Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

The entire month of June I’ll be in Asia, still blogging though (when possible!). Me and a friend are spending 4 days in Shanghai, then a few days in Suzhou, then flying to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo (maybe Sipadan, who knows?) and ending in Koh Phanang/Phi Phi Island, Thailand. (Phi Phi pictured below.)

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My parents live in Suzhou, China and I go out there to visit them once a year, and bum around Asia a bit (as its so cheap to travel.) Although I’ve been to China and Malaysia before, my trip is not set in stone by any means. So if you know of great places to go or things to see in that area (Borneo, Thailand, SE China) please leave it in the comments! A tasty dish? An awesome club? Most gorgeous beach? Secret campsite? Buried treasure?

Let me know!

By the way, does anyone like durian?

Off topic (but who cares? Its an open thread), but look what these Dutch students invented. Yes, its powdered booze.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    June 6, 2007

    I’ve heard that they eat rice over there… you should look into that 🙂

    but seriously, you are one lucky duck! I mean parrot!

    Have fun. Those of us that are here will continue to fight the hoards of anti science without you. Feel guilty yet?

    Bon Voyage, and Baya con Dios. (hard to type for an atheist BTW!)

  2. #2 Warren
    June 6, 2007

    By the way, does anyone like durian?

    I always did, yeah. They were really big in the 80s, and then they got kind of experimental, bluesy and jazzy. Though they released a remix album a couple years back, and there was a reunion that … what? Oh, durian, not Duran Duran.

    My, what an interesting looking fruit.

  3. #3 Roy
    June 6, 2007

    I tried durian once, but, gods… they’re not kidding when they call it stinky. I wasn’t particularly fond of it, honestly. Part of it was the smell, and part of it was the texture of the flesh.

    I heard on the radio last week that there’s a durian farmer who has managed to grow a type of durian that doesn’t smell. He’s hoping it will be a big hit.

  4. #4 Phil
    June 6, 2007

    As someone with forebears from Thailand a few words, fairly applicable to all of Asia:
    Drink bottled water.

    Eat cooked food. Reverse your eating habits. Fresh fruit and veg=sick. Cooked food=safe. Needless to say, stay away from sidewalk food stalls.

    Too bad for you, the fruit in Thailand is fantastico! The sweetest pineapple you will ever have. Pineapple is ok, it grows is trees, beware fruit that comes in contact with..fertilizer.

    You can acutally buy fairly safe food at the large supermarkets. A lot of the malls also have food courts. These are pretty safe in general, at least you can see what’s going on. Having said that, the last time I was in Thailand, I got sick after eating at a shopping mall food court. In fact every time I go to Thailand I get sick from the food. Could be me though…after all I eat like a local.

    You will always be ripped off as a tourist. Get used to it. You’re a walking ATM for the locals. Even at clubs or shows, there’s one price for locals and one for foreigners. They just won’t tell you because you don’t speak the language.

    Many beach businesses in Thailand are notorious for cheating. Water scooters which break down ( then they charge you for “fixing ” them, ), no gas in the tank (then they charge you for gas), scuba gear which is dirty or underfilled tanks, …those seats at the beach arent free. The beaches are basically disgracful toilets filled with people conducting business like they owned it. Get away from the crowds. go to the least populated beach you can find to get away from the trash. Then it is nice. Hotel packages are not the cheapeast but at least you can scream at them if something goes wrong.

    Don’t go into the seedy bars. They don’t post prices for drinks then overcharge ridiculously. It’s a scam. And don’t expect much help from the tourist police. They live there and you don’t. Stick to the nicer looking places.

    The underwater snorkeling and scuba is amazing. Again, take a recommended tour. When I go to the islands in Thailand I spend as much time as I can on the water and away from the tourist traps on land.

    I like Durian.

    Try fresh squeezed sugar cane juice.

    Don’t eat the fried insects.

    Take tissue paper and napkins. Handy wipes. No one gives free napkins like they do here and a lot of the toilets are the squat down type.

    There’s lots of eurotrash about. Ignore them.
    Lots of Aussies, who are generally OK except they drink a lot. And don’t discuss politics, not a good time to tell everyone how they’d all be speaking Japanese if it wasn’t for us…yadaydada.

    Try not to punch the guys selling Bin Laden Tshirts.

    There’s a lot of middle easterners in full regalia.

  5. #5 David Caplan
    June 6, 2007

    enjoy the banana pancakes!

  6. #6 Charlie (Colorado)
    June 6, 2007

    My friends in Singapore always talked up the beaches in Viet Nam. Personally, I never got over the desire to avoid going to Viet Nam I developed in the Distant Past, but that’s what I’ve heard.

    See your doc and get prescription anti-diarrheals. Or stick to the more urban places. (I vote for the first choice: I don’t like letting my life be ruled by my bowels.)

  7. #7 Laird Madison
    June 6, 2007

    Vietnam !!!

  8. #8 Genevieve Williams
    June 6, 2007

    Eating the produce in Thailand is a calculated risk, as Phil said. I didn’t have a problem in the three weeks I was there, but was careful about where I ate: nice restaurants, a catered wedding, and a private home (I was there for my brother’s wedding). With that restriction, I ate pretty much whatever I wanted and was fine. YMMV, a travel clinic will give you a prescription for antibiotics, which could come in handy. (I see Phil’s experience was different, I didn’t eat at sidewalk stands at all. My brother’s in-laws won’t allow him to because he got sick on his first visit there!)

    Drink bottled water, seconded.

    We went to the beach during the week and it was empty. We were told it filled up on the weekend, though.

    And ditto to pretty much everything else Phil said. Expect to pay tourist prices at attractions such as temples and landmarks, and beware of scammers telling you that such and such a place is closed.

    Don’t accept a ride from anyone who runs up to you offering taxi services. Especially from the airport. You may get where you’re going eventually, but not without a lot of diversion.

    I didn’t try durian, but noted that every hotel I stayed in would charge an extra cleaning fee of about 500 baht if they found evidence of durian consumption in your room. Heh.

    Chiang Mai was beautiful. I want to go back there and do some hiking.

    Siem Reap is only a 40-minute flight from Bangkok and seeing Angkor Wat and the other temples is totally worth it. Even if you’re not normally into temples. Still worth it. Book with a tour firm ahead of time, our guide was awesome and probably saved us a lot of effort and trouble vis-a-vis getting lost on Cambodia’s terrible roads and ending up in the wrong place.

  9. #9 Robster, FCD
    June 7, 2007

    Don’t get scammed by the “Thai gem scam unless you like glass and colored cz.

    Do buy loose stones from legitimate dealers. Natural rubies and sapphires, especially of the “star” variety can be found for an insanely low price compared to their appraised value. Set them when you get back home with a jeweler or buy do it yourself settings for the cost of the gold and silver. This can become an extremely addictive hobby, especially if you go the latter route, as the final product looks as good as store bought if you have any small motor coordination.

  10. #10 sandmansa
    June 7, 2007

    Good advice from both Phil & Genevieve. Having made more trips to Thailand than I can remember, I can say they are pretty much right on

    Drink bottled water is a must. Even the locals drink it.

    I have eaten lots of fresh fruits and veggies, including Durian, and have not problems what so ever. Maybe I have been lucky, but I suggest you try the local exotic fruits.

    Sidewalk food stalls – Been there, done that, have the strains on my underwear to show for it. I say it a 50/50 chance of getting ill.

    Yes, there is difference in price at many of the tourist attraction for forang and Thai. So, get use to it. Is the same most places you travel. If you have good bargaining skills you can pay almost what the Thai do from the sidewalk vendors.

    Don’t go into the seedy bars. What? Youre in Thailand! Do check for a drink list. But even you are like me, and the bar scene is really not your thing, at least check it out. The people watching is great.

    The underwater snorkeling and scuba is amazing … once youre away from the crowds on the beaches. Check the dive services well before you book. There are some very good dive shops using good equipment and boats and then there are the others.
    I like Durian.

    Don’t eat the fried insects … unless youre very very drunk

    If you have the time, by all means allow at least 3 or 4 days to visit Siem Reap and Angkor. This is a must see place. Rome and Athens do not compare and I enjoyed Angkor more than Egypt.

    Take 2 or 3 days in Bangkok and checkout the temples, take a water taxi through the canals, ride a tuk tuk. Its a fun city to visit for awhile, but don’t get stuck there.

    Ayutthaya deserves consideration. The day trips from Bangkok are really too short and leave little time to see Ayutthaya. I suggest overnighting for a night or 2. Take one of the many tour boats back to Bangkok.

    Consider Trang if you are looking for the trodden beaches. Hua Hin us also another less crowded beach area to consider.

    There is also Chang Mia and Chang Ria in the north, but check weather conditions as it could be very rainy with floods.

    There are potential heath issues, mainly depending on where you travel. Get your immunizations updated just to be on the safe side. Bring medications with you. Some maybe hard to get re-filled, even thought the Thai pharmacies are well stocked and the private medical facilities are excellent and cheap.

    Above all … Relax and Enjoy

  11. #11 Phil
    June 8, 2007

    Just as a follow up, right here on Scienceblogs, you can see what the environment means to a lot of people in asia..the world’s most polluted river. Indonesia. Very sad.

    P.S. If you have any contacts with a local, use it. Traveling with a local makes all the difference. No one will rip you if they know you have a local contact who will come back and bother them. If it’s a friend of a friend, whatever.

  12. #12 Bob Abu
    June 8, 2007

    Paris Hilton is the Nelson Mandela of this generation

  13. #13 Brian X
    June 9, 2007

    There’s a place in Boston that makes durian ice cream (it’s apparently their most popular flavor, by virtue of the fact that Boston has a decent-sized southeast Asian population and virtually no one else makes anything like it).

    I tried it at an ice cream festival once, expecting a delicacy. It turned out it tasted like bananas and rotten onions, and I couldn’t eat more than a spoonful or two before it went in the trash.

  14. #14 Biomed Tim
    June 9, 2007

    Why not stop by Taiwan?

  15. #15 Andre
    June 9, 2007

    Sounds wicked. Enjoy! There were some good travel tips here. I made notes 😀


    Bob, what does your comment mean? I’m a white South African who is still alive and well largely because of/thanks to Mandela. Mentioning him in the same sentence as a dimwit ‘socialite’ does not compute…

  16. #16 Phil
    June 10, 2007

    All this hate for durian…
    It’s a fascinating fruit. There’s an old joke about not sleeping under a durian tree. These things look like a medieval mace. Did you know it’s against the law to attack someone with a durian?
    Jackfruit is another fruit I like. Mangosteen is quite nice but it stains everything, don’t drop the juice on your clothes.
    Lychees in season are great. You peel the outside, don’t eat the seed.
    You might consider getting some vaccinations, Borneo ( Kalimantan) is still considered the bookdocks.

  17. #17 Jonathan
    June 11, 2007

    It would be extremely sad if you did miss out on the street-stall food, it’s often the most tasty around. It is a calculated risk – don’t buy icecream out in the sun from a street stall, but usually things that are fried there in front of you are much less likely to give you problems than going to a fancy restaurant where the decor is good but the food has been sitting out the back all afternoon.

    If you have any way of getting to Yunnan or Sichuan then I’d really advise it – not that I’ve been there yet but I’ll be heading that way in a couple of months after hearing many amazing stories about both of them.

    Anyway, hope you’re having a wonderful time!

  18. #18 Hai~Ren
    June 11, 2007

    Ooh you’re coming to my corner of the world! Haha but alas not to my country.

    Everyone else here has given great advice. Bottled water is a big must. My holiday in Thailand went fine, even though we ate from the roadside food stalls.

    Don’t visit the pet section of the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok – it’s depressing to see so much *ahem* biodiversity up for sale.

    Pineapples in Thailand are absolutely fabulous.

    Koh Pha Ngan is a lovely place, still relatively untouched compared to Koh Samui, I’ve heard. Try and plan such that you don’t come when a full moon/black moon/ half moon/whatever moon party is scheduled, unless partying on the beach is your sort of thing.

    I stayed at Haat Salad Beach while I was there; the lagoon is lovely, with a nice little reef flat swarming with sea cucumbers. At low tide you can walk pretty far out to sea, but watch out for the sharp coral rubble and sea urchins.

    I can recommend visiting the Erawan Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand. Beautiful place.

    Borneo-wise, if you can spare the time and money, the Maliau Basin in Sabah is a fantastic place for a few days of trekking. Still very undeveloped and unexplored, but it gets depressing when you leave and then you see trucks loaded with logs. When I was there in the outskirts of the Basin, I saw rhinoceros hornbill at least once every day. There’s some other wildlife, but it’s pretty elusive. The leeches there are particularly voracious though.

    Durian? Lovely.

    Have a fun holiday travelling around!

  19. #19 Phil
    June 11, 2007

    Ooops ..boondocks..typo. That reminds me, if you go trekking in the jungle don’t forget your bugspray.

  20. #20 Agnostic
    June 17, 2007

    If it’s cheap you’re looking for, I’d suggest Tokyo.

  21. #21 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 19, 2007
  22. #22 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 28, 2007
  23. #23 Fan of Bangkok Hotels
    September 24, 2009

    I believe that it’s great experience of traveling for whoever have traveled in Asia countries because they have learned, appreciated and touched to true cultural human. Those things have made people having opened-mind and worldwide on the point of view…. Thank you for your contribution.

  24. #24 Sipadan
    December 28, 2009

    Sipadan is nice for diving… also Mabul is great for macro photography.

  25. #25 AT
    November 25, 2010

    I love durians, one of my fav food. sweet and lovely, but only available on certain month.

  26. #26 Pojiepooh Abdullah
    July 25, 2011

    Whoaaa that’s cool especially when you can save a lot while roaming with Flexiroam

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