Although traveling our planet’s biggest and most diverse continent is certainly rewarding, a few aspects really present a pain in the backside for new visitors. Fortunately, the good certainly outweighs the bad -- but be on the lookout for these common annoyances and frustrations!
Make no mistake, Asia is crowded. As earth’s most populous continent, population density is higher in Asia than anywhere else on the planet. You’ll often feel like a large portion of the 4.4 billion residents in Asia are either cutting the queue in front of you or are competing for the same services.
Since so many people are crammed into every nook and cranny (Singapore has an average density of 7,300 people per square kilometer), privacy and personal space are often ignored altogether. Don’t be shocked when someone stands too close while speaking to you.
Seemingly pleasant cultural interactions often end with you picking up the check or getting sucked into an elaborate scam. You’ll feel like an ATM walking the street at times as every person within sight offers you something you don’t need or want, all at ten times the usual price.
Sadly, foreigners who travel to Asia are most often targeted. Although muggings and violent crime are pleasantly low in Asia, locals have found softer, more creative ways to relieve you of extra cash. Even a few unscrupulous police officers may want to get into your wallet.
Falling for scams is a part of the travel-learning curve. Be prepared by knowing the common scams in Asia so you can run when one begins to surface.
Western Travelers Are Considered Rich
Many Westerner travelers are annoyed to find out that they must pay more than locals. From entrance fees to transportation, foreigners are often blatantly charged double what residents pay for the same services.
In many countries in Asia, travelers -- even those shoestring-budget backpackers -- are viewed as “rich.” Considering that many residents in Asia live on less than $2 per day, you technically are rich in comparison.
Travel for enjoyment is often out of reach for local people, so the fact that you can leave home and work for so long fuels the assumption that you must have money to burn.
The Process of Saving Face
Deeply ingrained in Asian culture, the concept of saving face is a part of daily life. Whether you realize it or not, all of your transactions will be governed by the constant need to “save face.”
Transactions can come across as frustrating and even downright dishonest. Ask someone for directions and they’ll point you in the completely wrong direction -- with a smile. Not because they dislike foreigners, they would probably love to help you, but they can’t afford to “lose face” by telling you that they simply don’t know the way in their own hometowns. You can even cause accidental loss of face by letting someone know they have food stuck on their teeth, or that their shoe is untied.
Life and death decisions are made around the concept of 'face.' In some cultures, suicide is a more attractive option than taking a serious loss of face.
No matter how frustrating some encounters can be, you’ll be expected to stay calm, smile, and not cause someone to lose face. This lack of directness and bluntness often pushes Westerners to the brink of snapping!
Terrible Traffic and Reckless Driving
The rules of staying mild-mannered seem to go out the window once people get behind the wheel. Gridlocked traffic builds because traffic signals are ignored. A cacophony of horns is sounded at all times, but no one seems to notice. Drivers compete to squeeze three vehicles into a single lane. Taxi rides in Asia can be hair-raising affairs, and bus drivers seem to get a thrill out of passing trucks through blind turns.
Renting scooters is a great way to get around, but doing so is not for the meek. Be prepared to fight for your right to stay in a lane. As a pedestrian, you’ll need to cross the street at your own peril. Unless you’re driving a tank, don’t expect at any time to have the right of way.
Beggars work the streets in every Asian city, aggressively so in countries such as India. You’ll get plenty of attention as you walk along. As heartbreaking as scenarios appear, giving money to individual beggars is not a sustainable solution. Giving to one beggar often encourages others to become even more aggressive.
The rough-looking street kids are often forced to beg by syndicates or family members who keep the money; they are kept out of school until they get too old to be “useful.” Young women rent babies to carry, hoping that will improve their chances of getting into the hearts and wallets of tourists
The Constant Attention
One would expect that in such a modern, connected world, outsiders wouldn’t still be much of a novelty, but in many places in Asia, you’ll enjoy constant celebrity status, even in touristy places. Westerners are still considered a novelty in countries such as Myanmar that are just opening up for big tourism. Even in Beijing, you’ll receive plenty of points, stares, and gasps of “laowai!” when you walk into the room. Other diners in restaurants may watch your every mistake with the chopsticks, turning you into the evening’s dinner show.
All the additional attention is harmless -- expect people wanting to take photos with you or to swap Facebook -- but always being in the spotlight does begin to wear on nerves. Escaping the cities and going further afield to remote areas often only makes the situation worse.
Westerners often emerge from public toilets in Beijing shaken and disturbed, mostly because of the lack of privacy. Although advocates argue that using squat toilets is better for colon health, using them for the first time takes some getting used to. Fortunately, more and more hotels are installing Western-style toilets, but you’ll still encounter squat toilets in markets, restaurants, and public areas.
The ancient sewer systems in many parts of Asia still can’t break down toilet paper, so you’ll often be expected to put your used paper into a dirty bin next to the toilet. Flushing toilet paper is a serious no-no and can cause a serious problem for the business.
Litter and Plastic
At any given time, you’ll be within a few feet of a plastic bag in Asia, and most residents seem to have at least one in their hands nearly all the time. The ubiquitous 7-Eleven minimarts give a plastic bag and straw for even the most trivial of purchases. Adding to the problem is the fact that tap water isn’t safe throughout much of Asia; water has to be purchased in, you guessed it, plastic bottles.
Plastic rubbish is a real problem in Asia, especially on Southeast Asian islands where it is burned. Nothing ruins a little slice of paradise like the noxious-and-poisonous smell of burning plastic. Takeaway food and drinks from street-food carts is typically served in plastic bags, many of which end up dropped on the street later.