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Backpacking our way around the world has inevitably exposed us to a horde of interesting laws and customs. Every country we travel to has its own unique beliefs and rituals, which never fail to open our eyes to the wonderful traditions on this planet. While many of them may seem exotic and beautiful to us, some of them come across as downright unusual.
A lot of the laws and customs we encounter stem from religious practices that have evolved over centuries. Some are developed from archaic rules that have never been amended, such as those found on this infographic of strange laws from around the world. No matter where we are, we always have to abide by these customs. If we are in a foreign land, we want to respect whatever is expected of us. Sometimes it is easier said than done though.
In Thailand it is forbidden to show disrespect to anything that has the King’s image on it, This includes the money. It might seem like an easy thing to follow, until you accidentally drop a 20 baht note and instinctively step on it to stop it from blowing away. This is basically interpreted as you stepping on the face of the beloved King, and can result in the rest of your holiday being spent behind bars.
Some of the laws make more sense, but are casually disregarded by careless travellers. Only recently, a number of tourists have been deported from Cambodia for taking nude pictures of themselves in the sacred temples of Angkor. While nudity in many European countries is more or less accepted, or the punishment may just be a small fine, in the Buddhist nation exposing yourself is considered to be deeply disrespectful. Those backpackers learnt the hard way when they foolishly stripped down. In this case, we completely agree with the Cambodian government’s decision.
Looking at it from the other side, many of the laws and customs we come across overseas seem fascinating and unusual, until you remember that we have our own quirky rituals.
On a small lakeside village named Santiago de Atitlan in Guatemala, a cult-like religion worships a wooden effigy named Maximón. A stout representation of a number of different Mayan Gods, devout followers stand by the statue conducting blessings and ridding people of evil spirits. To keep Maximón appeased, the priests pour rum and coke down an opening in his mouth and constantly pass him lit cigarettes to smoke. Might seem crazy, until you remember that in churches back in Australia, we eat bread that is a representation of the flesh of Christ and drink red wine which is meant to be his blood. This is considered to be normal without a second thought.
Officially In Vietnam over 80% of the population is classified as atheist, however many still practice certain customs such as ancestor worship. At temples and in people’s personal shrines all over the country, you can find individuals burning paper money and other paper representations of items as an offering to their dead relatives in the afterlife. In the Western world some people cremate their deceased family members and then place their ashes in their ‘living room’.
In Myanmar you will find the faces of millions of people coated in ‘thanaka’, a yellowish paste made from ground bark. Men and women of all ages wear it as a cosmetic make-up and to protect themselves from the sun. Fashionable Burmese will apply it in swirls or stripes, and even plaster their arms in it. Thousands of tourists take photos of the Burmese wearing thanaka, but don’t think twice when a female spends hours applying make-up to their own faces in the name of beauty and fashion, often to the point of being almost completely unrecognisable.
At first glance some of these laws and customs seem strange, and from an outsider’s perspective perhaps they are. But it is important to remember that many of us have our own laws and customs which we believe are completely normal.
One of the most incredible aspects of world travel is learning about different cultures and customs. To see an alternative view of how the world operates outside of our traditional surroundings. To interact and learn from people who hold an entirely different belief system than you. Of all the things we take away from travelling, having a deeper appreciation for the world and its inhabitants is what we value the highest.