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Bluffer's guide to Asia: How to pretend you've been there

By Barry Neild, CNNGo
No one needs to know you Photoshopped yourself in.
No one needs to know you Photoshopped yourself in.
  • Learn how to fake that you're traveled through Asia
  • Be careful with your claims about heavily visited destinations
  • Don't forget to describe the "food that almost killed you"
  • Asia
  • Culture and Lifestyle
  • India

(CNNGo) -- The dodgy street food left you shivering like a scolded hound. The festival outside your hotel window turned into gunfight. There's an unsettling smell coming from your bag. Last night a hippy called "Skank" tore the visa page from your passport to roll a suspicious cigarette.

And now cockroaches are crawling away with your iPod.

Traveling in Asia can sometimes be a chore.

Sure, you'll meet new people and visit exciting places, but unless you've got a five-star budget, a first-class ticket and someone else to carry your own bodyweight in Stieg Larsson novels, there are bound to be days you wished you'd stayed home.

Now, thanks to our country-by-country Bluffer's Guide, you can stay home.

By simply consulting our handy list of tips, anecdotes and outright fabrications, you too can claim to have "done" Asia's sights, sounds and tastes without all the hassle of airfares, hotel rooms and gastroenterology.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, East Timor, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan. Backpackers do visit these places, but rarely.

And since we're not planning to travel anywhere, it's best to cling to a bit of credibility -- so let's avoid claims of bungee jumping in Bamiyan, pub crawls in Pyongyang, thumbing for lifts in Thimpu or snorkeling in the lake outside Aung San Suu Kyi's house.

Obviously they're on your list, but you're saving them for next year. 10 ways to look like a local in Asia


As all good travelers know, wherever you go things were much better a couple of years ago.

Such is the case with Cambodia, where the beautiful ruins of Angkor Wat, once overrun by vegetation, are now overrun by tourists.

This is a perfect opportunity to slip in an anecdote about stumbling across a previously undiscovered temple while hiking near the Thai border -- it does happen, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

Perhaps you also bumped into Angelina Jolie. Perhaps she adopted you.

The food that almost killed you: The "happy" mushroom pizza in a Phnom Penh backpacker's cafe. Were those paranoid hallucinations or does everyone hate you? Both, probably.

The "local" you hung out with: Bandana-wearing American Wild Jeff was great company until he pulled out a gun and started crying. Maybe it was the pizza.


A vast nation of industry, agriculture, history and modernity peopled by dozens of distinct ethnic groups, China could take a lifetime to explore -- so better not to try.

Easier to claim to have sailed the Yangtze River (breathtaking); explored the karst scenery of Guilin and Yangshuo (breathtaking) and the cloistered world of Beijing's Forbidden City (breathtaking, but partly due to pollution).

Then on to Shanghai for a night of lavish cocktails at a bar so ultra-hip it closed down the night it opened.

The attraction you loved: Beijing's Silk Market. Full of cheap fakes -- a bit like you.

The food that almost killed you: Sichuan la zi ji chicken with chilies. Like someone lobbed a firecracker in your mouth -- be careful with this one, it might give people ideas.


The good people of India have for generations been tolerating the deluded spiritual fantasies of backpackers bent on "finding themselves," or exploring the "real India" on a well-trodden circuit of yoga retreats, beach resorts and tea plantations.

Easy enough then to sum up your own extensive journey through the world's largest democracy with an enigmatic sigh and a few facile words along the lines of, "India: that country blew my mind," or "I don't feel like I visited India, I lived it."

People will think you're a fool, but they'll believe you've been -- so who's really the fool?

The self-discovery you made: We are all part of the great circle of life upon which we eat, pray and love.

The spiritual awakening you experienced: Girls don't buy that "circle of life" drivel unless it's coming from someone with a ponytail and a Bollywood physique.


This vast archipelago nation lends itself very well to fabrication, which explains why you quickly left the tourist fleshpots of Bali for the imaginary island of Pulau Berbohong.

Here you spent an idyllic six weeks living among a little-known tribe of reformed head hunters who, despite their fierce reputation, allowed you to participate in their arcane religious rituals, share their food and surf the amazing left-hand break off their unspoiled beach.

In return, you astounded them with your soulful acoustic guitar renditions of Sting songs.

On second thought, ditch the Sting songs. The tribe would've ripped your head off.

The food that almost killed you: Gado-gado. Lovely the first time, but even die-hard fans of peanut sauce will go into anaphylactic shock after two weeks of it.

The local custom you picked up: The Indonesian pastime of nongkrong -- the art of squatting on the ground and doing nothing -- could have been invented for you. Drink like a local


Japan's heady mix of high tech and ancient traditions has been so well documented in popular culture that the easiest way to bluff a trip there is to settle down with a novel by a contemporary author such as Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto or Genichiro Takahashi.

Best to avoid referencing scary Japanese cinema of the past decade though, unless you want to claim you watched a scratchy video tape in a cheap hotel room, got a silent phone call and ever since you've been expecting something very bad to happen.

The intimate moment you enjoyed: Riding a rush hour train crushed you into close body contact with 47 total strangers. Not the holiday romance you were after, but it'll do.

The food that almost killed you: Mmmmm, fugu. Japanese blowfish is a delicacy, but if the deadly poison doesn't get you, the US$200 price tag will.


You don't remember much about Laos apart from a night in Luang Prabang drinking Lao-Lao rice whiskey, then a hungover day spent nursing sore temples in temples and spending time in a stupa. Or was it a stupor?

The attraction you loved: The Plain of Jars. Beautiful, mysterious -- and no one saw you throw up in one.


If you believe the long-running tourism advertisement that sells it as "truly Asia," then Malaysia wouldn't be a bad place to actually visit for real to assist in bluffing your way around the rest of the continent.

That said, if Malaysia truly is the rest of the region in miniature, then there's no point in adding anything further here, just read up on the other countries.

The food that almost killed you: Who knows? It could have been the Thai breakfast, the Malay snacks, the Indian lunch, the Chinese dinner or the Nyonya supper?

The attraction you loved: Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Bintang shopping area, where you got a great deal on a shiny new 50-megapixel camera.


Before you make any bold claims to climbing Mt. Everest, remember the price tag on summiting the world's highest peak is in the region of US$100,000.

A trek to Everest base camp would be slightly more believable, but only for the reasonably fit. It's simpler just to claim to have conquered a mountain of banana pancakes in a Kathmandu cafe, which is all most backpackers manage.

The salutary lesson in friendship: Falling for phony traveler camaraderie, you allowed a bearded wastrel called Bob to borrow your new digital camera. Neither were seen again (conveniently explaining your lack of photos).

The attraction that nearly killed you: Trekking the Annapurna trail. Not because of high-altitude exertion, just the exhausting negotiations with Maoist union-backed porters over who will carry your packed lunch.


You could easily say you went to Manila, were promptly imprisoned in a two-week traffic jam and failed to see any sights beyond the window of your colorful jeepney.

Be wary, however, of claiming participation in the gruesome Lenten rites at San Pedro Cutud. People will want to see the scars to prove you were nailed to a cross.

If your bluffs are exposed, you'll be crucified.

The food that almost killed you: A "balut" fertilized duck egg embryo, complete with crunchy beak. Stopped your hunger pangs though.

The fellow traveler you hung out with: Just because he was a middle-aged white man hanging out alone on a beach doesn't mean Gary was a sex tourist. He was, though.


You did some shopping. It was air-conditioned and pleasant.

The exotic food you enjoyed: Big Mac, fries. Supersized.

South Korea

With tensions ratcheting up on the Korean peninsula, there's never been a better time not to go.

But there's nothing to stop you pretending to visit the demilitarized zone that separates North and South to glimpse North Korean soldiers standing guard.

South Korea being one of the world's most wired countries, you can pretend you squandered the rest of your trip surfing the Net, reading nonsense like this.

The unnerving fact you learned: South Korea is technically still at war with North Korea, which lies fewer than 200 kilometers from Seoul.

The food that almost killed you: Live squid. You're a sucker for it.

Sri Lanka

Since it's back on the tourist map after a brutal end to long-running conflict, armchair travelers will need a little knowledge of Sri Lanka to back up their bluffs.

Just remember, the capital is Colombo, not Columbo. It wouldn't take a rumpled TV detective to pick up on something like that.

The attraction you loved: Watching your home side play an international cricket match in the lush and temperate hill town of Kandy.

The thing you shouldn't have said afterwards: It was like taking Kandy from a baby.


So many people have visited Thailand that faking it could be tricky.

Stick to a well-established imaginary itinerary taking in a cheap hotel on Bangkok's Khao San Road, then an internal flight to Phuket for sunbathing and snorkeling.

There is, of course, much more to the country than this, but don't risk it.

And if you're put on the spot about which venues you visited to sample its legendary nightlife, a useful reply that proves you've experienced the real Thailand is: "The Irish bar."

The appalling cultural faux pas you made: You showed the soles of your feet, you insulted Thai royalty and then, worst of all, you asked where the ping pong bar was.

The attraction you loved: Phuket. For obvious, puerile pronunciation reasons.


Modern Vietnam has much to offer today's traveler, but the legacy of 20th-century conflict remains a powerful draw.

Fake your interest in this with dignity -- you took an informative tour of the Cu Chi Viet Cong tunnel networks rather than spraying M60 machine gun bullets at a shooting range.

Once you've established this gravitas, don't blow it by smirking at Vietnam's currency.

It's called dong. Get over it.

The fellow traveler you hung out with: Oh no! It's Gary again. Deported from the Philippines.

The food that almost killed you: The rats were fine, as were the deep-fried insects. But frog legs? French colonists have a lot to answer for. Asia's top 5 funny beer commercials

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