The number 5 is pronounced “ha” in Thai, so 555 became the code for laughter in text messages and social media posts.
Great luck in some Asian cultures so most tuk tuk drivers would rather take a U.S. $2 bill than $5 in their own local currency. I know one guy who packs his luggage with about $4,000 in crisp $2 bills when he flies over here.
The number 8 is good luck in certain Asian cultures, so you’ll see bars, stores, or restaurants with that number on the signs.
The Thai word for foreigner, also used in Cambodia and other countries. Prices for goods and services are artificially inflated 50%-1,000% for Farangs. It’s also a word to describe a nice western-style establishment, like a Farang bar or mall or gym.
Up to you.
A favorite sales tactic is to say, “Up to you,” when negotiating with a tourist or traveler, putting the onus on them. Of course, if the tourist comes up with a ridiculous number (I usually start by offering $0, insulting everyone,) then they refuse and renegotiate, anyway, but usually the tourist ends up overpaying out of guilt.
Do you want to play Connect Four?
Do you want to get humiliated and lose 15 games in a row?
The Khmer word for thief.
The Thai word for strong.
Can mean maybe, no, not a chance in hell, or in very rare circumstances, yes.
I make special deal good price for you my friend.
You’re about to get ripped off.
From the moon.
If you ask someone where they’re from, they might say “From the moon,” if they’re feeling cheeky. If they’re feeling extra cheeky, they may say “From the sun,” or even, “From my momma.”
A pizza with marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms as a topping. These are common in in many places in Southeast Asia and operate right out in the open. There are no warning labels, explanations, or disclosures on the strength or even what’s making the pizza so happy. By the way, I don’t recommend ordering a happy pizza when you’re really hungry and wolfing down ¾ of it yourself and tripping for 36 hours straight. Not fun.
The Bamboo Pipeline.
This is the thick web of gossip and rumors that spreads to every inch of the country, at all times, particularly among ultra-jealous Asian women. The internet may not work, the government may be shut down for weeks, and you may be in a remote corner of the provinces, but the Bamboo Pipeline will report back who you were hanging out with and what you were doing with 100% accuracy. The Bamboo Pipeline could locate that Malaysian plane better than any black box!
The main form of taxis and transportation for travelers in SE Asia. Tuk tuks can take many forms, like jeepneys or motorcycle sidecars in the Philippines, to moto rickshaws with wooden benches and roofs. It’s usually only a couple bucks to get a tuk tuk ride all the way across town, but the prices go up steeply at night or the more you appear stranded.
In the Philippines, you add, “Po,” when addressing an elder, sometimes accompanied by taking their hand and placing it on your bowed forehead as a sign of respect.
You want shoot bazooka?
No, really – In Cambodia you can bazooka a cow for only $150. I keep asking if you can collect the scraps of meat to make hamburger, but no one gives me a straight answer.
The slang name for big brother or friend in Khmer.
Ting Tong/Lop Lop.
The term for crazy in Thai and Khmer, which is a scathing insult that’s thrown around at the top of your lungs to everyone around you when you’re out drinking. If someone is really crazy, they’re Ting Tong Mak Mak!
Wat Overload Syndrome.
The psychological aversion to old religious sites, developed after seeing 8,001 temples (Wats) in SE Asia.
The bus that local people take, which usually means small seats, no air conditioning, cigarette smoke, music or DVD’s blaring at ear-splitting volume, the smell of sweat and Durian fruit, vomiting babies, barking dogs, stopping every 10 feet to let someone on or off, and maybe a live chicken or 12.
The refugee camps. Southeast Asia has a modern history filled with displaced people due to wars, many of who lived for long periods of time or even grew up in the camps, especially along the Thai border.
I see you when you see me.
Who am I to argue with that logic?
A dice game played in many bars. Unlike Connect Four, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning at Jackpot because it’s all based on luck. However, the odds are still stacked against you because if you lose, you’ll be expected to buy drinks, but if you win…crickets.
You drink/eat this, you have happy wife!
For some strange reason, just about every local exotic food is rumored to be an aphrodisiac and good for the male member, usually highly recommended to you by the older generation. So as they put a shot of snake wine or fried scorpions in your hands, they’ll tell you, “Eat this and you have happy wife!”
Jaba is the slang term for a nasty form of methamphetamine, also called Ice, which, unfortunately, is very prevalent among young and poor people in SE Asia.
If a local girl calls you this, it means you’re a flirt or womanizer who flutters from girl to girl, not committing to one. Of course, there’s no such thing as a female butterfly!
If you’re a butterfly who moves fast and stays in town longer than a week, you might be called a helicopter.
Farang or western name.
As Asian people assimilate with the western world, whether through tourism or making friends, they need to translate their names to English. That’s almost impossible (and unpronounceable) for most tourists, so they usually just adopt a made up English name. You hear the most hilarious names, like, Happygirl, Lovelygirl, Ivy, Flower, Sugar, Apple, Chip Chip, Sweetie, Angel, Cheaty, Smart, Bossman, or the best names of all time, my friends Keep Calm and Keep Hope and her brother, Keep Going.
Southeast Asia is the epicenter for transsexuals, cross dressers, and “Third sex,” individuals. A lot of the lady boys just look like beautiful women and are indiscernible. Of course this creates a tempest of confusion and insanely awkward situations for the unsuspecting, drunk tourists. Before you get in a relationship with someone and get duped by a lady boy, it’s acceptable to ask,"Do you have a banana or a mango?” just to clarify.
Krup and Kaa.
The Thai language includes little added words when a man is talking, pronounced “Krup” and for a women, “Kaaa.” The use of this is so prevalent that you’ll hear a ‘kaaaa’ seemingly after every sentence, which is ridiculously charming.
This doesn’t mean you eat off the street, but on almost every corner little outdoor mobile restaurants pop up, especially at night. They’ll set up aluminum tables and small stools or chairs and start cooking from carts or even pots over wood fires right there on the street. In some places, like Vietnam, you get the most amazing food for only $1 or $2 and henceforth cease stepping foot into a restaurant again. The atmosphere is usually festive with strangers sharing tables and drinking cheap beer and eating well into the night and early mornings. Of course you have to be careful about sanitation and where and what you eat, but in Vietnam and Thailand, especially, the food is usually always clean and safe and AMAZING!
With so many Brits and Aussies traveling about, it’s inevitable that the traveler lexicon adopts some of their best. Holiday sounds so much nicer than vacation.
Another Brit adopted word. You’re not in line, you’re in que. Or, if you’re in Asia, you’re jumping into a mosh pit of disorder every time there should be a que.
You lie you die!
Accusing someone of lying is a full contact sport in SE Asia.
Jack and cock.
Jack and coke, pronounced with a SE Asian accent. I still don’t know if they say this on purpose to mess with us Farang or not.
Fuck you, only pronounced with a Vietnamese accent, which makes it sound so much nicer.
An overpriced meal consisting of eggs, sausage, mystery meat bacon, cooked tomatoes, and a soggy pile of baked beans.
The exact same thing, without the soggy pile of baked beans.
This fruit emits a horrible odor that’s alarmingly pungent. They say it smells like hell but tastes like heaven, so much so that there are warning signs prohibiting Durian fruit from elevators, hotels, and some buses. It has several names, one of which is a crude reference to an intimate part of the female anatomy. Let’s move on.
Amorous activities between two loving, healthy, monogamous and deeply committed adults.
Massage - G.
This is pronounced “Massage-G” for some reason, and can consist of a girl in a bar viscously elbowing you in the back for 11 minutes before asking for a tip, a great real massage for about $5 an hour, or a thinly-veiled advertisement the afore-mentioned Boom Boom.
Non-Governmental Organization. Many countries, like Cambodia and Laos, rely heavily on foreign aid as well as charitable organizations, or NGO’s. There are hundreds of them, employing thousands of foreigners and collecting millions of dollars. A couple of them might even help some local people from time to time!
In some SE Asian countries, you’re either from the big city or from the boonies, or the provinces, consisting of isolated rural rice farming communities. Even an hour outside of the main cities can look like a different world. People always talk about going back to the provinces to visit family or for holidays and festivities.
This common saying can mean that a woman will only grace a guy with her company if she’s compensated, might refer to the axiom that nothing is free in life, or is just a saying for douchey tourists to wear on their tank tops.
Same same but different.
This means exactly what it says, which at first may seem nonsensical. But if you were to climb the highest peak in Nepal and live alone in a cave for 10 years doing nothing but meditating and contemplating this phrase, you’d come out with a new enlightenment that this is the most profound thing ever said.
No chicken no curry.
Same same as “No money no honey.”
No Peso no say-so.
Same same as “No chicken no curry,” but in the Philippines.
An online medium used to hustle money from 5 unsuspecting Australian boyfriends at the same time.
A government-funded organization of men who all wear the same snappy uniform, collect bribes, extort money from motorists, beat up defenseless protestors, and sit idly by when a real crime is taking place right in front of them.
She’s my sister.
It could mean she’s a cousin, a biological sister, a half sister, someone she works with, a friend, or someone she just met. But probably not her biological sister.
It’s my birthday.
No, it’s probably not. In fact, a lot of older people in Southeast Asia don’t even know when their actual birth day is. That’s because of a traditional practice called Age Reckoning, where they consider themselves one year older after the New Year (around April in most countries,) not the actual day they were born. That way, the whole country turns one year older on the same day. Of course younger people recognize their actual birthday by western standards, too. Also, SE Asian people are born at 1 and turn 2 on their first birthday, while western people are born at 0 and turn 1. Interesting, huh?
Roasted and candied insects like beetles, roaches, and crickets, or barbecued snake or tarantula. Or, sometimes they serve you a really gross bowl of salted peanuts. Yuck!
Instead of “Oh my God,” they take out the western, Christian deity and insert their own head honcho.
I’m available but I’m not free.
If you ask a local if they are free to do something that day, they’ll remind you jokingly that they may be available, but they’re definitely not free!
I kill you!
This can either mean they love you deeply or that they actually want to kill you.
It could mean 2:45 pm, or maybe 4:10 pm, but probably some time that same day.
Southeast Asia is known for its incredibly spicy food, but there are two scales - Farang, or spicy for westerners, and then spicy for the locals. Making the distinction to your waiter could make the difference between a tasty meal and feeling like you just swallowed a flame thrower.
The Tagalog term for bullshit in the Philippines.
Putting on real shorts (not swim shorts,) and a t-shirt instead of a tank top. But flip-flops are still perfectly ok.