I knew writing blog updates while traveling would be tricky, but I didn’t think I’d only manage to publish two measly entries in six months! Alas, here we are.
Last time you heard from me, I was living my best life villa hopping in Bali. That was ages ago. During that time I visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India. We have ~a little bit~ of catching up to do.
Vietnam – trials & tribulations
Hanoi > SaPa > CatBa > Nin Binh > Phong Nha > Hue > Hoi An > Quy Nhon > DaLat > Ho Chi Minh City
Everyone I know that’s been to this country adores it. I didn’t. Why? Many factors. The trip started on the wrong foot from the beginning – my asthma flared up from the pollution in Hanoi and I spent 2 weeks constantly coughing, barely able to breathe. We had a bedbug infestation encounter. I got a heat rash. I was ripped off multiple times. I found the locals I interacted with to be standoffish and rude. The food was overrated. I know, very unpopular opinions. I spent the entirety of June in this country and I wondered if I had grown tired of traveling through Asia.
At the beginning of my trip, I met a handful of backpackers that were in their 3-4 month mark in Asia and while they’d thoroughly enjoyed themselves, they were ready to move on. I couldn’t fathom why on earth they’d want to leave paradise. But I understood the sentiment while in Vietnam.
There is such a thing as overstaying your stay. While the natural beauty of this nation is top notch, it all started to blend it and seem repetitive and redundant. Thankfully, things turned up after Hoi An. I realized I hadn’t traveled on my own since I was in the Philippines and I missed the slight discomfort of walking into a hostel not knowing anyone. The vulnerability and openness needed to make new friends. Once I was solo traveling again, I gained a renewed sense of exploration for the months ahead.
Perhaps my time in Vietnam wasn’t as great as I imagined it would be precisely for this reason: sky-high expectations. Remember how fellow travelers had raved to me about it? Well, I expected to love it from the moment I arrived just like everyone assured me I would. I’ve now learned to go to countries and places with an open mind and to take people’s opinions – whether good or bad – with a healthy dose of skepticism, to allow myself to have my own experience.
Cambodia – history lesson
Phnom Penh > Kampot > Koh Rong > Siem Riep
Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing about Cambodia was its people. Their warmth and genuine smiles made a lasting impression on me. In Cambodia, I continued my bleak history lesson (I visited the Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and I became obsessed with the tragic events that transpired in that country for 20 years. This led me to binge watch a brilliant Netflix series about the conflict). I learned in detail about Cambodia’s harrowing past under the Khmer Rouge regime, which tortured and murdered 2-3 million Cambodians (1/4 of the total population) from 1975-79. That this happened so recently is deeply disturbing and depressing. But the fact that the world was skeptical or flat out denied the genocide for over a decade is infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Cambodia was also about idyllic beaches and temples. Unfortunately, while in Koh Rong I developed an unsightly rash all over my body from sea lice. The itching and burning sensation these bites caused were nightmarish and lasted about 6 weeks. I now have at least 20 extra little white marks all over my legs from scratching. The joys of travel.
Mostly everyone goes to Cambodia to behold the splendor of Angkor Wat. And I did exactly that. It’s tiring and expensive but totally worth it.
Thailand – puro pinche pari
Bangkok > Koh Phangan
I viewed my time in Thailand as waiting around until my yoga teacher training in India began in August. I planned to see Koh Tao and Krabi after spending a few days in Koh Phangan – the island famous for the full moon raves – but I was unable to leave for two blissful weeks.
I booked the best hostel that organized daily free tours with the guests so it was effortless to bond with each other and because most travelers stayed longer than a couple days, we could really connect. I hadn’t felt that sense of community and camaraderie since Canggu and Siargao. I also loved this island because the nightlife was so on point – the music, the scene and the vibe suited me perfectly. This meant I was nursing a hangover for most of the time I was there and despite my initial reluctance, I loved the full moon celebration.
I was rarely sad to leave any place during my travels because I usually felt ready for the next destination, but I left Koh Phangan with a heavy heart. I never had time limitations during my gallivanting through Asia and the only time I did, I wish I could have extended. The irony.
India – yoga & detox
Delhi > Rishikesh
After five months on the road, I craved a home base and a routine. I needed a break from packing my bag and introducing myself every 3 days. I’m actually surprised I lasted as long without needing to stop. But after the binge partying in Thailand, I was ready to embrace the non-drinking, vegetarian, nun lifestyle that comes with doing a yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh.
I flew to Delhi and was smacked with cultural shock. As I suspected, nearly half a year of backpacking through Southeast Asia hadn’t prepared me for India. From Delhi, I embarked on the worst bus journey of my life to Rishikesh, where I’d spend 30 days trying to become a yogi. This 8-hour bus ride was bumpy, dusty, hot (no aircon), and loud. There was never more than 3 seconds break from honking horns. Eventually, I arrived at the yoga center and found a single spacious room waiting for me. I was overjoyed to unpack my belongings and forget about my backpack for a full month. I went from one extreme to the other – no structure of any sort to overly structured and cramped days starting at 5:30am and ending at 5:30pm. Mondays through Saturdays. I am known for going from one spectrum to the other!
While getting my yoga on, I found India to be chaotic, colorful, draining, vibrant, dirty, unique, intense, delicious and exasperating. Most of my time was spent learning about and practicing yoga, so my insight about India is very limited. I thoroughly enjoyed the fellow students I met in my course and my knowledgeable teachers. Not so much the way the school managed the program. Overall, the experience was very positive and I walked away centered, balanced and ready to get out of Asia entirely for the time being.
Next – reunions
September is to reunite with friends across chic European cites. Some I met while living in Korea, others on this trip and a few over 7 years ago when I studied in Italy. I’m ready to eat all the tapas, drink all the wine and admire beautiful architecture starting with London. After my Euro tour, I’ll make my way back home to Chicago!