Everyone says not to judge books by their covers, but if you’re lazily looking for a quick way to review them then there really is no better way. I took the same attitude when trying to decide the cleanest country in Southeast Asia. Sure, I could have done a whole lot of research and bombarded you with facts and figures – but to be honest, the only figure I really care about is the number of rats I see (I have a fear of rats, check out this post to find out why). The rat factor may be a flawed system, but it’s as good as any other and could 1 day be the official cleanliness yardstick in respected publications like Lonely Planet (as long as they pay me for using my idea!).
Here is a list of countries in Southeast Asia, from the dirtiest (or home to the most rats that decided to reveal themselves to me) to the cleanest. Before you scroll down, see if you can guess the cleanest country in Southeast Asia – you might be surprised!
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is a haven for rats. I saw quite a few on the streets – it’s the kind of place where it’s better not to look down into gutters and drains! I also saw 1 in a market in Kota Kinabalu, as well as a few hanging around the restaurants and bars there. I saw 1 in Kuching and 1 stuck in a cage in a town near Ipoh, but thankfully I didn’t see any on the islands I visited.
I saw a lot of rats in Thailand, so many in fact that I became less and less scared each time I saw one. They seemed to be all over Bangkok – particularly in the Khao San Road area, and I even saw them running on the streets from the windows of taxis. I also saw a few in Chiang Mai and one in Kanchanaburi.
Seeing a rat running past your table in a restaurant is never a good thing, but you almost get used to it in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It happened to me at least 3 times and is one of the reasons I didn’t really enjoy my time there. I could also hear one clawing at the wall of my guesthouse – it was desperate to get in so I stood guard for an hour or so, banging at the wall every few minutes to try and scare it away. I eventually yielded so I could get some sleep – I’m not sure if the rat’s siege paid off or if my defences held up but I hope it was the latter. I also saw a few on the streets of Hanoi, and I’ve heard horror stories of rats onboard the Ha Long Bay cruise boats – I never saw one though.
Cities in the Philippines are pretty grim, and while I didn’t see any in the small amount of time I spent in Manila and Cebu, the 2 biggest cities in the country, I saw plenty in smaller provincial capitals. I saw the biggest rat I’ve ever seen outside a guesthouse in Dumaguete, Negros. I saw 3 or 4 more in the 2 nights I spent there, including one in my guesthouse’s lobby. I also saw a few in Tagbilaran, the smallish capital of Bohol and I’m pretty sure I could hear some in a guesthouse in Sabang, Palawan.
I only saw rats in the capital, Phnom Penh, but I did see a lot of them. They run rampant down by the river and often venture into the restaurants nearby. I once saw a huge one right next to the table I was eating at. I alerted the waitress who thought it was hilarious that I was scared of a rat. She said they see them all the time but that I shouldn’t worry – they come over from the river (I don’t know why that’d make a difference!). I never saw rats anywhere else in Cambodia, but I did hear that Koh Rong, an awesome island that you should definitely check out if you’re in the area, had a huge rat problem. I stayed in a guesthouse full of cats so I was safe.
I didn’t see as many rats as I expected in Indonesia (that might be tempting fate though; I have about 2 more weeks left of my current Indonesian adventure). I saw 1 in Jakarta and 1 in my room on Rote Island. That was quite a disturbing discovery, but my mosquito net was so good that I felt pretty safe.
I lived in Singapore for 2 years and saw 3 rats. 1 was near a hawker centre in Tampines, a middle class Singaporean suburb that no tourists visit. I also saw a couple near the beach at East Coast Park, but rats in open spaces like that don’t worry me so much.
I didn’t see any rats running around Laos (I spent 6 weeks there), but I did see a little girl in a small village holding a bunch of about 5 dead ones by their tails. I’m not sure what she was doing with them but I’d be very concerned if I was forced to eat a meal in that village.
And the cleanest country in Southeast Asia is…Myanmar
I didn’t see any rats during my month long trip in Myanmar, making it (according to the rat factor) the cleanest country in Southeast Asia! I hope the tourism board finds out about this important award and feels very proud.
Do you agree with this list? Is Myanmar really the cleanest country in Southeast Asia? Did you see a lot of rats while travelling in the area? Let me know!
*I didn’t include Brunei in this list as I only spent 2 days there – but I didn’t see any rats!
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