Signs in South-East Asia

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I love taking pictures of signs because they tell so much about a country. For instance, Canada’s bilingual “stop-arrêt” sign is unique, and so are the many weather-related warnings, “ice falling” being my favourite.

During our trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, I collected various signs. Here are my best ones:

Malaysian Stop Sign

Thai Stop Sign

Malaysian and Thai stop signs: one country respected them, the other not so much.

Crowded Area - Watch Out Fire

Watch Out For Snatching Bag Thief

“Crowded Area – Watch Out Fire”
: I found this one in one of Ko Phi Phi restaurants’ districts. I found it amusing: yes, Asian cooking (stir-fry over the fire) is a fire hazard and yes, the area was quite crowded. However, the sign didn’t offer any solution to the problem!

“Beware of Snatch Thief”: This one was taken in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle. I have heard of motor cyclers’ snatching bags but I wasn’t overly concerned in Malaysia’s capital. To be honest, we were a bit apprehensive before going there because we didn’t speak the language and didn’t know much about the culture but it turned out better than expected. In fact, I loved Malaysia. We felt safe there and people were very friendly and welcoming.

No Durians

Tonight All You Can Eat BBQ – Ladyboy 335 B

“Tonight All You Can Eat BBQ – Ladyboy 335 B”: I took that one in a busy restaurant in Ko Phi Phi. I found it funny that it lists different prices for girls, boys, ladyboys (Thailand’s transgendered population) and guys. I guess the logic is that “boys” eat more than, respectively, kids, ladyboy and women.

“No Durians”
: This one was taken in Singapore’s SMRT, the local subway system. While most interdictions are pretty common worldwide, the “no durians” one can be puzzling at first. The durian is a SE Asian fruit, shaped like a U.S football with spikes, and it has the most offensive smell ever, somewhere between old blue cheese, gym socks and rotten flesh. Some people love it, most hate it. Seriously, you can’t miss the durian stalls, you can smell them from miles away! Taking the fruit in the subway would be the best way to make people pass out.

Please Drive Slowly

“Please drive slowly”: This good advice was posted in Ko Lanta, Thailand. A few minutes after I took the picture of the sign, we witnessed our second motorbike accident in just a few days. It wasn’t fatal, just a few broken bones, but it was quite a sight. One of the motorbikes, the one driven by a farang (foreigner) was totally destroyed. Thai people are probably the most careless drivers I have ever seen and the ubiquitous motorbikes are a road hazard.

Warning: Alcohol Impairs Judgment

“Warning: Alcohol Impairs Judgement”: This funky sign was taken in Ko Phi Phi’s bar district. I love all the stickers covering the sign, as well as the swimmer kissing the fish. I doubt people read the sign though, considering a lot of backpackers probably haven’t seen Thailand sober.

Please Don't Drink Beer Here

“Please don’t drink beer here”: The handwritten sign was on a bench, a couple of meters’ away from Ko Phi Phi’s police station. Because, you know, getting drunk in front of the sobering cell may not be the best idea.

Finish a zone of to control traffic regulation

“Finish a zone of to control traffic regulation”: I have no idea was this sign was supposed to mean. Something to do with traffic. Or zone. Or control. Not that anybody cared in Phuket, drivers don’t read road signs anyway.

Improper Use of Sanitary Host Spray is Strictly Prohibited

“Improper Use of Sanitary Host Spray is Strictly Prohibited”: Okay, let’s assume it’s a “hose spray”, and not a “host spray”. And let me explain that one… at least partially. Squat toilets are common in Malaysia and in Thailand (less in Singapore). Most don’t have toilet paper but a hose that spray water instead. I’m gonna be honest with you: I haven’t tried. I mean, I already spray water on myself when I wash my hands, I’m not going to wet my pants after using the bathroom. So the question remains: what is considered an “improper use of hose spray?” And how do you define it? And what do you do with the offenders?

Warning: Non-Thai Pickpocket Gang

“Warning: Non-Thai Pickpocket Gang”
: I found that one in Wat Pho, in Bangkok. I guess it targets Westerners who think they are only safe around other Westerners. Well, apparently they aren’t. Shocking, I know.

Keep to Left

“Keep to Left”: This Singaporean sign isn’t that funny I guess, but it reminds me how organized Singapore is. Despite being one crowded country, things run pretty efficiently, partially because people do their part. And indeed, when you are walking in a busy street, you tend to “stay in your lane”!

Tsunami Hazard Zone

“Tsunami Hazard Zone”: This one was taken in Ko Muk, our first Thai island, and it was posted on pretty much all the islands we went to. They were installed after the 2005 Tsunami and they reminded us of the disaster. I watched a few Youtube videos of the tsunami that were taken by tourists in Ko Phi Phi and Phuket, and after having visited the places myself, I can’t imagine how sudden and shocking it must have been.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. KL ain’t exactly safe. Snatch thefts are quite common in big cities, and unfortunate ones may lead to deaths (some ladies are dragged onto the streets while being snatched and caused their heads to knock against the curbs/rock-hard tar roads). And one thing for sure, most Malaysian urbanites speak conversational English. Language is rarely a problem for travellers here. 😀

    As for the restaurant sign that charges differently according to gender, man, that’s bias! What if the lady has a bigger-than-usual appetite while the guy tends to eat less? :X

  2. This is a very nice blog idea! I should have taken more pictures about little random things like these when I travel, because as you have demonstrated, they show the various peculiarities that a country has.

    When I was in Japan, I was always amused at the translation mistakes the signs have. Have you heard of Engrish? It’s a website collecting these translation mistakes that usually result in funny meanings.

  3. @kyh – I’m sure there are security issues, like in most big cities, but I still felt quite safe. No sure why… you develop a 5th sense when you are traveling and there are places like Panama where I really didn’t feel safe and others that were okay!

    @kyh – Ah, so you are a durian person! I didn’t try, I really didn’t like the smell 😉 It’s probably an acquired taste.

    @Cynthia – You wouldn’t have liked the smell though! 😆

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Yes, I know Engrish, I did a post about Chinglish when we were in Beijing. Signs in English were quite accurate in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand although some didn’t make sense at all in Thailand.

  4. This is a proof that how bad our English is. The sign about “hose spray” actually in Thai says something like “Please do not use the hose for shower or to wash feet.”. 🙂

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