I recently spent nearly a month in Bangkok, Taipei and Singapore. Here’s some dos and don’ts I picked up along the way.
1) Do NOT eat stinky tofu in Taiwan– I couldn’t stand to walk by it in the night markets of Taipei. The smell of dog poop wrapped in an old sweaty sock made me and my colleagues gag uncontrollably (see #2 for other things not to eat). I can’t imagine the taste.
2) Do NOT eat durian fruit in Singapore– Durian fruit is the king of fruits and is represented in architecture and art throughout Singapore. I’m not sure that means you should eat it, maybe better to admire it from afar. Durian looks like a large spiky mango, but smells (and tastes) like old onions wrapped in a sweaty sock. Durian fruit is banned on the rapid transit in Singapore because of the smell. I feel like that’s enough reason to never eat one.
3) Do drink the coconut water– Every eating establishment, food court, outdoor market, or small beverage stand offers fresh coconut water. They bring it to you in a freshly opened coconut. It comes with a straw and a spoon. It is nearly 100 times more delicious than any boxed or bottled coconut water you can find in stores.
4) Do take a map or turn on the GPS in Bangkok– My colleagues and I were kidnapped by our taxi driver and were driven 1 hour and 45 minutes in the opposite direction of our intended destination. We kept commenting that we didn’t think we were going in the right direction. One colleague had a local cell phone and was able to track our location via GPS. After realizing we were probably being driven to our deaths, we insisted the driver stop and let us out. After yelling and screaming and motioning to stop, we finally jumped out of the moving taxi, grabbed a new taxi and rode another 2 hours to our actual destination. Note: Taxi drivers in Bangkok do not speak English.
5) Do get massages every day in Thailand– If you aren’t down for the traditional Thai massage, there are still many options with aromas and hot oils. The massages are cheap (maybe $20 for 90 minutes) and while you wait, they give you tea and massage your scalp. The establishments we frequented were clean, well-run and took credit cards. I personally didn’t see any indication of happy endings, but I’m sure they have those too, if that’s what you are looking for.
6) Do be mindful of Chinese tourists– Chinese people have been fighting for their piece of the community in China forever. They have had many struggles and lots of overpopulation. When they are in other Asian countries, they tend to push, shove, cut in line, stand too close to you (by an American’s personal space standards) and interrupt conversations so they can be heard. You may feel compelled to push them back or yell at them. I recommend patience and understanding. This is more a cultural difference than a personal attack on you. Just as you will be confused as to why you just got pushed out of line, a Chinese tourist will be equally confused as to why you yelled at them.
7) Do consider the heat– It’s so hot and humid in Bangkok and Singapore. The cities are essentially mall after mall interspersed with a few low-end indoor flea markets (also known as malls). Malls are connected by underground tunnels so you don’t have to walk outside in the heat to get to the next mall of your choosing. You can do your grocery shopping, take classes, go to the doctor and buy a Gucci handbag all in the comfort of a mall. This is because it is too hot to go outside. Keep hydrated, and when in doubt, stay in the air-conditioned mall.
8) Do try new and interesting foods (ones that don’t have a gym sock flavor component)– You are in a new place. It’s ridiculous for you to eat Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks for every meal. Even if you must have your fried chicken, there are many many local places that make a very tasty (and spicy) fried chicken. Explore new cuisines; all the places where I ate were clean, the food was made with fresh ingredients and the staff seemed genuinely proud of the what they produced. Ask the locals in Singapore for recommendations. They are very proud of their culinary experiences.
9) Do use Uber– If Uber is available in the city you are visiting, I highly recommend using it. It is extremely convenient, you don’t have to worry about having correct currency or converting prices from USD to TWD, and you don’t have to worry about butchering the name of your destination. There is also GPS, in case you get kidnapped.
10) Do beware of foot massages– There are lots of foot massage places in Taipei and after walking around all day, the thought of someone lovingly rubbing your tired feet seems very appealing. However, most of the foot massage places I saw or visited were the reflexology kind. This involves applying extreme pressure to various sensory points on the feet. Basically, a very angry woman is using her knuckles to grind your toe bones until you cry. The whole experience caused me to sweat, squirm and yell out in pain. After it was over, I did not feel relaxed, and my feet hurt more than when the process began. I also had a headache.
All in all, my time in Asia Pacific was lovely. I felt safe, well-fed and mostly welcomed by everyone. I highly recommend a visit. You won’t be disappointed.