What to expect from the first time in Asia, a short guide to cultural differences and traveltipps
Travelling to Asia for the first time is a dream for many, but the culture shock isn't always as easy to take as you may think. Everything is different in so many ways, that you will be confused all day for at least the first week. I have been here now for almost a year and still don't understand many things. The countries I have visited are Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Phillipines, so everything in this blog will be based on my experiences in those countries.
First of all we could talk about preparation. There is something you should know before taking the trip: many apps you use in Europe or America are not used in Asia, and people sometimes don't even know about anything them. I noticed that very few people use whatsapp, as the way to go here is more Facebook and other asian chat apps you won't know. So if you have facebook, you are good to go. Another thing might be getting from A to B. For that you would download the app Grab, which is used in many asian countries, as Uber isn't that big of a deal. Taxi always exist, but the prices sometimes kill your wallet.
If taking a grab sounds too boring for you, you can always rent a scooter. I did this everywhere but Singapore and Hong Kong, as they have strict rules about driving without a license. This is something I get asked a lot. No, I don't have a license, yes, I have been driving for months without paying any fines. The thing is, most of these countries don't really care about stopping people, but more about making the traffic flow. So if you don't do anything stupid, there is no reason to get pulled over. Still, if you do, you can always bribe the nice policeman with a smile. Here is what I know: in Vietnam you should try to bribe with 200.000-300.000 (10$), in Phillipines with 500 (9$) and in Indonesia with 200.000 (12$). Believe me, I have met people that did it many times, and always get away with it. Policemen don't get the best salaries over here. But still, if you can't stand the pressure of crazy traffic, stay away from the motorbikes and take your grab.
The thing that took me the most to get used to were restaurants. There are no rules for eating here, everything you learned from your grandma is trashed. People make so much noise while eating that you could go insane, they smack and burp like there is no tomorrow. I took me some time, but you will get used to it at some point. Another thing I love to do in restaurants when the food is new to me, is to ask for a recommendation. But every single time I've asked this anywhere, the waiters always answer "up to you Sir". And as the menu is in their language and I don't understand a single word, I just have to be lucky to get something I want. By the way, people mostly don't tip, something I learned in my first week, and my wallet thanks me for it.
There is a myth about food in Asia, that says, if you are eating meat, you will never know if it may be dog. That is bull***t. Dog restaurants in Vietnam are very proud of what they are selling, and photos of grilled dog will hang on the walls, don't worry. Pork is cheaper, so relax and enjoy your meal. An important thing I also learned with time was to stay away from normal restaurants, and opt for small street restaurants. You payed much less for your meal, and it just tastes a lot better. This rule is 100% accurate, believe me.
Religion is another thing that can get you confused sometimes. While in Vietnam I felt that it was evenly split between buddhists, atheists and christians, some other countries just have one dominant religion and you need to adapt to theier culture to not feel out of place. This happens more if you travel many countries in a short period of time. I spent a month in Bali, where Hinduism reduces the consume of beef, and after a month in Java, where muslims avoid pork and alcohol. And these are just the small things, there is much more to learn in the time you spend with people of other religions, and for me, it was more than interesting.
I have to say, I felt a lot more free and relaxed in Asia than in Europe. Not only because I could drive my bike or get a massage every once in a while, but also because people use to be very kind and welcoming. This hit me the most in Bali, everyone just smiles at you all the time. Another thing that I really enjoyed, is the custom of taking off your shoes before entering a house. I used to do this back home because I hated people coming into my apartment with their dirty shoes, but in Vietnam I could even teach barefoot, and that, ladies and gentlemen, that is what I call paradise.
Even after reading this short guide, many things will seem odd and weird to you, but believe me, every newcomer went through this, so you will survive too. I will be working on more blogs like this, specific to every country I visited, but I'm open to any questions if any of you is travelling to Asia soon.
You can always reach me through Instagram @robert_mikoleit or @robwandering