How Asia Spoiled me for Europe

I first travelled to Europe when I was 16. I went on a student exchange program  in high school and lived in Lyon, France for three months. It was a wonderful experience and I got to visit London and a few different cities in Italy on school vacations with my exchange family. I’ve done a lot of travelling since then; another exchange in the Caribbean, backpacking in South America, have lived in Korea for a couple years, and various travels around Asia around that time.

I am now back in Europe and my expectations and nostalgia from my first trip have so far let me down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely enjoying myself and having a good time. There are just things that I hoped, and well, expected, that Europe simply didn’t meet. I attribute this to the fact that I’ve spent more time in Asia and my experiences there have changed my views on the world, and frankly, spoiled me for Europe.

I’m sure many people will disagree with me, and everyone’s experiences will have been different, but here’s how Asia spoiled me for Europe.

Note: When I’m referring to Europe I am referring to countries I’ve visited in Western Europe. Check out my Destinations page to see where I’ve been in Asia & Europe.

People

Met friends from all over the world in Korea. People Canada, US, Philippines, Korea, South Africa & Poland all in one picture ๐Ÿ™‚

When travelling in Asia, I have met some of the nicest people. Whether it be locals, shop owners, students, or fellow expats & travellers, everyone was just friendly and welcoming. Firstly, there’s no expectation of language. In Europe, likely due to my looks, it has been assumed that I know how to speak French, Spanish, English, Italian, or whatever it may be and when it turns out I don’t – it’s an immediate negative about me. Even when I try to speak the language (which I have with French and Spanish), the response is often in English as they either want to practice their English or don’t want to bother with my attempt at their language – even though I’m trying. Yes, typically their English is better than whatever I’m trying to do, but still, give me a chance here. In Asia, particularly Korea, people were always ecstatic when I spoke even remedial Korean to them. I got okay at reading it and could order some food and drinks and say basic phrases – and though I’m sure my accent was terrible and grammar was off – they still tried speaking with me in Korean and respected my efforts. Even in Thailand, just saying hello in their language was taken well.

It is likely that I can relate to Europeans more. Our culture and background and general ‘comforts of home’ are certainly more similar to what I’ve experienced in Asia. And I’ve met some fantastic people in Europe. I have found, however, that in Asia people simply take more interest in you. There are some days that I found this kind of irritating. People stopping you on the street asking about your life and straight up asking if we can be friends (a little blunt if you ask me). But even in more casual and ‘normal’ circumstances strangers in Asia just seem genuinely more interested in you than their European counterparts.

This, however, was the complete opposite if those strangers happened to be beggars. Hardly anyone approached me in Asia and even in more developing countries they were quieter and simply sitting with a sign, or a cup, or something of the sort, and not being very pushy about it. On my first day of this trip in Paris, I was approached by two different beggars. I was first asked in French (of course) and when I responded that I didn’t speak French (hoping to be left alone) he proceeded to ask me in English. At this time I was attempting to buy my ticket at one of the machines, not 100% sure where I was going and a little flustered at the train station trying to get my bearings. Even after saying no he continued on for a solid 2 minutes before I had to just walk away after I (finally) figured out what ticket I needed. I feel it is more of a sense of shame in many Asian countries as many beggars I saw had their heads down and are in a sort of praying looking position. A stark contrast to the people I was approached by in France.

When visiting these countries, many of the Asian countries have been through some rough times recently. Of course, so has a lot of European ones. However, there is a sense of optimism I feel from the smiling faces I see on those in places in Cambodia and the Philippines. Something I didn’t see from those in similar circumstances around Europe.

Cost

This was the most apparent when comparing the two travel experiences. Obviously, the currency in Europe (euro) is stronger than that of most Asian currencies. I was aware of this, I expected this. BUT OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS SO EXPENSIVE HERE! What do you mean this one dinner is 30 euro? That’s like an entire days worth of expenses in the Philippines – 2 if I’m being careful with my budget.And the taxis? Don’t even get me started on the taxis!

And the taxis? Don’t even get me started on the taxis!

The same money that you bring to Europe for a month could last you several months in South East Asia.

I can find a hostel in Thailand – in central Bangkok even – for 400 Baht (~11 USD) per night. Decent, clean, and air conditioned. Nothing fancy, but fine. Finding a hostel in Western Europe for less than 15 euro (~16USD) per night is extremely difficult. 20 euro maybe, but they’re still few and far between. Particularly if you want to be central and in a major city.

According to the Backpacker Index for 2017, you can travel in Southeast Asia from $17-$29 USD per day in it’s 20 cheapest cities. These cities are in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, India, China, Cambodia, and more. This same index shows the 20 cheapest cities in Europe being almost entirely Eastern European cities. As I so far only have experience with Western Europe, and that is the region I’m referring to in the rest of the article, I’ll only use cities from that region. The index mentions cities in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Germany and more with the cheapest in Western Europe being $44USD per day! And going all the way up to $124USD as a recommended daily budget.

Food

Nobody is going to say the food in Europe or the food is Asia is bad. That is far too of a general statement and all up to personal taste. What I will say about it, however, is I have found a lot of food in Asia (especially Thailand and Laos) to be excellent regardless of whether it came from a street vendor or a higher end restaurant. I can’t say the same for Europe. I have yet to see a street vendor and bus station sandwiches just don’t do it for me.

The prices of food when travelling in Asia also can’t be beat. Particularly when eating out. Grocery stores in Europe are quite reasonable, but some cafes, restaurants, and particularly bus/train stations and airports are practically extortion.

The convenience I found in Asia I have yet to find in Europe.  I could stroll around Hong Kong at 2 am and find restaurants open. Be on an island in the Philippines and still find a place to eat regardless of the hour. In France (Carcassonne specifically), I have tried to find a place to get lunch at 2 pm on a Tuesday, go into three different restaurants just to be told that their kitchen is closed. Despite their restaurants being technically open. Thank goodness for Kebab shops!

Coffee however in Europe has been much better than my experiences in Asia though. You win with that one Europe. And cheese. Big time.

Technology

Packing for Korea

This was one of my biggest frustrations coming from Asia to Europe. As much of Western Europe is considered ‘first world,’ or ‘developed,’ you’d think they wouldn’t be so behind in this department. I’m sure I was very spoiled coming from Seoul – one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world – but to have visited so many major cities in Europe and not be able to get decent wifi? Come on. 

I didn’t even expect them to have free city wifi like many parts in Seoul does. But the amount of Cafes (minus Starbucks of course), shopping centres, and restaurants without it was mind boggling to me. Also, a 5-hour train ride without wifi is just cruel.

Even in so-called third world countries like Thailand and Cambodia, I was able to walk into a restaurant and have a Skype call while eating lunch without any issues. It also just felt so much more acceptable there. Even with just working on my laptop there are many restaurants/cafes where it just seems out of place to be doing work there (again, an exception being Starbucks).

If you’re not trying to get any work done and just in either of these places for a couple of weeks, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But when you’re travelling long term or working remotely, connectivity matters.

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Ease of Travel

Asia is one of the easiest regions I’ve ever gotten around. Loads of budget airlines, railways and buses to get around on. Even for shorter distances, taxis are reasonable and they’re not your only option. You can hop onto a motorbike taxi or a tuk-tuk to get around within the city.

Europe as a budget airline, Ryan Air, but it’s essentially your only option for cheap air travel in Europe. The rail passes aren’t much cheaper than buying the seats individually and if you want cheaper prices you have to book VERY far in advances. Buses aren’t terrible but still madness in comparison.

Also, like I’ve said above, I’ve had better luck getting wifi in Korea, Thailand, and Laos public transit than I have anywhere in Europe so far. Ireland has been the best for it, France, you’ve disappointed me in this area.

History & Culture

The history and culture of both regions is rich and diverse. I simply found that what I experienced in Asia to be more interesting. From ancient civilizations like Angkor Wat in Cambodia to sprawling temples like Wat Pho in Bangkok there seems to be much more to see and explore. They’re colourful and exciting and like little cities that take you back in time.

From what I’ve seen in Europe so far, there’s a lot of castles and big churches. I love castles and big churches. But after a while its a lot of grey rocks with funky stained glass.

Sure, you could say the same with temples in Asia. A temple is a temple is a temple. I just personally find them more interesting. The colours, the statues, the giant buddhas where you need to complete a hike up a mountain to see.

Final Thoughts

Neither one is better than the other. Honestly, they are too different really to compare. Europe is amazing and I can’t wait to explore more of it. Asia is fantastic and I need to go back and see more. My point is, if you’re going to be backpacking and are trying to make a choice, consider your personal circumstance. What must you see and do? What is your budget like? What kind of language abilities do you have?

If you have options, I would suggest doing Europe first. I believe Asia spoils you. You can get used to a certain price point and convenience that you find in Asia that I simply haven’t found in Western Europe. There are too many fantastic things in Europe to see and do to let this happen. I have so much more to explore here and I can’t wait to visit as much as I can while I’m here. Travelling in Asia has set for certain expectations that I’m trying to shake. Do Europe first. Don’t allow any preconceived notions to what travelling or backpacking should be possibly taint your experience. Enjoy all of it.

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By | 2017-04-12T21:14:17+00:00 February 17th, 2017|Asia, Europe, Living Abroad, Travel, Work Remotely|28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Alex February 18, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    I agree with you on this, though perhaps for different reasons. My thing is that Asia is simply much more *exciting*, especially for Western travelers. Things are more foreign, chaotic, bizarre, colorful, you name it. Whether you’re rolling through flashy nighttime Seoul, or dodging cars on the grimy streets of India, Asia is just so much more engaging. Europe, on the other hand, is organized. Predictable. And often too similar to our own culture to really feel like you’ve truly moved to a new place.

    … but, I’m totally biased and completely in love with Asia ๐Ÿ˜‰ Regardless, good on you for speaking your mind, though it might upset a few.

    • Ashley March 5, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      I thought it would upset some people, but it seems most commenters tend to agree. Perhaps not with all of it, but the general sentiment nonetheless. I’ve been exploring Europe more and more since I’m currently here, and I LOVE it, but I still stand by this post – and certainly by your point that Asia seems more exciting for Western travellers.

  2. Paula - Gone with the Wine February 21, 2017 at 1:42 am - Reply

    I agree with you on your final thought… there is no winner here since the places are simply so different. The things that we will most like on our trips will depend on what we are looking for on our travels, and what are our expectations. I sometimes find that I didnยดt get everything out of trip just because my expectations were simply too high. One thing that helps on that… never return to the same place.. ha ha! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ashley February 21, 2017 at 1:57 am - Reply

      Absolutely true – which is what led me to my tip of doing Europe first. If you otherwise don’t have specific plans/bucket list things to do. Although the more explore Europe I’m finding I may end up disagreeing with myself – Currently in Barcelona and it’s awesome! But hey, keep living and learning right?

  3. Sandy February 21, 2017 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Hey Ashley, this was an interesting read! It’s funny because I decided to travel around Europe first, and I’ve always been leaving Asia til last because of the fear of falling in love with it and then comparing it to the rest of the world. Sounds crazy right? haha

  4. Bhushavali February 21, 2017 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Hahaha!!! I kinda have to agree.. When I came back to India from my European stay, I was often bombarded by questions of how fabulous Europe was. Factor 1, earning in INR and spending in GBP or Euro, is just painful!!! Factor 1, being an heritage enthusiast from India where my cutoff for historical things stops at 16th C (yup, I don’t consider any art/architecture after 16th C as historical. I’m spoilt by Indian history that has too much to offer since 2000 BCE!), seeing ‘historical’ buildings in Europe & UK that’s hardly 200 years old, was really amusing for me!!!!

    • Ashley February 22, 2017 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Hahha I’m not enough of a history buff for that. I love the architecture in Europe. I have yet to go to India though! Definitely on my list. And I feel ya on the prices. GBP is nearly double the Canadian dollar, I’m not sure about INR but it’s painful nonetheless!

  5. John February 21, 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Interesting comparisons. I want to visit both Asia and Europe someday. I can definitely see how Asia could spoil you given everything I’ve read. Can’t wait to experience it for myself though ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ashley February 26, 2017 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      I’m sure you’ll love it!

  6. Melissa February 22, 2017 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Yeah chalk and cheese. Western Europe and Aisa how can you compare. I am from Europe and have lived in Asia. You are right about the cost and about the internet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everyone assumes that technology would be better in the west and its not the case! My internet was down for 3 weeks 10 miles up the road there is no broadband! And that is the same for most of Europe really wacko. I thought I would struggle in Aisa but nope I didnt. In Asia things are open 24/7 but that is not neccessarily a good thing because there is a lack of family time and a big push on overworking. Either way I love both locations

    • Ashley February 22, 2017 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Right?! Like when you think what is often described as developed or undeveloped there are so many ways that Western Europe (and other western countries – I’m looking at you Canada) are so far behind in technology!

  7. Natalia February 22, 2017 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    I have never been to Asia, and maybe its exactly for this reason. I love Asian food, and have read so much about the culture, but not been able to make it that way. Look forward to exploring vicariously as well.

  8. Juliette | Snorkels to Snow February 22, 2017 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    Such an interesting perspective. I think living in Fiji will spoil other places for us – just because we have had the chance to understand and experiennce this culture and the non-touristy side of an otherwise massive tourist destination. Plus the people are SO friendly – we go to other places and are all happy and greeting everyone with a big smile like they do in Fiji, and our greeting gets met with silence and a death stare elsewhere ha ha!

    • Ashley February 23, 2017 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      I hate when people just stare at me awkwardly when I smile at them.

  9. Jan Limark Valdez February 23, 2017 at 1:49 am - Reply

    Proud Asian here. I specifically live in the Philippines. It’s true that your 1 day-budget in Europe can last couple of days here in the Philippines but I can say that quality will be almost just the same especially when it comes to food <3

    All the Best,
    Jan Limark | Brotherly Creative

    • Ashley February 23, 2017 at 7:25 pm - Reply

      Loved the Philippines! I’ve only been to Boracay but would love to check out Cebu and Palawan among other islands at some point

  10. Anja / Womanhattan February 23, 2017 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    I live in Europe and OMG everything you said (especially the part about prices) is so true. Never been to Asia, but I hope I will soon.

    • Ashley February 23, 2017 at 7:23 pm - Reply

      Definitely go if you have the chance! So worth it!

  11. Wanderlust Vegans February 23, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    We haven’t travelled to Asia yet but maybe it’s good we explored Europe first. It sounds like there is a lot of positives travelling Asia compared to Europe. We definitely enjoyed Europe but I understand where you are coming from.

    • Ashley February 23, 2017 at 7:24 pm - Reply

      They’re totally different but I think you’ll like doing Asia second when/if you do! Everything that was good anyways will just seem even better!

  12. Only By Land February 24, 2017 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    That’s a lot of nationalities in one picture, the UN would be very impressed. You have interesting views on Europe and comparisons to Asia. After visiting nearly all countries in Europe and Asia I prefer Europe!

    • Ashley February 24, 2017 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      Hahha! Maybe I’ll send it to them :p there’s certainly individual countries in Europe I prefer over ones in Asia, but as a whole, so far anyways, it’s Asia for me. But hey, to each their own ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. michelle d February 26, 2017 at 2:01 am - Reply

    wow I traveled around western europe and actually loved it, but now after reading this post, i feel like i could LOVE asia!!! I thought Europe was cheap and easy to travel compared the states but Asia is looking real good ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Ashley February 26, 2017 at 10:15 am - Reply

      Hahha oh if I started to compare it to prices in North America or ease of transit (I’m from Canada) that would be a whole other story! I feel like I’m always driving when I’m home as other ways to get around either don’t exist or are crazy expensive!

  14. Claire February 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Ashley… I’ve found that you’re comparing two vastly different regions and therefore, things like cost is almost a pointless comparison. Of course, European cities cost more – and it could be said that the higher the cost of living, perhaps the better quality of life…. Having been travelling to Asia extensively since 2010, I would say that actually costs on the whole have inflated hugely as each nation’s tourism industry flourishes. I adore Asia so much but have been shocked at how much more it has developed every time I visit..

    Lastly, I took a guess you were from North America as you have broadly categorised the two continents, yet each continent has such huge differences. I know you’ve highlighted that you mean Western Europe but really it’s incredibly different country to country and I feel a lot of your comparisons are against France. Having lived there also, I hate the city as do many other Europeans. On the basis of your comparisons, I would say you would perhaps not enjoy Australia which is ridiculously expensive and very bland compared to the colourful temples of Asia. In London, you can get free wifi all over the place, food at 2am in many places and possibly some of the biggest variety of cuisines anywhere in the world.

    Also, I studied International Development at uni too, and I was surprised at your use of the term ‘third-world’. In this day, there is a growing understanding that that implies there is a ‘first-world’, the one that we live in and therefore we position ourselves as superior to those in a ‘third-world’ nation. It implies that the whole concept and practice of development is a reflection of Western hegemony over the rest of the world.

    However, I love the passion you have for Asia, it also is my favourite continent. I just can’t make any real comparisons to other regions of the world as each is just so different and I visit each looking for very different experiences.

    • Ashley February 26, 2017 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      Many of my comparisons were about France, perhaps because at time of writing thats where I was. But I felt the same way about many other European countries. I also don’t hate France, I loved Lyon and find many of their cities like Nice and even smaller ones quite nice. Today, in Valencia, almost nothing was open. Likely because it was a Sunday, but still, Sundays weren’t an issue in many of the places I was in Asia. London absolutely has a variety of food, but when it comes to typical English cuisine, I prefer other food (even other European food – Italian anyone?!). As I do try to eat as locally or ‘typically’ as possible in the countries I’m in. I agree that cost is an unfair comparison, but one that is the most apparent and noticeable that people can relate to, so I thought it relevant to include.

      I’ve never been to Australia but would love to. I feel like it’d be a completely different experience that what I’ve had previously.

      Also, I intentionally put “so-called” in front of my use of “third-world” for exactly the reason you’re describing. As it is a term that people still use despite the inherent superiority in it. I used it to highlight the fact that many parts of Asia are described as “third-world” despite having some qualities that, I personally anyways, found greater than their “first-world” counterparts.

  15. Bruce Schinkel February 26, 2017 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed this comparison; thanks for your unique perspective! Some of what you said was expected (like cost differences), but some was new to me and surprisingly refreshing.

    • Ashley February 26, 2017 at 9:35 pm - Reply

      Glad you liked it!

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