There are some things that travellers just love to do, and time spent “on the road” in Southeast Asia is the perfect opportunity for them to indulge their inner goon
The pathological need to grow a massive beard while travelling in Southeast Asia seems to afflict most men in their 20s. Shuffling around with their new accessory, these furry fools no doubt imagine that they have cultivated an aura of mystery and wisdom. In reality they have simply cultivated dramatically reduced chances of having sex. Then there are the dreadlocked guys, truly the bottom of the traveller barrel, who attempt to channel Bob Marley but end up looking more like Mick Hucknall. A tip: If you’re Australian or South African, and have a suitably surfer-type disposition, you might be able to get away with it. If your name is Alexander and you went to a private school in Sheffield, you most definitely cannot.
How many countries have you “done”? Have you been to Bali? Yes? Well, you’ve “done” Indonesia then. What about the other 16,999 islands you ask? Pfft, don’t worry about them, dude – four days in a mushroom haze on Kuta beach certainly equips you with the knowledge and experience to bestow travel advice upon other backpackers, as well as make generalisations about a nation’s 247 million inhabitants based on the barman at your guesthouse and the guy who sold you a hammock on the beach. Following Bali, fly into Kuala Lumpur for a stopover – thus rendering Malaysia “done” – on the way to Siem Reap to “do” Cambodia, and then it’s onto Thailand, where Bangkok and Koh Samui await. Southeast Asia: done.
Carrying a guitar
Passport? Check. Credit card? Check. Guidebook? Check. Cumbersome musical instrument that I can’t play? Check. Quite why certain travellers feel the need to hoist an acoustic onto their back when they hit the road is one of life’s small mysteries. They probably think it will make them more popular. After all, who wouldn’t be drawn to a troubadour who prefaces every song with, “Erm… I think that starts with a… Hmm, nope… Bear with me…” The battered axe always requires an extended tuning session before a single chord is strummed and everyone on the beach knows that, whichever song they’ve requested, all they will receive is a solemn rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” or yet another “Wonderwall” singalong.
“You gonna finish that, bro?” comes the familiar refrain. Suddenly your new friend’s earlier claim – while everyone was ordering – that he’s “not hungry” is exposed as a falsehood of the highest order, as he snaffles stray slices of cucumber and nibbles on discarded chicken bones before wiping his hands on his Beerlao vest with a satisfied smile. Of course, his three-dollars-a-day food budget rarely stretches to such transcendent culinary wonders as the unwanted herbs left at the bottom of a Thai green curry; not when there are AK-47s out there that aren’t going to fire themselves, and drugged tigers desperate to be pictured alongside a gurning simpleton. Albeit a gurning simpleton with a full belly, on your dollar.
The traveller’s raison d’etre is accomplished with such verve, such élan, that it is difficult not to applaud. With most backpackers having honed their craft in their suburban hometown, Southeast Asia represents a blank canvas that can be embellished with a vibrant pallet of vomit, blood and Red Bull. There are myriad options for getting off one’s mash but, of course, there is one concoction that stands above all others: the infamous whisky bucket. A half-litre of the cheapest local whisky, a couple of Red Bulls and a can of Coke are all that’s needed to make any traveller’s night. As subtle as a drop kick to the face, as flavoursome as a poke in the eye, as memorable as… Erm, what happened last night?
“Top five: Universities in Southeast Asia” – Singapore and Thailand lead the way when it comes to universities in Southeast Asia
“Top 5: songs inspired by Southeast Asia” – An eclectic selection of tunes that have their roots in the region
“Top 5: superhero social commentaries” – A peek behind the masks of comic books reveals much more than catching bad guys and leaping tall buildings in a single bound
“Top 5: female film directors” – Five women who have brought a feminine touch to the male-dominated world of movie making in Southeast Asia
“All the right grooves” – How a Balinese traditional wood carver became one of the country’s finest guitar makers