From the get-go I would like to proudly proclaim, I am a flashpacker. My days of scrounging through the ‘free’ shelf of the communal fringe for dinner and having to share a bunk bed with rowdy, horny backpackers fondling each other on the lower bunk are over. But I still like to travel on the cheap. Travelling during low season in South East Asia certainly has some perks and drawbacks. First of all, the drawbacks:
The wet season is, err, wet – and hot, so incredibly hot
We can count on one hand the days that we have been ‘rained in’ during our two and a half month journey from southern Vietnam to the north, into Laos then through Cambodia. It usually rains in the evening or afternoon, and only for a brief time. If you get out and about in the morning, you can kick back in the afternoon with a cheap draft beer (50 cents in Vietnam!) and watch the clouds roll in. The storms have such a force to them and can make the roads very challenging, for example the road outside our hut on the Mekong river, 4000 Islands in Laos (pictured).
What has really slowed us down is the heat. Most days are between 30-35C with 80% humidity. It means you are permanently juicy and have a shiny glow than amuses locals no end. The heat means that there is no wearing clothes a second time round, or getting away with a cheaper fan room. We went for the more expensive air con room most nights (so rather than a fan room for $10, we had air con for $15-22) otherwise the lack of sleep made us rather techie the next day.
Too many tuk tuks, not enough farang
In the low season business is tough and really competitive for locals trying to make a living. Some travellers see this as an advantage and I must admit I did like getting rooms a bit cheaper. But when you saw people haggling over a couple of dollars with a tuk tuk driver, they looked like total dicks. Just because you can get something cheaper, does it mean you should? We became good friends with our driver Ronny who showed us around Angkor Wat for 3 days. It’s a very unpredictable job, with people promising to go with him, then find another driver who undercuts him. With his wife pregnant with his first child, he is worried about the future. What’s a few dollars for us makes a huge difference in your tour guide/boat driver/tuk tuk’s life. Nor are the locals charity cases, pay a fair price and treat them with the respect you would show anyone else.
The positives – less farang means more time with locals
Alex and I have had many long chats with locals and ex-pats over an iced coffee or Beer Laos (or whatever the local drop is). Often being the only person at the stall or roadside cafe, we’d have a little test run of the local words we learnt and mangled them almost beyond recognition with our nasal Australian drawl. This amused people no end and then gave them the confidence with their English, which was infinitely better than our local vocabulary. The most important words are always hello, thank you and tasty/good. Less practical but more amusing is ‘I am a stinky wizard’ in Khmer ‘Khom chumor sa-oy taa-isay’.
Super amazing photos with no tour groups and lush greenery
Most of our photos look photoshopped with barely a sole visible and almost fluro green fields. The rice fields are incredible at this time of year and the moss on the ruin temples and derelict buildings add to the mystic. There are still people around the major sites, but you only need to stray a couple of metres from the main path to be totally alone in a tropical forest with nothing but your camera and a sense of awe.
South East Asia is awesome in the true meaning of the word. Not in the common day vernacular of ‘this burger is awesome’, but the true meaning of the word. The limestone sheer cliff faces in Halong Bay, the mist over the mountain tops of Sapa, drifting down the Mekong seeing saffron robed young monks giggling. The everyday and the incredible. It’s awe-inspiring and freakin’ awesome.