If you’re fat, or tall, or both, you’re going to face some interesting challenges while traveling in Southeast Asia, but don’t let that deter you. The inconveniences are minor compared to the rewards of traveling in this region. However, there are some things you should be aware of.
It starts with packing. You have to take all of your clothing with you. There’s no, If I need it I’ll buy it when I get there. Of course, depending on your size you might get lucky. Tim and I have both found a tank top or t-shirt to fit in areas that cater to tourists, but outside of that, they just don’t have our size. And big pants or shorts? Forget it. So when you watch those people demonstrate packing everything in one small bag, just know that you’re probably not going to pull that off, no matter how light you pack. Not only do you have to take everything with you, but your clothes are bigger than theirs are from the get-go. A medium-sized bag is fine – we highly recommend one with wheels.
Then there’s the airplane. If you need the seatbelt extender, ask for it with confidence and show no shame. So you’re big. Don’t apologize, just be who you are. But do be polite and try not to squish the skinny person sitting next to you.
Enjoy the street food! Let’s face it, for most of us, part of the reason we’re fat is that we really enjoy food. So we’re certainly not going to miss out on tasty meals and snacks, especially when they’re sold on the side of the road at a price that’s super easy on the pocketbook. But be warned, the seating at most of these places, is little plastic stools just above knee-high, or at best, slightly flimsy plastic chairs. Don’t worry – they’ll hold you. If there’s any doubt, the vendors will happily stack two stools or chairs together, or find you a sturdier chair. We’ve found people here to be very matter-of-fact about it. You’re big – you need more support. No judgment, just facts.
If you’re tall, doorways, awnings and umbrellas will be out to get you. At 5’7″ (170cm), I’m about the tallest that people in SE Asia plan for, so I don’t tend to bump my head or run into things. Tim, on the other hand, at 6′ (182cm) tall, is frequently ducking through doorways, under tarps and dodging architecture that just doesn’t take someone of his height into account. We have pictures of multiple doorways that are shorter than him. Watch your head.
Some of the coolest things to do require being in good physical shape. Some fat people are in good shape, some are not. We started this journey in the ‘not’ category. The trick is to be smart about your abilities. Don’t be afraid to try things that push your limits, but some activities may not be right for you at this point in time. Talk to your guides, discuss options and ask for help if you need it. I did a great job in the kayak during the first half of the sea cave trip in Thailand, but when the current shifted and we had to paddle against it, I didn’t have the stamina. The lead guide switched to my boat and we got back fine. It was a great adventure. There was another time when a combination of Tim’s blindness, our fitness level and a much steeper trail than we were expecting made us decide to abandon the hike to a certain village on Flores. No shame. We just weren’t ready for it.
And never let your fear of how you look in shorts or a bathing suit stop you from having fun. Just do your thing and you’ll find most people don’t care. The ones that do aren’t worth your spit.
Sometimes your size will draw attention, but it’s usually curiosity or surprise. Roll with it, laugh about it, don’t take offense; we have yet to have someone say something with nasty intent. Being both fat and tall, Tim gets most of this attention. One time in Indonesia we got in an elevator and this older guy, who barely came up to my shoulder, took a long, slow look up at Tim and said, “You’re big.” Tim laughed, and shrugged. Then we all laughed. What else was there to say? It was true.
Just go. Don’t let your size hold you back or delay you one more second. Southeast Asia can handle you. No one fits everywhere all the time, and you’ll come back with some of the best stories. Experience. Live. Be happy.