Thailand – Laos border, on board a rusty service jeep.
British Guy: “You grew up in the Philippines, and for a woman, you are traveling alone? That is so brave!”
Me: “Right, I know what you mean. People back home think this is a crazy idea, brave – but crazy. However, I have long wanted to do this. Now that I am doing this, this thing suits me, perfectly. I love it!”
That conversation with the British guy was great but it ended as he chose to take the land ride to Laos instead of crossing The Great Mekong River on a 2-day slow boat to Luang Prabang. I could have gone with him, but doing his route would be typical. I can take 24-hour bus rides anywhere on Earth but not a 2-day slow boat crossing in one of the world’s great rivers. I wasn’t “in” for the typical mode of doing things, but for something I can tell an interesting story of.
Backpacking is not common back home, let alone, doing it solo. The travelers I’ve met told me I’m the first Filipina they encountered traveling solo. Back then, I knew no one, too.
Backpacking Southeast Asia mainland was a great adventure for me. The crazy night life at Khao San Road, the elephants in Thailand that seemed to be anywhere, the countless temples, the very friendly monks, the evident European remnants in some parts of Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia, the mixed emotions that I felt for Cambodia with its glorious Angkor and its heartbreaking past, the almost lethal traffic in the streets of Ho Chi Minh, the legendary tubing in Vang Vieng, the crazy beach life in Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan, the towering Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the impressive history and glory of Singapore and the exhilaration of conquering Southeast Asia’s highest mountain – Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo (on a two-day rainy climb)! I would never exchange the great experiences and adventures those places allowed me to have.
But, then again, ‘adventure’ isn’t really all about the places I’ve been to and the daring things I did. To me, the biggest adventure to the entire backpacking experience was the fact that I plunged myself into a culture almost unknown to where I am from. All I really brought with me was an open mind, the willingness to embrace the entire experience, the right personality to adapt and to consider any circumstance that I could be in (like being mistaken as a local at times and bouncing from a confused state after a dialect is spoken to me) and a smile that doesn’t fail to start a great conversation with a stranger.
The entire experience changed my perspective on what travel is all about. It is not all about places, it is about gaining an understanding of the culture, customs and people, and a self-discovery brought by the extraordinary experiences and profound encounters that only travel can give.
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