As I took my first step out the doors of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, my senses were bombarded; taxi drivers rushed at me from all directions, shouting their ‘special price’ to downtown Bangkok, mopeds whizzed by at the speed of light and there was the distinct smell of petrol fumes mixed with the enticing aroma of spicy foods.
Luckily, a friend who was living in Thailand met me at the airport and took the reins, securing us a ride and negotiating a fare with our cheeky Thai driver. Meanwhile, I simply followed, wide-eyed and curious about this seemingly new universe I had just landed in.
The sights, smells and sounds of Southeast Asia have a way of overwhelming the senses in ways you can’t even imagine and are guaranteed to leave you wanting more.
My first trip to this idyllic part of the world left me in a state of perpetual wanderlust, dreaming of overnight trains, crazy tuk tuk drivers, wild animals, pristine beaches, street food and the accompanying stomach aches, long boats and tree houses. Months of traversing mountains and soaking up beaches taught me a lot about how to best open myself to the experiences Southeast Asia has to offer.
Expect the Unexpected
While it’s always good to set off on an adventure with a rough plan in mind, make sure to allow yourself enough freedom to change your plans and roll with the punches. You are likely to meet people on similar journeys to the one you’re taking, so when they ask you to join them on a long-boat to that island their best friend’s sister said was like heaven that one time over dinner – you can say yes! Southeast Asia will present you with opportunities you never knew you wanted, and to be bound by a rigid itinerary would limit the amazing possibilities that will no doubt come your way.
Laugh it Off
Let’s be honest—whentravelling through Asia, things won’t go as planned. Trains will be late. Your moped will break down. Your tuk-tuk driver will probably try and take you to their friend’s market stall instead of your hotel. My first overnight train ride to Chiang Mai saw me sleeping on a tiny bed two feet from the train ceiling … next to a flickering fluorescent light … on top of all my important belongings for 14 hours (rather than the much larger window seat I thought I had purchased!). But hey, it’s a story to tell and laugh about later. Be open to the chaos and you’ll be sure to find peace and adventure in the craziness.
Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture
I couldn’t give a more important piece of advice than immersing yourself in the local culture. My favourite thing about Southeast Asia is the beautiful people—their wide smiles, endless generosity and cultural diversity will make your adventure truly unforgettable. While it can be heart-breaking to witness the difficult financial circumstances under which many of Asia’s people live, they are immeasurably rich in spirit.
If you take the time to interact with the local people and listen to their stories, you will be a better person for it. The most profound memory I have of my time in Asia is a lady offering me the shoes off her own feet so that I didn’t have to walk home barefoot. She literally offered the clothes off of her back to make my day better. You will not find a place filled with more spirit, generosity and kindness than in Southeast Asia. Open your mind, your heart, you soul, and Southeast Asia is sure to steal them away.
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