The mere mention of a holiday in South East Asia gets you dreaming. It conjures up images of pristine, palm-fringed beaches kissed by golden sun and carefree tourists checking in their stressful life back home as they sample the good life away from it all. Although it is not as cheap to visit as it used to be, with the growing tourism trade contributing to higher prices, it is still a popular exotic destination.

More and more of us are visiting South East Asia in pursuit of this dream – this part of the world is the fastest growing tourist destination in terms of contribution to total GDP. Will we find our dream break or is the reality sometimes radically different to our expectations?

Here are five ways South East Asia can challenge your aspirations.

1. The chill factor

There are many places in South East Asia that are not as chilled out as our fantasies suggest. From touts to sellers to taxi drivers most resorts have an endless stream of people offering you things you probably don’t want.

Cities like Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam can actually feel overwhelmingly hectic. And the incidence of crime here means vigilance rather than nonchalance is your best posture, with pick pocketing and petty thefts being the most widely reported crime.

2. Unspoilt paradises

The dream of getting away from it all in your own private bubble can quickly pop. In resorts like Kuta in Bali the impact of tourism leaves rubbish that drifts out to sea, only to be washed in again with the tide.

The endemic sex tourism in Thailand and Cambodia can also puncture our innocent image. It’s harder and harder to actually get away from it all. Once quiet beaches – like Chaweng on Koh Samui in Thailand – are now serenaded by trucks with loudspeakers blasting out advertising. And once remote, picturesque villages – like Vang Vieng in Laos – have been colonised by the party crowd.

3. Eternal sunshine

As the recent flooding in Bangkok reminded us, South East Asia is certainly not all about sun. During the rainy season each year, the torrential downpours can make a very damp squib of those plans for a sun-baked holiday. Monsoon season in Southeast Asia occurs between July – October, and although dangerous, it’s actually quite a good time to travel, as tourist numbers are lower.
2013 was a year of heavy rains for Cambodia, with torrential downpours from the third week of September, which caused flash floods in at least 10 provinces. In total 374,000 people were affected and 30 people lost their lives as a result of the floods.

4. Tasting heaven

Sampling street food and savouring the complex spices of South East Asian dishes are indeed a delight. However many traveller’s stomach suffer more than the dreadful taste of durian (a spiny oval tropical fruit with a pungent smell) during their stay. Severe diarrhoea and sickness are commonplace thanks to the lack of proper sewage and water filtration. It’s truly hard to chill when you’re dashing for the toilet!

5. Exotic animals

You might be looking forward to witnessing some of South East Asia’s exotic wildlife, but you’ll encounter more than just elephants and geckos. Monitor lizards may be a lot bigger than you expected, ranging from 12 – 310cm!

‘An ounce of prevention’

กัน-ดี-กฺว่า-แก้ (kan di kwa kae)
(Thai saying meaning an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure)
If you want your expectations to fully align with reality when visiting South East Asia, be sure to prepare and research into what South East Asia is really like. This will help you choose the timing and destination of your holiday more carefully, and prepare you for the exciting and beautiful reality so you can really enjoy the dream.