you or honk their horns whenever and wherever you are walking. If I needed a ride somewhere, I would be raising my arms and flagging you over. My favorite shirt I bought on this trip was the “No Tuk Tuk today” shirt I bought...it came in very handy.
SE Asia is generally pretty damn cheap. In Savannahket, Laos, we paid $4 a person for our private room with private bathroom and wifi. However, as certain areas develop (e.g. the beach towns), so does the pricing. It's frustrating to pay 5X the cost of Pad Thai just because you are near the beach and there are large numbers of tourists around to take advantage of. That said, it was never “expensive” anywhere in SE Asia, just not always as cheap as we would have hoped.
Coupled with our visit to Hiroshima, traveling in SE Asia was often incredibly sad because of 20th century history and induced guilt and horror because of the US involvement (or lack thereof) in regional conflicts. We visited the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh, one of many places throughout Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge decimated the population. It was a somber experience, reminiscent of Auschwitz, where the trails walked by visitors to the site are still littered with bone and hair fragments, as erosion of the soil takes place.