I have really tried to steer away from this article, but have becoming under increasing pressure from people who think I am just biased. I’m not. I see the bad stuff that goes on every day but I try not to focus on it. Negativity proves nothing and being negative will only ever affect you, not the person at whom your negativity is directed. I have had a massively increasing mail bag in recent weeks and a percentage ask why I only post the things I love about Southeast Asia and not the things that I dislike intensely. It’s a valid argument and I suppose and I really needed to address it at some point, so here goes. I will pre-empt the strike by saying, every Southeast Asian country I have ever stayed in, has been miles better than home. I have travelled extensively and the bad things about Southeast Asia have not changed my mind about it being the best place on earth. However, when things go wrong, they really do go wrong . . . horribly wrong.


There is no point in dressing this up, some people are just racist. It doesn’t matter what colour you are; someone of a different hue will think it is acceptable to use your skin against you. Racism in Southeast Asia tends to take on a different style to the West. In the West it is generally a black - white thing. Here it tends to be people with the same or similar skin colour, having a go at someone from another country, purely because they believe that everything wrong in their lives, is down to someone else. Well guess what? It isn’t! This is the same shit that partially drove me out of Britain. I have heard Thais openly saying that they hate Cambodians, Viets that they hate the Chinese and so on and so on. It’s a shame, people are people, deal with it.

Preah Vihear on the Thailand Cambodia border has been a source of great conflict for years and is often used as an excuse for racism by nationals of either country

Living here I do though, find myself sometimes on the receiving end of some pretty horrible racism, purely because I am English. I’ll give you an example. For the last 18 months I have bought a Banh Mi on my way home from D1, from the same stall generally served by the same guy. Two or three times every week, I have spent 50,000VND for two barbecued Banh Mi. So that will be somewhere in the region of 8 million VND. For some reason, over the course of the last few weeks, the guy that serves me has decided to try and take liberties. He always used to speak a little English and I would always try and at least say thank you in Vietnamese. Now he looks me in the eye and comes out with long sentences in Vietnamese, whilst laughing with his mates. He knows exactly what I like and dislike on my Banh Mi, but he makes a big show of putting everything that I do not like on, for me to tell him to take it off again, whilst all his little friends have a laugh. It’s not clever, it’s just a young guy being a racist prick. It is deliberate and it’s insidious and certainly one of the bad things about Southeast Asia. I’m sure his boss will be delighted to know that his behaviour has cost the business about 6 million dong per year. For your information, this is the shop at the end of Ho Tung Mao, in the shadow the Bitexco Tower.

I will point out here. that I personally have no problem with the two-tier pricing for most attractions. The bottom line is, we earn hugely higher wages than the locals, it is only right in my mind that we pay a bit more.

Service Industry

This is universally bad right across the whole region. Let’s get a few things straight; I lived in England for over 50 years, a country that specialises in utterly dreadful service. But even England puts Southeast Asia to shame on this one. Order three drinks in a bar out here and you feel generally happy if they manage to get two right. Order a meal for two and the chances of you and your date eating together are slim. Try and get a taxi and it’s a raffle. In Bangkok they just don’t want to take you, in Saigon you have to rely on Vinasun or Mai Linh otherwise you are screwed and at night in Jakarta, you will probably have to pay some grubby little guy a bribe before you even get in. It is mind-blowingly stupid. For God’s sake just regulate these guys and prosecute them if they break the law.

It once took me three months to get the Internet fitted to my business in Bangkok. The guy turned up and fitted the modem and it simply wouldn’t work. I went on line and asked if anyone had had similar experiences. It turned out that the router just did not work. Everyone said the same thing. I called the company and the fella came back. I told him that I wanted a different router. He unplugged the router, took it away and said he would return the day after; he did. He tried to get on line and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t. When I said that he couldn’t because I didn’t have a router, he asked why!

Ordering meals used to become something of an Olympic sport in Bangkok. If half a dozen of us went for dinner, we would take bets on how many things they would get wrong. It was so bad, that after a while it stopped annoying us and used to be a sense of amusement. The rice will arrive 15 minutes before anything else, meals will be delivered to the wrong tables, drinks were always wrong and nobody ever seemed to get to eat at the same time. It isn’t much different anywhere I’ve been. We used to say, “It’s great here, order exactly what you want and get what you’re given.”

Moaning Expats

Cue the outrage! There is no doubt about it, but some expats never stop moaning about the bad stuff. It is one thing to register your disappointment at someone when things go bad, but a percentage of expats will moan about everything. The weather, the service, the roads, the shops, transport and pretty much just about everything else. It is a curious phenomenon and does beg the question, “If you hate it so much, why are you here?” I think it is born out of frustration for people stuck here on a work contract when they would rather be somewhere else. I will NEVER again live anywhere that I don’t enjoy. Life is just too short.

This is the FIRST time I have written anything negative about the area in which I choose to live. If I were to do a similar list for my home country, it would be a very long list indeed. But some of these guys hate just about everything. I think they must wake up and instantly look for something to depress themselves with. It’s all very entertaining for the rest of us, and the only people genuinely being affected by it, are themselves. Come on guys, there are bad things about Southeast Asia we get it, but it is nowhere near as bad as some of you chaps make out.


This is a bit contentious, because there is an element to driving out here that I like. But as a general rule Asian people cannot drive . . . at all! They will drive on the wrong side of the road, on footpaths, they’ll text whilst riding a motorbike, they jump red lights, they basically have no sense whatsoever when it comes to driving. Somehow they all seem to keep their tempers, which is astonishing, and got a mention in one of my favourite things about Vietnam. I was on the back of a motorbike taxi in Bangkok once and he went round a blind bend on the wrong side of the road, I gave him a right rollicking and got off. He had no idea why I was angry.

Driving in Saigon - traffic lights, what traffic lights?

A friend was recently almost killed because he made the mistake of thinking that a green light in the middle of Saigon at night, meant go; a garbage truck just took him out. Only this very evening, I approached the highway on my motorbike, indicated right and turned to join the flow of traffic. A young girl on a brand new Vespa came up on my right hand side, tried to get through a gap that wasn’t there and just fell off as I turned. It is mental! I am approaching a road where I have to turn right, I have my right hand indicator flashing and guess what? I turned right! The bus drivers here in Saigon are lunatics, genuinely frightening.

I find it utterly astonishing that people will spend massive amounts of money on a Chelsea tractor and then entrust it to someone with the attention span of a goldfish and the driving ability of Stevie Wonder. Huge four-wheel drives are the order of the day throughout the region. None of the chauffeurs have got a bloody clue what they are doing. And the owners put their kids in every morning on the school run!


Arggghhhhhh!!!!!!! This is a monumental cock-up right across Southeast Asia. I am a perfect example of what is wrong with the system. I earn my money on-line from all over the world. But I SPEND it ALL in Vietnam. You would think that that the government here would see that as a positive. I lived in Thailand for 5 years and nobody had a clue what the rules were. Because I have had to make regular visa runs, I have two pages of a 4 year-old 48-page passport left. This is utterly moronic.

Visas - the scourge of thousands of expats

Everyone I know understands that the countries need to get some revenue from us. So why not simply say, “it is going to cost you ‘x’ amount of dollars per month to stay here” Job done, end of argument. What is the point of having expats all over the region schlepping across borders in order to get a stamp? The officials at the border haven’t got a clue what they are doing. I guarantee I could borrow a passport from a person of any colour and either gender and get through customs and immigration. The immigration guys are too thick to notice. This one ranks high among the bad things about Southeast Asia.

The Temperature in Cinemas

Why on earth does anyone think that in order to enjoy a movie you have to freeze to death. The temperature in the movie theatres is ridiculous. It is so cold that everyone has to wrap up to watch a film. Go VIP and they give you blankets! So it’s not like nobody knows that it’s too cold. The management knows and responds with blankets. Just turn the dial on the air-con units, for God’s sake.

Cinema - don’t forget your thermals!

I have missed the end of two movies in recent years because on each occasion the woman I was with, physically couldn’t take it any more. Is it some kind of viral advertising campaign for Frozen, which has been running across the region for the last 5 years? It’s a shame because in every other aspect, the multiplexes here are very good.

Animal Cruelty

There is no doubt about it, many Asian people do not have the same affection for nor show the same compassion to animals, as we do in the West. This for me is definitely one of the really bad things about Southeast Asia, probably the worst of the lot. To see they way they sometimes treat animals is shocking. I have followed men on motorbikes on the Highway to the north of Ho Chi Minh City, with a dozen dogs stuffed inside a cage, large enough for ONE. They were probably destined for a restaurant somewhere and their fate, made me feel sick to my stomach.

Unbelievable animal cruelty - and it goes almost unnoticed

Cock fighting is widely practiced throughout the region especially in the small villages. It is hugely popular among young men. The cruelty again is shocking. Then of course there is the slaughter of animals for ridiculous bogus medicine. Killing Tigers for the penises and Rhinos for their horns is still going on, despite being outlawed. Sharks are butchered for their fins in enormous numbers. Even when animals are kept as pets there is plenty of evidence that people will still ill treat them. It is a part of living here that I can never get used to.

Hotel Bloody California

Ok, so this is a bit of a light hearted one, but if I never hear this damned song again, it will be too soon. Every bar in Bangkok plays it 10 times a night; it’s the same in Saigon. Wherever you go through the region, it is wall-to-wall Eagles. I used to like the tune, now it has become the aural backdrop to my every nightmare. The very first day I moved into Saigon, I checked into a hotel and fell asleep. I woke at about 7.00am and threw open the window to get some air. . . . “On a dark desert highway” came drifting in. SEVEN in the morning, Arrrgh!

Other songs totally ruined by hearing them several times per night include: Country Roads by John Denver, No Woman No Cry from Bob Marley and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama. However nothings sends me running out of a bar faster than Hotel Bloody California!

A cover band in a Saigon bar It won’t be long now . . . “On a dark desert highway” . . . . . . .

That’s about it then. Let us have your list, I’m sure there will be many more. As I say, despite the bad things about Southeast Asia, I still regard it as the best place on earth. I cannot see me moving any time soon.

  • hahaha, absolutely agree with The Temperature in Cinemas part 🙂

    • Keith Hancock

      Shame though, because the theatres are good apart from that

  • yafieda

    Even as an Asian, the driving part gets to me too as in Cambodia I think they’re still learning on how to use the traffic lights. There’s also the rubbish that are thrown out from their vehicles hoping for someone to clean it up.

    • Keith Hancock

      Traffic lights here in Vietnam - Green means go, Amber means go, Red means go if you want. The countdown is hilarious, everyone sets off when it’s down to 6 or 7, if you don’t the horns start honking. lol.

  • Chris Lee

    I will say that when Filopinos are employed in well managed restaurants and bars in SE Asia, the service can be exceptional. Some of the smarter establishments in Asia are starting to recognise that.

    • Keith Hancock

      I don’t think there is much of a problem when it comes to high end establishments, but try getting a sensible approach to customers from an average bar or restaurant and it can be infuriating.

  • Gary Weall

    Cinemas yes about the only time I add layers of clothes in Thailand to avoid succumbing to hyperthermia 🙂

    • Keith Hancock

      It’s mental isn’t it Gary. Last time I went to the cinema I had to leave early as the girl I was with was almost in tears. Her feet were like ice, I was cold but she was shivering.

  • Alan Johnston

    Ha ha! Goldfish and Stevie wonder in the same sentence you are a master craftsmen of the keyboard. Now I may be alone on this but I hate the bands in the clubs. Leave the ruddy disco on, no amount of WO WO or YO YO-ing is gonna get me up to dance! At least the original artists had some idea of what they were singing about, anyone who sings Hotel California should be made to sit a basic test to see if they know anything about why they can never leave! when the band comes on, I’d rather go home and watch Thai soap Operas! Oh my, there’s another wonderful thing about Asia the TV dramas, their movies are world class so why do they insist on making such God awful TV dramas that even Goldie your Goldfish and Stevie ‘bless him’ Wonder could not stand 3 minutes of before thy would lose the will!

    • Keith Hancock

      As I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of the nightclubs, this doesn’t affect me. I hate clubs and have done all my life.

  • Martyn

    Great Article Keith. So much of this is familiar to me. Where we live in deepest, darkest Isaan in Thailand we do have a cinema in the new Robinson but no English language films. Oddly they don’t show children’s films during school holidays. My wife can’t understand why I would expect this. The driving is my big bugbare. I have to negotiate a mini roundabout twice a day when taking my daughter to and from school. Entertainment for the whole family. But the thoughts of going back to England in the winter during the longest election campaign in history makes me feel truly nauseous.

  • Zahra

    That photo with the poor dogs! How awful!

  • Dave Bodia

    If all those things you complained about were “fixed”, you’d merely be living in an intercontinental extension of Great Britain… the place you were so sick of you moved away from right?

  • Truthsayer

    In SEA Only Viets and Filipinos eat dogs.
    Malaysia and Singapore definitely do not. You won’t find a single person who has ever eaten dog in Malaysia and Singapore.