We recently asked our readers on Facebook… “Where is the WORST place in South East Asia you’ve ever travelled? A place that you just couldn’t wait to leave!”
All backpackers are unique and have their own preferences when they travel, so we were expecting a variety of responses to this question – and that’s just what we got! Over 300 people replied and many of you went into great detail about just what you disliked about your ‘loathed’ destination.
There was some controversy, with a few people being offended by this question, thinking that this was some kind of insult to travel in South East Asia. This was not our intention at all! We spend our lives celebrating travel in South East Asia, and this survey is simply a question of personal taste, rather than a criticism of any particular country or culture. Indeed, many of the places that people hated the most were the places that people thought had been ‘ruined’ by Westerners!
So, without further ado – here’s a list of your 13 least favourite places in South East Asia!
We only mention the place if it got five or more votes, which interestingly left us with 13 places in total. We did not count entire countries like if you’d written ‘I hate Thailand’. Not good enough, sorry.
(Please remember that these are not the opinions of South East Asia Backpacker Magazine, nor is this a true depiction of the views of all backpackers.)
13. Koh Samui, Thailand (5 votes)
With five votes, the island of Koh Samui comes in at joint 13th place. Some of you simply said, “Samui is shit.” Whilst one of you went into more detail, “Samui isn’t really an island, more a shitty city stuck on an island.”
We’ve stayed in Samui a few times (on the way to the nearby islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) and the resort town of Chaweng is by far our least favourite place, with the nearby Lamai being a much better place to spend a few nights. Our favourite place is the small fishing resort of Bo Phut in the north of Koh Samui which has managed to retain some island charm.
12. Pak Beng, Laos (5 votes)
We were intrigued at how this tiny little village made your ‘least favourite’ places list. Pak Beng is the village where you’ll spend one night if you decide to take the 2-day slow boat from Chiang Khong in Thailand, to Luang Prabang in Laos. (Read about the boat trip in this article.) Pak Beng is a run-down place right on the banks of the Mekong with a few guesthouses and restaurants that cater to the boat-trippers.
Some of you called it a “shit hole” and one of you said that you suffered food poisoning there. By far the strangest comment though was this one: “All I can remember from that place is that the lady owner of the guesthouse where I was staying passed out because of opium whilst she was making our sandwiches. Opium is a big problem in that place, unfortunately.”
11. Hanoi, Vietnam (6 votes)
Having fallen in love with Hanoi when we first visited, we must admit that we felt differently about the city after our most recent visit. Nevertheless, we’re sad to see Vietnam’s capital on this list. It seems that people found the locals unfriendly and some people said that they were affected by thieves during their visit.
On the contrary, we found the people of Hanoi to be lovely, and many people did, in fact, post counter-arguments to those saying that they found the city unwelcoming. So it seems that Hanoi is another one of those ‘Marmite’ cities. What did you think?
10. Cebu City, Philippines (6 votes)
“Dirty.” “Noisy.” “Polluted.” These are just some of the words that you used to describe the city of Cebu in the Philippines, which came in at 10th place on our list. The city was also described as “all shopping malls and no culture” and the food as “bland and Americanised”.
We found ourselves in Cebu City for the annual festival of Sinulog, when the city was alive with a carnival atmosphere, full of colours and brimming with culture. We can’t imagine what it’s like on a normal day, though we did see some grey bits of concrete in-between the floats and dancing angels.
9. Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand (7 votes)
Coming in at 9th place it’s the most famous backpacker road in the world, which we almost expected to come in at number one, to be honest! Many people made comments to the type of ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ backpacker that you’re likely to find here (wearing a Same-Same T-shirt), but hey – we’ve all got to start somewhere right? And if that somewhere means that you’ll spend your first few days in Thailand with a Changover, eating street pad thai, buying a fake degree and croaking a wooden frog that you’ve just bought, then so be it!
We still reckon that the Khao San Road is of cultural interest to Bangkok (the actual city got three of your votes, I’ll add) if only for a short while, mainly because of the history of the place. So many backpackers have passed through a street that was once just a normal street within the city. It’s an example of how tourism can blow up in one tiny area and completely transform it forever. Read our article here on why one traveller loves the Khao San Road!
8. Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia (7 votes)
Poor Medan in northern Sumatra just doesn’t seem to have much going for it at all, apart from the fact that it’s one of the cheapest places to fly to in the whole of South East Asia! One person explained “there’s very little to do here, and it just didn’t feel very welcoming’, somebody else complained of the dirt and pollution.
We haven’t been to the city so can’t comment, but what we do know is that just a chicken bus ride away is the amazing Lake Toba, the jungles of Bukit Lawang and the diver’s paradise island of Pulau Weh. So, if you’ve found a cheap flight to Medan, get in, get out, and start exploring what the rest of the wonderful island of Sumatra has to offer!
7. Pattaya, Thailand (8 votes)
Not many backpackers venture to Pattaya, a city that is renowned for its sex tourism, just a few hours from Bangkok. If backpackers do find themselves here, however, we’re not at all surprised that you hate it. ‘Absolutely disgusting’ one person said. With not a backpacker hostel nor traveller-friendly bar in sight, this rather unattractive city is geared to giving Western men on a short holiday a good time.
The city came into existence during the Vietnam War when the American Army decided to base themselves here. Many poorer women from countryside areas of Thailand (such as Isaan) came to earn money here amongst the soldiers in pursuit of ‘R&R’. Take a stroll down the most famous road in Pattaya at night time ‘Walking Street’ and you’ll have your eyes opened to some of the seediest aspects of Thailand you’ll ever encounter.
As well as ‘sex tourists’ and ‘sex-pats’, Pattaya has also recently become popular with holidaying Russians, and there are a few more attractive islands, such as Koh Lan, Koh Krok, Koh Sak, Koh Phai and Koh Si Chang, off the coast of Pattaya, that tourists like to visit.
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (8 votes)
In sixth place, it’s the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, which is one of three capital cities on our list. One person described the city as a ‘concrete jungle’ and another said that they thought the ‘food was bland’. On the contrary, we’ve often heard great things about the variety of food on offer in KL and although there are less desirable aspects of the city (just like any city), we were actually surprised to have KL as one of the highest ‘least favourite’ places on your list.
Crowded and polluted, well yes, but with its mix of cultures and religions, we think KL is a very interesting place to visit. Perhaps you could try out some of these ‘alternative things to do in KL’ and then get back to us.
5. Kuta, Bali, Indonesia (9 votes)
In fifth place, it’s the party destination of Kuta in Bali that some of you took a very strong disliking to! Whereas Bali (the entire island) actually received four votes of its own, more of you focused in on this little beach resort town that was originally made famous for its surf, secondly for its nightlife. One girl said that the sea was dirty and that whilst she swam she was “surrounded by floating plastic and rubbish”, whilst one guy said that he even saw a dead dog on the beach!
Although, it wasn’t mentioned here in the comments, we’ve heard time and time again that the island of Bali is not the tranquil paradise that people hope it to be, particularly if you spend any time around Kuta, which is a very commercialised area with fast-food joints, huge nightclubs and those dreaded ‘two-weekers’. Popular amongst holidaying Australians, Kuta is the ‘Magaluf’ or ‘Cancun’ of Indonesia. So, if you’re looking for that, please, be our guest! Check out our guide to the whole of Bali here and find somewhere that’s more to your taste.
4. Phuket, Thailand (11 votes)
Thailand’s ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, the oldest star of the Thai Tourism scene, Phuket, gets fourth place. We thought your words ‘fat old Westerners with young Thai women’ was a little harsh, (but true?). The main gripes were overly-persistent sales-people trying to get you into bars and massage parlours, although this was specifically mentioned only in the main party zone of Patong. One person simply said – “this is not the best part of Thailand” – and we’d have to agree.
Although every place has its silver lining and if you’re feeling sick of Phuket and want to see a different side to the island, we’d encourage you to pay a visit to Phuket’s little-visited Old Quarter, full of Sino-Portuguese shop-houses, cafés and jazz bars. Or, hire a motorbike and explore the quieter beaches on the island, such as the fisherman’s village and beach of Hat Rawai.
3. THIRD PLACE: Sihanoukville, Cambodia (14 votes)
The notorious Sihanoukville (also known as ‘Sinville’ or ‘Snooky’ gets your votes for many reasons… More than one person complained about the sex trafficking and drug problems there, as well as the overly-persistent tuk tuk drivers, who followed one bloke down an alley-way to try to get a ride out of him. One commentator told us that it’s best to avoid the ‘burnout expat bar area known as ‘Victory Hill’ which he described as the ‘dark side of Sihanoukville’.
As well as the sex, drugs and prostitution (some mention under-age prostitution, though we cannot comment on whether this is true or not), other, less serious, problems in Sihanoukville were mentioned. One person said that the beach was “rubbish-strewn and dirty” and one guy said that his guesthouse was infested with rats (though he didn’t mention which guesthouse). The dirty beach comment, however, was counteracted by someone who is actually in Sihanoukville right now and told us that the beaches had been cleaned up. Somebody also mentioned that visits can be much worse in low season when there aren’t many people around and sales-people can be more persistent.
One guy, who spammed almost every post where Sihanoukville was mentioned, with a photo of himself in Koh Rong, the nearby island simply says – “Get out to Koh Rong!”(We bet he owns a guesthouse there.) Sihanoukville has often been a place that people tend to love or hate, our destination guide has contributions by more than one backpacker who couldn’t get enough of the place, which leads me to mention it’s final nickname “Stuckville”. So what did you think?
2. SECOND PLACE: Phnom Penh, Cambodia (15 votes)
Coming in at a close second place, this time it’s the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. (Although there were more than a few counter-arguments with people saying that they experienced wonderful moments in the city!) Most people’s complaints, again, were that felt unsafe here (whether this fear was actually founded or not, we did not receive further evidence).
One girl says that after spending most of the time in their tiny guesthouse room, they decided to leave and go and stay in an expat area where they felt much safer. One boy commenting on all of the other ‘I felt unsafe’ posts said that he spent one night there, wandered around during the evening, rode a scooter at night and felt totally safe the whole time. What was your experience of the city?
1. WINNER: Manila, Philippines (17 votes)
In first place, it’s the capital of the Philippines, Manila. With people’s main gripes about the city being that it is polluted, has a deficient infrastructure, is overcrowded and that people felt unsafe during their visit. (It seemed that one of the major factors that make people dislike a place is, naturally, the lack of safety.) One bloke said he was robbed by a taxi (we didn’t get more details other than that) and someone said that they were grabbed by people as they walked down the street in a district called Mandaluyong.
On the bright side, however, more than one person mentioned that they encountered “friendly” and “lovely humans” whilst they were there. And, one girl from Italy said that she felt safer in Manila than she does in her home country.
As always, it depends on the experience that you have whilst you are there, the people you meet and the choices you make of which neighbourhoods you visit. Every city has its dodgy parts and if you are from Manila, or are a backpacker who had a positive experience in Manila, I invite you to send in your story to us!
So, there you have it.
13 of your least favourite places in South East Asia. Do you agree or disagree? Of course, you disagree! That’s what being a traveller is all about! Now don’t listen to me, or to the people who posted in our Facebook survey, get out there and start making your own opinions!
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By Nikki Scott