Let’s be honest. When it comes to picking a spot to go on vacation, Pakistan is not normally a number one choice, and neither are most of the South Asian countries. But let me tell you, through experience, I’ve learned that there are many beautiful and unique attributes to these countries.
I’ve visited Pakistan three times now, and although I was born there, the country is foreign land to my body, which is used to the cold and clean climate of Canada. I want to say my experiences there are all pleasant and wonderful, but that would be lying.
I’ve decided to compose a list of all the things you should expect, and beware of, when visiting South Asia. You could say it’s a list of all the things I wish I knew when I first visited.
1. Health Issues Okay, I’m just going to start off with the most unpleasant subjects. You will 99% of the time encounter some sort of stomach problem…. 100% if you decide to eat the delicious and tempting street food. Whether that be in the form of the stomach flue, diarrhea, nausea, it does not matter, it will happen to you at some point. I have experienced this 3/3 times, so trust me when I say it is inevitable. If you have a weak stomach, I strongly advise you to pick only the top restaurants when going out for food. High quality looking restaurants, hotel restaurants, etc. Try to avoid eating lots of meat. Also do not, and I mean do not at all, under any circumstances drink the tap water. BOTTLE WATER ONLY PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. The water there has bacteria content that is far beyond what most western people can handle. Although it is safe for the people living there to drink the water, it is not safe for us. So please, don’t make this beginner mistake. When it comes to bathing, not everyone has a proper shower head. Depending on where you are staying, you might have to take the traditional bucket and pail bath (which is basically filling a bucket with water and then using a pail to grab water from the bucket and pour it over yourself numerous times…. not very effective). So be prepared to deal with that. Toilets. More like upgraded holes in the ground. Yes, you get to be taken back in time to when people used to squat over a hole when it came to using the washroom. Practice your squats before your trip, it will come in handy.
2. Traffic Driving in the streets of Pakistan was to me, the equivalent of playing Russian roulette. It is scary. There seems to be absolutely no rules, no real distinction between lanes, people just park wherever, swerve wherever, do whatever. Yet I have never gotten into any accidents. Even if you think that truck heading towards you is definitely going to hit you, it probably won’t, because Pakistani drivers are in a way horribly amazing. They don’t really follow any rules, but they can avoid other cars with the accuracy of dodging bullets. Still scary nonetheless.
Oh and rickshaws.. let me just throw in a word about those. I know they look like a joyride, I know you want to get in one just to see what they are like, but be careful. Riding in a rickshaw is like getting on a bull. It’s bumpy, painful, and you feel like you’re about to fly off. Did I mention Pakistanis fit people into cars like it’s a game of Tetris? Yes, I was once in a minivan with 14 people… it was only meant for 8 people.
3. Villages If you are staying in some sort of village area, or farm area…may god have mercy on you. Haha ok I’m joking… kind of. Most rural areas in South Asian countries can be defined in three words to me, “Manure”, “Flies”, and “Animals”. All I can remember from the villages I’ve stayed in was that they smelled like manure, there were flies everywhere and I honestly could not sleep at night knowing that 100 of them were sleeping with me. Not to mention there were stray dogs everywhere and I am not exactly fond of dogs considering the bad experiences I’ve had with them.
4. People Issues Staring. Everyone stares at everyone else, I honestly do not understand it. It feels like you are being watched by the whole country. Don’t be alarmed though, this is a common thing. It’s kind of creepy, but common. If you are distinctly not from the area, for example you have blonde hair, this problem only intensifies. From what I’ve learned, try to dress in appropriate clothing with a head scarf on, to be respectful and to also keep from being the centre of bad attention. If you really want to be on the safe side, change into a shalwar kameez (typical Pakistani clothing) before entering the Pakistan airport (or whatever south asian country you are visiting). Story time: last time I went to Pakistan I was wearing a complete white girl Canadian outfit and as soon as I stepped outside the airport, all the people waiting for their families were staring me down like I was a piece of meat. Never making that mistake again. Ever.
5. Beggars You will at some point run into beggars. I classify beggars into three different categories, and being able to distinguish between them will help you determine who to give your money to. 1. The truly needy – Beggars who actually need the money. You can tell by their appearance, clothes with rips and tears that look like they haven’t been washed in weeks, lack of grooming and sometimes disabilities like a missing arm or leg. These are the people you should give money to. They need it the most. 2. The kind of needy – Beggars who seem to be collecting money for their groups, and do it in mischievous ways. They go car to car on the streets asking for money and telling you that if you don’t give them money, ‘God will punish you, he is watching, he knows’. They often try to guilt you into giving money, like ‘My baby, I have a baby, she needs it’. And many times I’ve seen these beggars carrying what looks like a baby wrapped in a blanket, when really there is no baby inside.I would say give them money with caution, but learn how to say no sometimes. Once you say yes to one, the rest of them come to you. It’s like feeding a pigeon, it does not stop at just one once the rest of them see. 3. The totally not needy – These beggars have some fancy shmancy looking clothes on, make-up did, nails did, hair did, and usually these are the transsexuals… one time I gave money to one of these, and two minutes later I saw them at a sunglasses stand purchasing a new pair of shades… *face palm*
Well that’s all I have for my oh so professional travel advice. Now don’t feel like I’ve completely shunned my own country and all of South Asia, because I will be making a ‘the positives’ post very soon. Know anything that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments! Stay Safe.
Credits: Rida Jaffar