One Year in Southeast Asia – The Best & Worst

After spending one whole year as a full-time travelling family (wahoo!!) and having spent 359 days of this in Southeast Asia, we thought we would look back on the good and the bad.

So here is a best (& worst) list that the family has compiled –

The Best …

  • The food – As Braxton said at lunch a few weeks ago, “the best thing about travelling is the yummy food” …. and we couldn’t agree more. We have been able to experience such a huge array of dishes, often cooked right in front of you, and we usually have a pretty good idea of what we should expect. Of course, this is not always the case but there haven’t been too many dishes that we haven’t been able to stomach. Southeast Asia_FoodWe are big fans of street food and eating where the locals eat, it is often a lot cheaper and incredibly delicious. We also like wandering through markets, particularly night markets, and trying a selection of local delicacies. For a selection of some of the amazing foods we have been lucky enough to enjoy – check out our ‘Food Adventures’ page.
  • Amazing fresh fruit – While this is clearly “food”, we thought it was worth a separate mention. Never before have we eaten so many fresh and tasty watermelons, mangos, pineapples, coconuts and passionfruit; and at just a fraction of the cost back in New Zealand. Then there are the new fruits we have been introduced to; dragonfruit, rambutan, mangosteen (the queen of fruits) and stinky old durian (some how the king of fruits), just to name a few. Southeast Asia_Fresh FruitOccasionally the boys want a simple crunchy apple, which can be hard to come by without paying outrageous prices as they are usually imports from China or New Zealand and then we don’t get the quality we are used and are disappoined; luckily the local bananas and sweet mandarins help fill the gap.
  • The people – It has been truly amazing to meet so many wonderful people during our travels. Now not everyone we interact with is a positive encounter but these are definitely on the lesser end of the scale and more often than not we have found people to be friendly and as helpful as they can be to a travelling family of Kiwis. It could be as simple as purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables or meals from the same person for a few days or weeks, being short-term neighbours where ever we happen to be staying, meeting Kiwi expats or other travelling families/couples who you catch up with in different countries as our paths cross.Southeast Asia_The People
  • The experiences (particularly the ones you were least expecting) – We have been able to see and do so many amazing things and it really has been indescribable at times. Being able to experience them together as a family has been a huge win and helps us know that we made the right decision to sell up and take the worldwide leap.Southeast Asia_The Experiences
  • The weather – Having spent the bulk of the last year in warm temperatures we got a real shock to the system when we headed to the very north of Vietnam to Sa Pả for a few days, the barometer even dropped into single digits!! We should have a few more months of warmth before we head toward Canada and the US for their Autumn/Fall and Winter. Will we be ready for that kind of cold though??
  • Seeing family – During our first year we have been lucky to have seen quite a bit of family, either those that were living in SE Asia or meeting up with others that were visiting on holiday. We have loved being able to share some of our experiences with them and getting a few Kiwi treats from home is always an added bonus. Southeast Asia_Seeing FamilyAt this stage our second year of travelling is looking like we’ll see a couple of different groups of friends on each side of America, some more in the UK and a cousin of Paula’s has recently moved from Christchurch to Belfast. And who knows what other catch ups might occur over the coming twelve months as well…

Now onto the worst, and it goes without saying that missing family and friends is difficult and we wished everyone could come with us, but here are a few of the other things that have been hard to get used to.

The Worst …

  • The rubbish – Besides Singapore (where littering can get you a hefty fine) the amount of rubbish through these beautiful countries is heartbreaking. Particularly in and around waterways and it was a big eye opener for all of us, especially the boys, who would often point it out at the beginning of our adventure. Sadly now it has just become part of the landscape and now we comment if the rubbish levels are low (compared to most of what we have seen so far). It will be interesting to see how this compares as we now move into Northwest Asia.
  • The water – Coming from New Zealand it was hard to switch our mindset to not automatically drinking water straight from the tap. The boys have actually been really good with this and in most places drinking boiled tap water tasted totally fine (except in Kuala Lumpur where it still tasted horrible and Hà Nội wasn’t that nice either). In the first few months they would make sure they used boiled water for brushing their teeth but now that we have built up our Southeast Asian immune systems we are a little less concerned about this and are happy to brush our teeth with water from the tap.
  • The electricity – Walking around the streets you have to be careful of the electricity lines that are often hanging quite low or are artistically strung from pole to pole. Southeast Asia_ElectricityThe wall plugs do not have an on/off switch so they are live all the time and we’ve had plenty of sparks fly when plugging in items and Lincoln even got a couple of reasonably big shocks from one particular socket in one of our houses in Thailand. You can also sometimes feel a little light buzzing coming through into your hands if you are holding an item that is also charging. It’s a strange feeling and a little disconcerting at times.
  • Mosquitoes – These pesky little insects aren’t just the deadliest animal on the planet (Lincoln animal fact #121) but they can also cause some pretty nasty bites. Braxton is very susceptible to them and even though we try numerous methods to keep them at bay, there have been occasions where we have been bitten numerous times. Thankfully there are no shortage of pharmacies with cheap and efficient anti-itch creams.
  • Wandering dogs – This was mostly an issue in Thailand and it did not help the boys uneasiness about dogs one little bit. We were all pretty cautious around our time in Hua Hin because the lane our house was on had numerous dogs. One night Logan counted 15 in a 150m stretch and while most were quite quiet, there were a couple that looked like they could turn against you at any moment. Thankfully we haven’t had any major run-ins with any dogs, or any other random animals; although Logan did nearly step on a snake one day!!
  • Being a pedestrian – Pedestrians do not have right-of-way on a pedestrian crossing or footpath (or area that might be masquerading as a footpath) so you have to be alert ALL the time and in many of these countries, they drive with their hand just about constantly on the horn so you are usually given a warning if you are in someone’s way. Footpaths are used to park scooters, repair scooters, sell goods and set up tables and chairs for your food stall; therefore, often the edge of the road is an easier place to walk.
  • The weather – This rates here as well as the high temperatures and humidity are a total killer some days, especially when you are outside for long periods. The first three months in Malaysia hit us hard after leaving New Zealand in the Autumn, but thankfully a pool or swimable beach was never too far away, or at the very least, a cold shower.
  • Bathrooms (both public and personal) – The public restrooms can fall anywhere between surprisingly clean to unthinkably horrible. We were surprised by many of the public restrooms we stopped at along the major highways of Malaysia and Thailand, most were quiet acceptable, while the ones in Laos and Cambodia were a little more dodgy. Lincoln and Logan still recall the worst public toilet to be the one at KFC near Jalan Street in Kuala Lumpur. Jalan Street is a great food street and we ate there numerous times but on one occasion Lincoln needed to use the bathroom and this was the closest one we knew of. The floor wasn’t just wet, it was a couple of centimetres deep in “liquid” 🤢 …. they came back practically dousing themselves in hand sanitiser (a traveller’s best friend in Southeast Asia) and even though that was right at the start of our adventure, the memory still lives on for them and we doubt it will ever fade!! Now personal bathrooms in Southeast Asia rarely have an enclosed shower, so trying to strategically aim the shower head so not everything in the room gets soaked is an art. And having the whole bathroom floor wet after a shower is something that we still struggle to get used to even after a year.
  • Language barriers – At times it can be challenging, especially for the boys, but it’s all part of travelling to counties where you can’t read or don’t speak the language. Thankfully we do now have translator apps but it can take a little longer to do the simplest of tasks. We are just lucky we don’t often have a strict deadline (unless we have “starving” children) so we usually get there in the end…
  • Visas – finding information online about visa requirements/protocols/costs etc can be difficult, even from that county’s official embassy website, as they offer change the rules at a whim. While the New Zealand passport is pretty strong around the world we are loving the countries where you enter (whether it be by air, land or sea, because sometimes the rules are different depending on how you enter the country) and are given a stamp on arrival for a certain length of time (usually 30-90 days) without having to give them screeds of information and money. Southeast Asia_VisasWe are now finding that countries requiring visas before arrival are much easy to obtain via a travel agent at usually a small extra cost and none of the hassle and paperwork –
    • Singapore (arrived via air) – 30 days on arrival.
    • Malaysia (arrived via land) – 90 days on arrival.
    • Thailand (arrived via land) – arranged a 60 day visa in Malaysia before entering. Cost per person 150 MYR (at the time this was $50 NZD). We then got a visa extension while in Thailand for another 30 days and this cost was 1,900 THB ($76 NZD) per person.
    • Laos (arrived via air) – 30 day visa on arrival, purchased at the airport for $30 US (plus a $2 US “admin fee”) per person ($45 NZD).
    • Thailand (arrived via land) – arranged a 60 day visa in Laos before entering. Cost per person $30 US ($44.25 NZD).
    • Cambodia (arrived via land) – 30 day visa on arrival, tried to purchase via the Cambodian ‘E-Visa’ website numerous times but wouldn’t work. This would have been a cost of $37 US per person but ended up getting our bus assistant from Thailand to Cambodia to arrange the visas during the bus trip and they cost us $40 US per person ($56 NZD).
    • Vietnam (arrived via land) – arranged a 3 month, single entry/exit visa in Cambodia before entering. Cost per person $60 US ($82.50 NZD). At the land border crossing we had to pay a “medical fee” of $1 US per person to the private security firm (aka “scam fee”).
    • Taiwan (arrived via air) – 90 days on arrival.

And besides China, it looks like the next few countries we are planning to visit will be simple ‘stamps on arrival’ with no need for paid visas as well; these include Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and Japan.

Some 1st Year Numbers …

  • Average daily spend = $123.30 (excluding one-off costs we budgeted for separately like travel insurance, dental work etc) which is $49.20 under budget per day.
  • 7 different countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand (twice), Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan)
  • 8 difference currencies/exchange rates (we added US in here as you really need US dollars in Cambodia – even if they give you a mix of their local Riel & US dollars as change, most things are quoted in US dollars)
  • 36 travel days (including 6 flights, 2 sleeper trains, 1 sleeper bus, 7 boats, rental cars, numerous versions of coaches, mini buses/vans & tuk tuks and some days a combination of more than one form of transport, including our feet crossing some of the land borders)
Malaysia-Thailand Border Crossing
Long queues at the Malaysia-Thailand land border crossing at 8.30am.
  • 38 different beds (including apartments, stand alone houses, hotels, guesthouses, bungalows, bunking down with family, a treehouse and even a night in a family home in rural Laos. Most booked through Airbnb or booking.com) All of our accommodation spots have been reviewed on our ‘homes away from home’ page.

and ….

  • ZERO trips to a doctor or hospital!! 😅 (Fingers crossed this continues) The high density of pharmacies throughout SE Asia is amazing and it is pretty easy to get some pretty good medications over-the-counter so we have been able to easily treat any simple coughs and colds that we have had.

Thank you to everyone who has followed our travels and now as we enter our second year, we have so far spent five days in Taiwan and East Asia and we are already seeing and commenting on numerous differences. We are so thankful that we have been able to have a safe and happy first year of full-time travels and hope that our second is just as incredible. 😃 

– The Ewers Family

2 thoughts on “One Year in Southeast Asia – The Best & Worst

  1. It’s so great following your adventures – and nice to have a ‘synopsis’ of the year. I am still hopeful that we will be doing the same thing at some stage in the near future and so its very inspiring reading all about it !!!! Becsxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Becs, great to have you along on our journey. Glad you are enjoying the posts, we would always encourage others to take the leap if they are able to. We’re sure you would have no regrets. Good luck with your own plans 😊

      Like

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