The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Western body odor takes Asia by storm, threatens the right to peaceably assemble

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 06•11

Close quarters at Sukhumvit street stalls often present monumental olfactory challenges

Your WoWasis research team has discovered that Good-smelling SE Asians are increasingly discussing ways to remove Westerners with foul armpit odor from their midst, including throwing them in jail without the benefit of habeas corpus legal protection. And surprisingly, they don’t want Westerners to be able to bribe their way out of it. One nation is even considering special “BO Police” that would have immediate powers of arrest. A straw poll we conducted indicated that even some good-smelling westerners wanted their odiferous countrymen and women removed permanently from public areas. Although the writers of this blog do make an attempt to be objective, even we are starting to come around to the idea of some sort of punishment scheme for stinky westerners may be in order. Consider this story:

While at an internet shop recently, a gentleman of middle age from a Nordic country walked in the door, and his armpit odor immediately took over the space, offending everyone in the room. We walked up to him and asked if he spoke English, and he said “Yah, I do.” We told him that his horrible smell not only offended us, by the Thais as well. His response? “Sorry, I don’t understand.” But understand he did, which puts him the Category I of BO (body odor) enthusiasts and carriers, Read on:

AsiaPromoBannerWithout any fanfare from the press, a new generation of BO-friendly travelers has encircled the globe, congregating in areas such as Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road, with its affordable hostels, bargain restaurants, corn-row salons, and tribal tattoo shops.  What yesterday was denigrated as “body odor” has now taken on the trappings of a “culture” consisting of varying levels of acceptance and appreciation. With movie stars such as Julia Roberts proudly displaying armpit bushes, BO, for centuries a trait that poor people would enthusiastically rid themselves of through bathing, has now become a trendy characteristic of the well-to-do. Instead of driving an expensive sports car, trendy types engaged in conspicuous consumption are increasingly showing their wealth by smelling like a barnyard. Now, blind people can recognize trendy people without even talking to them.

We call this international practice of avoiding the washing of armpits as BO Kultur. BO Kultur, as codified by International Travelers, takes on four discernible permutations:

Category I) “Proud, political BO”: We got it, we know it, we’re proud of it
Category II) “Laissez-faire BO”: We got it; don’t care about it one way or another
Category III) “Lazy BO”: We got it?  Geez, didn’t know it… we’ll let it go ‘till wash day next month.
Category IV) “Accidental BO”: We got it?  Didn’t know it, but we’d better wash up.

Let’s elaborate on these categories:

Category I) “Proud, political BO”: We got it, we know it, we’re proud of it
A traveler to Belize wrote recently:  “Generally, I never wash under my arms, and enjoy carrying a deep aroma, which collects in the yellow areas in the underarms of my T-shirts.  While getting on a bus recently, I noticed a few fellow travelers who pointedly stayed away from me, their choice, of course.  A large girl with cornrows, however, made it a point of sitting next to me.  Later we both admitted to being attracted to each other’s powerful reeking smells. Lovemaking that night was intense, and we climaxed repeatedly.  She was keen to travel with me to my native Germany, but return occasionally to her city of London, where a number of her friends share our fondness for the sour smell of well-worn sweat.”

“Belize Traveler” carries BO Kultur with him in nearly a militant manner, refusing to become alarmed when others take pains to avoid him.  He is aware that under tropical conditions, body odors are intensified, and act as an attractor for like-minded members of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending on orientation).

Category II) “Laissez-faire BO”: We got it; don’t care about it one way or another
We ran into Andreas in a museum in Kuching, Malaysia, where his powerful underarm odor had managed climb down from the second-floor balcony where he was enjoying his beer, to offend passers-by on the sidewalk below.  Approaching such individuals is always challenging, in that the interviewer cannot predict the reaction of the individual, but Andreas was pleasingly non-plussed. “Yeah, I’m basically a lazy sod, and washing and doing the laundry don’t have as much priority as getting a beer.  I mean, look, give me five bucks, and I’ll eat, shit, piss, or wash, your choice.  I figure if most people don’t like the smell, then leave the room or the city I’m in. I live in Berkeley, where BO is an art form,” he said with a nod and a grin.

Category III) “Lazy BO”: We got it?  Geez, didn’t know it… we’ll let it go ‘till wash day.
Less militant than Andreas, and not as matter-of-fact as BT Traveler, folks in this category wear their BO as an afterthought.  Otto walked in the door and sat next to us at a restaurant on a hot day in Bangkok, where his startling smell of unwashed clothes inundated our salad and fruit smoothie. When told about our study on the culture of BO among international travelers, he offered the following: “You know, it’s been so many days since I washed these clothes, I just can’t smell anything anymore.  Am I offending?”  Tough question for us to answer, as BO Kultur is prevalent among western travelers, but without stinky subjects, studies like ours can’t be done.  We replied that if we were offended, what did Otto plan to do about it?  “Nothing, actually, I’ll just try to stop my arms from flapping.  I’ve got five more unwashed T-shirts in my luggage, and I’m not planning on doing laundry till I get back to Denmark in August (it was March).  Back home, lots of people more or less smell all the time, but no one really cares about this.”

Category IV) “Accidental BO”: We got it?  Didn’t know it, but we’d better wash up.
Anna and Jennifer are two San Franciscans who had been partying heavily at raves, where we met them in the lobby of our guesthouse on Ko Phan Ngan in Thailand. In the process of checking out, the ladies’ odors were righteous enough that the Thai receptionist had covered her nose with her free hand.  Veteran observers of BO Kultur on several continents, we admit we were curious as to the orifices involved in this strange mixture of body smells, so we asked.  “Ohmygod”, said Anna, “we just woke up, and forgot to take a shower, maybe we’d better run back upstairs.” We asked if they were truly concerned about offending others, or merely reacting because we’d said something, and Jennifer offered: “We didn’t mean to smell bad, but we sorta got outta the habit of washing after we got these cornrows, which are impossible to keep clean anyway.”  Impertinent, we asked if the issue of BO affected their ability to find boyfriends.  “Western guys will screw anything,” Anna laughed, and we admit to sneaking a peek at the Thai desk clerk, who managed to smile sweetly, yet roll her eyes at the same time.

Westerners aren’t the only ones 

We recently reported that Thai tour guides and operators are giving Russian visitors some serious space in deference to the BO problem. This caused us to poll a number of people in Thailand. We asked which visitors smelled worst. Here are a few of the responses:

“Watch out for Russians with blunt samovars lurking in your garden.” – Collin

“My sources say men from India, no contest.” – James

“Arabs and Indians smell the worst because they eat lots of “lamb, sheep, and onions.”  – a Soi Cowboy bargirl

“I have indeed heard rotten things about the way that Russian men smell but from what I’ve heard from ‘ying Thai in Bangkok and Pattaya, it’s usually the men from the Middle East who smell absolutely the worst!” –Sean

What’s interesting to us is that we’ve traveled extensively through the Middle East, where everybody we ran into smelled pretty good, and valued soap and bathing. And you won’t find a bad-smelling Indian tailor in Bangkok. Somewhere, in the vast land of Russia, we’re sure at least one person owns and uses deodorant.

Nevertheless, noses are clearly under assault in Bangkok, especially in crowded areas such as the market stalls on Sukhumvit between Sois 3 and 11. And we have it on good authority that higher-ups are concerned. 


BO Kultur is alive, well, and thriving in tropical countries, as flamboyantly fragrant Westerners bring a philosophical mix of opinions and practices to the East, where local populaces and westerners careful of hygiene alike are under olfactory assault daily by individuals who wear their armpit BO like an army general wears stars.

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  1. If westerners adopt Thai bathing habits, we won’t have anything else to write on the subject, Daniel!

  2. Daniel Beaulieu says:

    Thank you for your article post, really looking forward to read more.

  3. Shane says:

    As far as the younger(backpacker)generation goes, I’d have to give it to the Americans. These dread-locked,drum-beating stinkers make me ashamed of being a Yank. But as a whole I’d say it’s a toss up between The Germans and the Russians. If I never have to stand next to either one of them on the skytrain in 90 degree weather again, I will die a happy and clean smelling farang.

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