10 Things I Hate About You, Southeast Asia

Ten Things I Hate About You came out 20 years ago (hello I am old and also it’s one of the best movies of all time) so consider this an homage to my three months of solo female travel in Southeast Asia. I hope you’ll be whelmed.

1. The heat

What does it feel like to not drip sweat out of every pore and crevice the instant my Tevas hit the pavement? I don’t remember. I’m too busy chugging liters of water and ducking into 7-11s just for the hit of cool air. It’s so hot even my mind wanders sluggishly through the sweltering haze of the days here.

My skin erupts regularly in heat rashes, my clothes are sometimes so wet with sweat I could wring them out, my stomach turns at the thought of food unless it’s a cool and light smoothie bowl. Sometimes my knees sweat. I didn’t know they had sweat glands.

The heat here can drown you. This is why I visit so many malls. I could write a whole post just on the heat (oh wait, I have, I was just too hot to remember).

2. Chaos

In Laos, I didn’t see a stop sign for eight days. Bangkok drivers sometimes create a third lane on the two-lane highways. Scooters in Bali careen over the tiny sidewalks heedless of any poor pedestrians in their path. One night in Siem Reap I stood patiently at an intersection waiting for a break in the traffic to cross the street – I waited for a full ten minutes, gave up, and summoned a tuktuk for a half-mile journey.

Traffic here comes from all sides, all directions, all vehicles, and those on foot are the lowest of the low. Going for a stroll here is excellent cardio. Those close calls and dashes across the street get the heart rate up better than SoulCycle.

3. Temple fatigue

How many temples can a solo traveler visit in three months? I’ve lost track of the number. But their beauty hasn’t left me. Peep some of my favorite examples:

Solo female traveler in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at Batu Caves
Me and my Tevas: a love story
A Hindu water temple in Bali Indonesia for water purification ritual
Water temple in Bali.
Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia at sunrise
Angkor Wat temple at sunrise.
solo female traveler at Pha That Luang in Vientiane, Laos
Solo female traveler in the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

I’m sure you can see how dull this gets after a while, just so much never-ending beauty and the smells of incense and the chanting of monks and priests and devotees.

4. Hippies

Maybe it’s because I’ve been hanging out at yoga shalas instead of bars, or because the cheapness of Southeast Asia attracts them, but whew I met a lot of hippies here. At first I thought maybe I’d chill with them. I mean, I love yoga and smoothies and meditation and I quit my job working for The Man to travel, a story they love.

But it got to be too much. If I have one more 23 year old white girl tell me to read The Secret or some guy in elephant pants tell me about the detoxing power of water fasting, I’m pulling out my grandpa’s old shillelaghs and giving them a rap on the head. Then I’ll find a lawn to sit on and yell at them to get off of it and then I’ll go play some bingo. Also deodorant doesn’t have toxins, please use some.

(I met a guy the other day who believes 1) the earth isn’t round 2) planes make clouds and they didn’t exist before planes 3) modern medicine is all one giant conspiracy. I’m still attempting to rehinge my jaw because it fell out of my face hearing all of that.)

5. The food

Food here has proven frustrating for me. Not because of the litany of illnesses it’s given me (Bangkok Belly! Food poisoning! My parasite!), though those were awful.

There’s just too much good food here to try it all. I could spend a year trying all the delicacies of every region of Thailand. I gave myself three days in Singapore and had a list of about 27 foods I wanted to try. It was a very full three days.

Maybe I could have gotten up the courage to try some Cambodian delicacies – deep-fried tarantulas, duck fetus, snake wine. The beautiful and healthy cafes of Ubud encouraged me in a brief flirtation with veganism. Add in the smattering of French bakeries and all the incredible coffee and fruit so delicious I’ve gone from hating to loving pineapple and it’s a foodie wonderland.

I’m also furious at Thailand for introducing me to mango sticky rice, the most perfect food imaginable that can’t be replicated with our shitty American mangoes.

6. The people

Some days I am a cranky misanthrope. It’s my right as a Bostonian. But can I be one here? No. People are so incredibly and reliably cheerful and friendly.

Every time I sit down to eat idli and masala dosai at a Singapore hawker center, I make at least three new friends. After a hot and frustrating day traveling alone and tripping around Chiang Rai’s broken sidewalks, I returned to my hostel where the receptionists told me what a beautiful smile I had and what a sweet person I am. I mean, damn.

Last time I was in Boston a lady stopped me in the middle of the street to tell me to fuck off and die (yay opioid crisis). So this friendliness to me as a solo female traveler catches me off guard.

New best friend in Laos.

7. My new addiction

I decided before I got to SE Asia that I’d be totally sober here. No more swirling a cool glass of white wine while watching the sunset, no riverside beers, no shared puff of a joint on a hostel rooftop. Thanks to my stomach issues, I haven’t even had coffee or cheese for over a month. I’m basically a monk.

But now I have a new vice.

I look up places to get my fix before each new city I arrive in. I ask around hostel tables, at guesthouse receptions, on Instagram. I’ll pay up to $12 for a single hit. If I go a few days without it, I can feel the lack and the need in my whole body. I just went on a ten-day binge in Northern Thailand and I’m planning my next bender there.

Hi, my name is Kathleen and I’m a yogi. (Relevant Crazy Ex Girlfriend song for your enjoyment.)

Solo female traveler doing yoga pose in Chiang Mai Thailand
Look at me, I’m so good at yoga.

8. Nature

Did you know there are millions of people in the world who leave their comfy beds to go sleep on the dirt in the woods with bugs? Sometimes they go for really long walks up mountains and then corner me in a hostel common room to regale with all the hardships they encountered in great and totally unwanted detail.

Then they insist I must do that same, and the badgering only increases when I tell them I don’t hike. “Just try it! The views are worth it! You must!”

I am a grown-ass woman who knows what she likes and it’s not fucking hiking. I don’t corner unsuspecting travelers and insist they spend a whole day at the Athens Archeological Museum or sit through five hours of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, even though those are things that bring me great joy. If only the crowds of nature lovers here could do the same.

9. Singapore

I’ve never been somewhere so clean and beautiful and green. I walked for 11 miles one day in my trusty silver Tevas and my feet were pristine at the end of the day. I kept getting lost and ending up in malls, which is my idea of heaven. The food is from everywhere in the world, and the buildings look like something from another world.

They have a giant park with “supertrees” made of climbing flowers, and every night those trees put on a light show set to opera and classical music. There’s no traffic and great public transit and giant sidewalks and cool shady parks and lovely museums.

It’s made me seriously dream of moving halfway across the world for a year or two. Which, ugh, that was not the plan but now I can’t stop thinking about it.

Woman traveling in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands
Hello I’m clearly very unhappy here.

10. But mostly…

I hate the way I don’t hate you.

Not even close,

not even a little bit,

not even at all.

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