48 Hours in any Southeast Asian city, other than the one you (an expat) live in….

Connla Stokes
7 min readSep 1, 2022

~ An insider’s guide to a male expatriate’s conscious and subconscious thoughts as he explores [insert the name of any Southeast Asian city that you don’t live in but might visit] ~

12pm: I’m buzzing to be here in [insert name of city the expat is visiting]. I don’t even mind that the taxi driver is speeding. Why he’ll only get me into town more quickly! I’m going to tip this fine fellow.

2pm: Oh man, I’m loving the look of these buildings (whatever era they are) and the look of the people (whomever they are). There’s just something about this place. The sights, sounds, smells. Hmmm, well, maybe not that smell.

2.45pm: I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly I like so much about this place…

Yes, thanks, I will have a beer.

Four minutes later: Oh that did go down fast. Yes, please. One more.

30 seconds later: God, I am happy.

3.45pm: I’ve just had some amazing street food dish, and now I am wondering why did I ever stop eating street food back in [insert name of city expat lives in]? Damn that dish (whatever it was) was good — and like, compared to the cost of my highly gentrified tastes back in [insert name of city the expat lives in] ridiculously cheap.

Moments later: You know, I could probably come here for a short trip and save money!! Why don’t I do that? Just come here all the time?

4.45pm: Well, I’ve been trading banter with pretty much every local I’ve brushed shoulders with — even if they don’t seem keen to have a conversation with me, and even if they have a job to do… — and I’ve told them all that I live in [insert name of city that the expat lives in] because they need to know that. I’m not like all these other tourists, you see…

5.15pm: Funny thing. Even the bad service here has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. Ah, you know it takes me back… it’s almost as if walking around all wide-eyed and open-minded and tipsy reminds me of the time I was first walking around [insert name of city the expat lives in] and so immeasurably happy that grumpy locals as well as noise pollution, constant heat, etc etc, were all part the charming tapestry …

5.35pm: Yes to beer.

6.25pm: Hey person-who-is-sober-and-serving-me-beer, did I tell you that I live in [Insert name of city the expat is living in]? I really need you to know that … because, that means I am not like all those other tourists. That’s right. It’s my way of saying: “Don’t worry [Taps nose, tips wink, nods head] — I get Southeast Asia… ”

6.45pm: [After making a lot of comparisons about where the expat lives and where the expat is right now to someone who isn’t all that interested] Oh, you haven’t been to [Insert name of city the expat is living in]? Oh you should go there, even though I just spent 20 minutes criticising the place.

7pm: Even the foot massages here are better…

7.45pm: [Insert name of city the expat is visiting]… you make me want to be a better expat! I’m smiling, the way I used to smile when I first moved to [name of city where the expat lives]. I don’t even care that I’m drenched in my own sweat. I am intoxicated! I mean literally. I am drunk.

7.55pm: Buying a colourful shirt, even if I have a nagging suspicion that I might never wear it again as long as I live.

9.55pm: Just chatted with an actual backpacker, LOL. And you know what? He was alright. I schooled him a bit on the ‘reality’ of the [name of city where expat lives]. But nice to be reminded that backpackers are human beings. Just badly dressed ones.

11.30pm: Jesus, even the house Filipino band here is great. And you’re great — what did you say your name was? Olaf! Yes you’re great Olaf and … you .. Olaf’s girlfriend … what’s your name, and what’s Norwegian for “let’s get the hell out of here when Olaf isn’t looking?”

No idea o’clock: What a night! I walked all the way back to the hotel. I’m tired. But good tired. Holy crap, I have 17 new Tinder matches — I mean they are probably mostly fake profiles peddling cryptocurrency scams, but still. What a town!

6.30am: Pity about all the noises outside the bedroom that I am not used to. It’s not a great start to day two, but I’m still on a high.

8.30am: This coffee isn’t as good as my favourite coffee in [insert name of city the expat live in] — it’s almost like I haven’t figured out where the best cafes are in a town I am unfamiliar with…

10.30am: Another home run with the street food — holy crap!! We’re back on track.

11am: Just read three and a half paragraphs about the history of [insert name of city the expat is visiting] on a restaurant’s website, and I am now feeling like quite the expert on this place, let me tell you…

12.30 to 2pm: Another delicious bowl of something. Another beer. Cool locals chatting politely to me, and sure, maybe they feel obligated to as it’s their job, but I think they get me, you know?

2.30pm: There are for sale and for rent signs everywhere. Maybe I should just move here…. forever.

3pm: This young woman who just served me coffee, oh man, she’s so cute. I am going to sit here all day and I know fools rush in but I’m pretty sure we’re perfect for each other. I don’t even care she insists on calling herself Penelope.

5pm: You know, I really could live here. None of the things that annoy me or that I am sick of in [name of city where expat lives] affect me here. It’s like a magic spell has been cast over me. I imagine it’d be that way forever, even if I moved here…

5pm: Testing the waters with Penelope by telling her I would happily live here in [insert name of city the expat is visiting]. She seems open to the idea. At least she didn’t say it’s a bad idea. Ergo she is possibly falling for me.

6.30pm: [Three beers deep into happy hour, leaning across the bar to accost three locals] Actually I live in [insert name of city the expat live in] which means I’m basically Southeast Asian, too, so don’t worry, we can have a proper conversation… I’ve read a lot about the history of your city. Yes. Quite the expert.

7.30pm: Now I am on a date with Penelope (well maybe it’s not a date. She’s just agreed to have a bowl of noodles with me right next door to her cafe) I realise her English isn’t great. She seems a bit naive and less worldly, if judged entirely on her ability to speak my language. I’m beginning to get cold feet about our future together. To be honest I don’t think we have anything in common, other than us both being on this awkward date.

9pm: Penelope said she has to go to a family event. I tell her I’m not ready to meet her parents. She smiles nervously. Probably didn’t get the joke because she doesn’t speak great English. I think we’re through. But, we’ll always have [insert name of city the expat is visiting].

10pm: Hard to find a decent bar here, to be honest.

11pm: Honestly, I’m willing to drink with anyone but in this cocktail place the locals are all having fun at their own tables or staring at their phones, and the expats are either obnoxious or aloof and/ or overly protective of their very attractive local girlfriends.

11.15pm: If I moved here that expat’s smoking hot girlfriend would be presented with a once-in-a-life opportunity to realise the error of her ways and be my girlfriend instead….

11.30pm: Just been chatting to one expat briefly. I think he mistook me for a backpacker so I explained, so as to clear up this misunderstanding, I’m actually an expat, too — just one who lives in [insert name of city where the expat lives]. He doesn’t seem keen on [insert name of city where the expat lives], said its okay for a weekend. Pfft. Well, okay. It’s not for everyone. Especially not a tosser like you.

1am: I am tired. But, like, proper tired. I just found Penelope on Facebook and sent her a message, which is more of an invitation. Now she thinks all I wanted to do was hook up, which right now is fairly accurate. I try to rally and suggest I want to be a friend and she could come and visit me in [insert name of city where the expat lives]. Jesus, I hope she doesn’t take me up on that — I mean imagine having to show someone around like a tour guide…

10.30am: To be honest, I’m happy to be flying back to [insert name of city where the expat lives] today. [Insert name of city the expat is visiting] is just not for me. It’s too noisy. It’s too hot to walk around. I mean, it’s fine for a weekend. But I could never live here. To be honest, I feel a bit sorry for the expats that do. Actually scratch that. They’re all tossers.

12pm: This taxi driver is going way too fast. Definitely not getting a tip.