This post was inspired by Adventurous Kate’s posts The Things I Did RIGHT in Southeast Asia and The Things I Did WRONG in Southeast Asia. I loved her posts and couldn’t resist reflecting on my Southeast Asia travels in a similar vein!
Ever since I returned from Asia, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my four-month trip.
Despite some rough moments, I had a fantastic time and cliché of clichés, I changed a lot (gag), returning home a braver, more independent and more self-confident person.
But I undoubtedly made a lot of novice mistakes on my trip… and of course, did one or two things right.
What I did right in Southeast Asia:
I skipped the Full Moon Party.
Instead of donning neon and sculling Red Bull buckets, I skipped the Full Moon Party to complete my Open Water Certification. And considering everyone came back moaning about the crowded beach and filthy, sand-ridden accommodation, I wasn’t too upset that I passed up the party.
I took it slow in Vietnam.
Instead of rushing to see all of Vietnam in a month, I traveled slowly and focused only on the south. But I still covered a lot of ground, from the pine-covered mountains of the Central Highlands to the tropical marshland of the Mekong Delta. And as many say the best food in Vietnam is in the south, I think I made a good (and delicious) choice.
(Though I won’t lie- I am dying to head to the north of Vietnam at some point: Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An and Halong Bay.)
I went on antidepressants when I needed them.
I haven’t written about this until now but when I was in Asia I started taking antidepressants for the first time in my life. And given my mental state at the time (basically a deep well of anxiety and depression), this was one of my smartest decisions.
Honestly if I hadn’t sought out help I would’ve gone home months early.
I took cooking classes in almost every country I visited.
Big misses? I didn’t take cooking classes in Vietnam and Singapore. (I also didn’t take a Cambodian cooking class which was fine because I don’t care for Khmer cooking.)
I kept my itinerary super flexible.
While I had a guideline of what I wanted to see in Asia, I kept my day-to-day itinerary very loose. I usually just met travelers on the bus and tagged along with them to the hostel they had picked.
By keeping my itinerary flexible I was able to go on impromptu trips to the Mekong Delta and a motorcycle journey across Vietnam, as well tack on an unplanned leg of the trip: Singapore, Bali and Gili Trawangan.
I pushed myself physically.
During my four months in Asia I climbed a volcano, enjoyed a month-long yoga retreat and completed a four-day open water certification. I also tried stand-up paddle boarding, Capoeira, Muay Thai and canyoning for the first time.
Staying active not only kept me happy and healthy, it also exposed me to new physical activities. I’m now a stand-up paddle boarding and canyoning convert! (But good luck getting me to climb another volcano.)
I carried US dollars and passport photos on me at all times.
If you learn anything from this post, learn this: When traveling Southeast Asia keep at least $100 USD and several passport photos in your backpack.
I kept an envelope of crisp $20 bills in my backpack and they were useful for paying visa fees which often required US dollars. My extra passport photos also came in handy for the same reason.
And while I never had to bribe anyone, US dollars are the best currency for bribery worldwide.
I budgeted- but not too much.
While I tried to stick to a budget of $20-30 a day, some days I went over, some I went under. I also splurged for adventure activities like scuba-diving or the occasional night in a boutique hotel. #SorryImNotSorry
I packed lots of useful things.
I was so thankful to have bug-spray, an eye-mask, a Kindle, a million black tank tops, packing cubes, Imodium, the world’s best sunscreen, a mini flashlight, two adorable Victoria’s Secret bikinis and a gigantic quick-drying travel towel. I was grateful to have a rolling backpack 99% of the time. (Which I snagged on Amazon for $150!)
I didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins of Southeast Asia.
And… What I did wrong in Southeast Asia.
I visited the Andaman Coast during low season.
It turns out September is a terrible time to visit the Andaman coast- it’s rainy, dead and depressing. The Gulf of Thailand (i.e. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao) is a much better choice in September.
I got ridiculously burned in Southern Thailand. Multiple times.
One day I went snorkeling on Koh Tao at noon. And before jumping in the water I quickly sprayed on a bit of SPF30. Dumb.
My back was so burnt I had to sleep on my stomach for days and could only shower with cold water. Did I learn from this? No. Because I got horrifically burnt several more times in Asia.
Note to all my pale people out there- WEAR SUNSCREEN IN THAILAND.
I only spent a morning at the Temples of Angkor… with a bunch of drunk people.
Sight-seeing with drunk people was kind of funny but mostly obnoxious. The Temples of Angkor were spectacular and I only got to spend three hours at them. Sigh.
I got stressed about nothing.
In life and in travel, I tend to sweat the small stuff at times. Note to past-Ashley- chill the eff out. You’ll live.
I banged my camera equipment around.
On my trip I committed many sins against my beloved camera: I dropped my SLR out of a van (California), dropped it on the ground (Cambodia) and banged my 5omm lens into a tiled wall (Vietnam). I had to pay for my SLR to be fixed in Vietnam and spent about $25 on the repair, and completely ruined my 50mm.
I missed Kep and Kampot in Cambodia.
Due to traveling with a big group for much of Thailand and Cambodia, I missed out on places I wanted to see like as Kep and Kampot. I also missed out on a Khmer princess photo shoot in Phnom Penh which may have been the biggest disappointment of my trip. (Okay a slight exaggeration but the pictures would’ve been killer.)
I packed too much.
It turns out I did not need a rain jacket, a rain cover for my rolling backpack, playing cards or a gigantic sack of toiletries.
And it did turn out I should’ve brought tiny scissors, a black bra, a dirty laundry bag, a mini travel towel for washing my face and acne medication (Asian humidity gave me the worst acne of my life, ugh).
I worked too much sometimes.
I struggled to balance work and play; there were weeks when I hardly opened my laptop and there were days when I barely left my room. Overall I should’ve managed my time better.
I got complacent.
After a few months I started taking beaches and budget prices for granted. Note to self- always be grateful for what’s in front of you.
Have you ever backpacked Southeast Asia? What did you do wrong? What did you do right?
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