The most recent leg of my trip has taken me through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It’s definitely different than traveling in New Zealand and Australia … and a lot dirtier. Obviously being in a country where English is not the majority’s first language is going to have its challenges, and if you factor in that these countries are developing countries, it’s bound to add quite a bit of spice. And dirt. Man is some of it diiiirty.
I flew from Cairns to Singapore and stayed there for 2 nights. Singapore was nice—it was super clean and they call it a “fine” city. You get fined for everything. Chewing gum? Fine. Eating or drinking on the subway? Fine. Littering? Fine. You literally cannot buy chewing gum anywhere in Singapore. It’s illegal. And don’t think about smuggling drugs into or out of the country either, bc that’s punishable by death, as the sings ALL over the airport will tell you. It was interesting to see a new country and they way they lived, but there wasn’t much to do in Singapore except look at the really awesome architecture.
Then I moseyed on up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and this would be a place that the me prior to going would tell the me post going that it would be a place I wouldn’t like. It was dirty, chaotic, the infrastructure and buildings were crumbling on one street, and then next there was a brand new shopping mall, there was litter everywhere and trash clogged the gutters, but I loved it. It was so different than what I was used to so everything seemed like an adventure. Not like wandering around the well-developed and spotless streets of Singapore. And the food, oh my god the food, was so good! And SO cheap! You could get a nice meal for 8 ringgit … which is like $2.65 USD. If you want to get to the other side of a busy 6-lane street, don’t bother waiting at the crosswalk. There usually isn’t one. Just run across, or as far as you can make it, when the coast is clear. Think the sidewalk is for pedestrians? Wrong. Motorcycles at any time will just come whizzing off the street up on to the sidewalk. There are no real noticeable traffic rules. But because it was so hectic it did feel a little unsafe at times, and I wore bug spray all the time, even to bed, just in case. And I honed some of my street-smart skills.
Speaking of me thinking in retrospect that if someone had described to you what I just did, that I probably wouldn’t want to go there: It’s so funny to me, taking people’s travel advice. I mean, if it is purely factual like: that hostel is an hour from anything worth doing, or don’t talk to people who claim to have family from your home country bc they are trying to scam you. THAT is travel advice. You can’t take someone else’s—let alone a complete stranger’s—advice on what is “so much fun” or “unbelievable” or “absolutely a must” because if you ask the next random ass person, they will probably have a different if not completely opposite opinion. And I would even take caution when taking travel advice from people that know you well … because part of traveling is discovering things about yourself that even you don’t know (obv … or else you wouldn’t be “discovering” shit). If you must base your travel plans on someone else’s opinion, my best advice is to base it on popular opinion of an educated group of individuals.
If you want to do something, then you tell some stranger that you want to do it, and they say “oh, I did that, it sucked. I wouldn’t waste your time,” don’t listen. Because you are not that person, and even if they are right, you will never know if you take their advice. That being said, here are some good things I consider travel advice for anyone, especially a woman, traveling alone:
On Being Lost:
NEVER look like you’re lost.
If you’re not lost, but you’re wandering around without a discernible purpose or direction, people think you might be lost and you then become someone they can harass, try to scam, or sell something to you that you don’t want. The best thing to do to combat this unwanted attention is to walk like you’re in a hurry, like you know absolutely where you are going, and you have absolutely no time to talk to anyone. This is adapted from a technique I learned from Anita who was teaching me to ward off bums and petitioners in SF: the Ice Out.
But, if you don’t want to speed walk everywhere, and you don’t mind warding off millions of people saying “miss, where you want to go??” “taxi?” “you want sunglasses, come have look I make special price for you” then just get really used to this: “No, thank you. No thank you. No, thank you.”a GAJILLION times. Seriously. Gajillion.
(This advice mostly applies to areas where you wouldn’t necessarily want to be doddling … like a vacant street or empty park.)
If you are lost, breathe. Everything will be fine. If you need to freak out and break down crying bc you don’t know how you will ever make it back to your hostel, you missed your train, lost your bag, whatever—DO NOT do it in public. Find the nearest bathroom, dressing room, dark corner, and then freak the fuck out all you want. Doing it any other place but in the privacy of your own privacy makes you vulnerable and emotional. Not a good combo.
Don’t take out a map in the middle of the sidewalk and stare at it like you’re searching for the meaning of life. Find somewhere private, then search your heart out. If you can’t read a map (god rest your soul) and have to ask for directions … ask someone of the same sex as you, and someone who seems to have no interest in steering you in the wrong direction. Baristas at coffee shops, for instance, work nicely.
On feeling uncomfortable:
Always go with your gut. If you get somewhere are you think, “oh shit, I don’t think this is someplace I need to be” for christ’s sake don’t wait around to find out if you were right! That makes you the stupid chick in a horror film with the gun who dies bc she was too afraid to shoot. It might have been totally fine and you might have been overreacting, but better safe than sorry.
If someone is following you, or you think they are (and it’s okay to be a little paranoid … you’re traveling alone), don’t be afraid to turn around and look them directly in the eye as if to say “watch it asshole, if you’re up to no good, I’m going to remember your face.” If you seem alert and aware, they will be less likely to try anything.
If you don’t ward of hagglers particularly well, and don’t have the greatest sense of direction, it would be a good idea to have a lot planned out before you show up someplace. For example, if you show at a train station in SE Asia and get off the train, there are about a billion people trying to persuade and convince you to ride with them, or use their service, or take you to a specific place. If you have it all planned and pre-booked you can ask for exactly what you need.
On traveling alone:
DO IT! It’s AMAZING!
I’ll tell you more about KL (Kuala Lumpur) in the next post! Now I’m continuing my travels to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece, and then who knows where! Stay tuned, and any travel advice is welcome!!