It’s a funny thing, you know.
Something I’ve realised about myself over the years is that I don’t deal well with routine, with things being much the same from one week to the next. Predictability isn’t my style – I need the thrill of the new and unexpected to keep me inspired. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t have any real desire to head back to South East Asia. I spent four and a half months there last year, the longest I’ve ever spent in a region that I wasn’t actually living in, and saw an awful lot of it. From crazy motorbike adventures to getting off the grid in a little slice of paradise, eating bugs to exploring incredible wonders of the world, I did it all and a whole lot more.
So why can’t I get the place out of my mind? When I start daydreaming during yet another sleepy meeting, why is it always a vision of Asia that jumps into my head? Given that I don’t have enough money or annual leave to go anywhere outside Australia right now, why is it that dozens of options for Thailand holidays or Philippines adventures still seem to appear as if by magic in my imagination?
Oh dear god, the food. I’ve just moved to a new apartment that’s a block from the best Asian food area in Melbourne, and as good as it is, eating there serves only to remind me how much better the experience is at the source. Paying a couple of bucks for fresh, tasty, eye-wateringly amazing street food is something that I miss on pretty much a daily basis. Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Hoi An (Vietnam) were probably my two favourite dining locations in SE Asia but really, it’s hard to find bad food anywhere outside the worst of the tourist restaurants.
There are great people all over the world and South East Asia is no exception. From the moto driver who helped me find my lost passport to the wonderful guest house owner on Don Det who shared life stories and musical tastes in equal measure, to the hundreds of little interactions that made each week just a little more enjoyable, most of the people I met were friendly, helpful and genuinely interested in welcoming a stranger into their lives – however briefly.
Of course there were the inevitable scams and hustlers as well – no trip would be complete without them – but no matter who they were, the people of Asia lent a unique and wonderful flavour to my travels in their countries. I really miss the daily interaction with people who I share virtually nothing in common with – they are always the ones who I learn the most from.
That is all I have to say about that.
Well ok, maybe Saigon Green, bia hoi, vodka and whiskey buckets, San Miguel and a quiet Tiger or two are worth mentioning as well, especially when you’re only paying a dollar or two for them.
But really, at the end of the day, it’s all about the Beer Lao.
My current home of Melbourne has many wonderful things going for it, but great beaches and water-based activities aren’t really one of them. It just about brings a tear to my eye when I think about the long lazy days getting sunburnt on the beach in Nha Trang, or diving in the warm waters off Koh Tao and Coron, or drunkenly tubing down the river in Vang Vieng. Learning to sail off the coast of Phuket was amazing, kicking back in a hammock beside the Mekong on Don Det was just the relaxation I needed, and the five days on an outrigger in the paradise that is Palawan rank right up there as some of the best of my life.
There’s something about being beside the water that soothes my soul, and I can hardly describe just how much I miss it.
To me there’s nothing more liberating than backpacking for months on end with no plans beyond finding another cold beer or figuring out whether to head north or south tomorrow. That kind of freedom is both exhilarating and utterly intoxicating, and is what I’m probably referring to the most when I speak of having an addiction to travel.
The kind of freedom I’m talking about in South East Asia goes beyond that, though. It has really struck me since being back in Australia just how regulated our Western lives have become. There are laws about everything, to the extent that they really get in the way of just quietly enjoying your life, and to be honest I’m struggling to deal with the pointlessness of many of them.
Just stupid little things like being able to buy a beer from the 7-11 and enjoy it with my street food on a plastic chair on the sidewalk – something I did every night in Penang, for instance – would break at least three laws in Australia. The traffic police here would explode in orgasms of revenue generation if they spent five minutes watching families on scooters on a Saigon street. I can’t even take left overs home from most of the restaurants in Melbourne any more because of ‘food hygiene’ fears – christ, I hate to think what the food inspectors would have to say about many of the places I dined last year. And you know what? I never got sick. Not even a little bit, not even once.
A little regulation is a good thing, but we’ve gone far, far beyond what is necessary or sensible.
Take me back to Asia any day.
Do you find yourself dreaming of particular places that you’ve travelled to long after you’ve left them? If so, where and why?