Dreaming of South East Asia

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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?


The food

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.


The people

Kids in the Mekong

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.


The booze

Beer Lao.

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.


Anything involving water

Sunset near Malacca

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.


The freedom

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?

23 Responses to “Dreaming of South East Asia

  • I can relate to the wanderlust, big time, also to struggling with the over-regulation in Australia.

    Things that struck me about Oz as a Brit? (Apart from the fact it’s about 50% more expensive than London thanks to the currency.) The way no-one bloody jaywalks, even if there’s no traffic for miles. Restrictive dress codes. It’s an extraordinarily rule-bound country, which, for a Brit raised on ideas of Oz as the land of the free, was really, really shocking.

    • Yeah I get looked at a bit funny at times when I jaywalk here. It’s kinda funny, it doesn’t even occur to me not to … perhaps it’s too much time spent dodging scooters, buses and low flying elephants while trying to cross the street in Asia. Watching out for the odd car or tram just doesn’t even register. 😉

  • Hi Dave,

    Why do I have a sneaky suspicion that you’ll be back in Chiang Mai? No rush. Chiang Mai misses you too, Khaaaaaaaa! Big hugs.

  • Nigel Dean
    12 years ago

    S.E. Asia really does sound like the best kind of addiction to have. It is not expensive, can be repeated many times without causing bodily harm, is not illegal, and you feel better for experiencing it. I would suggest keep feeding it on a regular basis and don’t try and find a cure!

  • I spent three months in Southeast Asia in 2005. Five years later I still dream about the place to. I will be back soon.

  • That is fantastic news. Hopefully this time we’ll be in town or at least have a place you can crash if we aren’t in town…


    • Thanks mate – and yeah, I hear your place is ideal for passing wanderers to have a dinner party, even if you’re not actually there at the time…

  • This is an area of the world that I have sadly spent very little time in. I hope to change that this year!!!

    • You absolutely should – it’s such an wonderful experience (did I kinda give that impression with this article and all the others about Asia?? ;-))

  • For some reason, SE Asia doesn’t really draw me. I’ve been to Thailand and Singapore, and they were nice, but not really my cup of tea. Some people wax lyrical over India, for others it’s Mexico. For me it’s France. Small little things like a whiff of lavender, or a sunflower wafting in the breeze, or a long baguette in the supermarket can keep me awake at night just reliving all the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen and done, and leaves me with an intense longing to go back again and again. And very often Italy features in those daydreams as well. Funny how certain places can totally grab one’s imagination.

    • Totally agree about certain places grabbing your imagination. I love France and Italy too, and would happily live there for a few months or more – esp. if I spoke more than a few words of either language.

      Depending on where you went in Thailand, I can see why there and Singapore might not grab your attention – the latter is fine for a few days but doesn’t really feel like ‘Asia’ to me, and I enjoyed Thailand much more the futher north I was. Cambodia, Laos and the Palawan area of the Phillipines were all wonderful, as were parts of Vietnam and Malaysia.

      Hmm, just typing this has got me day dreaming again……

  • I hear you man. I miss 1990 Tamarindo. 1995 Cozumel. Hell, 1980 Whistler. It’s all changed.

  • Dave, loved this piece! We would love to see you again in chiang mai. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I loved BeerLao!!

    • I’ve love to see you there again too! Or for a Beer Lao somewhere in its country of origin. Next year, next year… 😉

  • Just happened upon your blog on my second to last day in SE Asia. I’ve only been here for two months and while no amount of time away ever seems like enough, two months here is definitely not! Between Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, the only place I feel I’ve done ‘right’ is Laos, and there and even tons of places I’d go back there for. Looks like my next trip will be right back here!

  • I’m here right now (Chiang Mai in fact) so I completely understand why you feel this way! Why oh why can’t we have street food in Melbourne??!!

    • I’ve found one (count ’em – one!) street food area here in Melb recently – surprise surprise it was in Chinatown! No idea which days it’s on or even if it’s a regular thing, but it was a very nice surprise. All we need now is about 100 more of them…

  • I’ve been dreaming about Southeast Asia lately myself. There are so many places I still need to see yet something still makes me want to return to that region. Omg and BEER LAO! If I could have that stuff shipped by the gallon to NYC, I would be a happy girl!

  • “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..”

    This post makes me want to jump on a plane tomorrow back to South East Asia. Thank you for these inspiring words. I day dream about this place all the time – it really is infectious!

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