I have been traveling around Southeast Asia for a little over a month, now; I have managed to visit multiple cities and villages in Vietnam as well as in Bali, Indonesia. Fortunately, I have had time to reflect on my experiences. I have gained so much insight into the way people live outside of the United States. It’s not easy to narrow all that I have learned down because I have learned so much on this journey so far, but here are five things I’ve learned since traveling to Southeast Asia.
People are Unbelievably Friendly and Hospitable
Before coming to Southeast Asia, I would tell others that my first destination was Vietnam; upon hearing this, most people were very concerned about my safety. However, the local people of Vietnam and Bali have been some of the friendliest people I have ever met. One morning, as I was walking down a quiet street in Ho Chi Minh City, a few older men were sitting on tiny stools and motioned me over. I was a little apprehensive, but more intrigued than anything else, so I sat with them; they cracked open a beer, warned me of the motorbike “cell phone snatchers,” and even tried to give me money to buy myself some lunch.
I have come across so many people like this on my journey so far. It is as though they are all trying to take care of you, be your parent, feed you, and even show concern about your safety. When you’re so far from home, they make one for you. They’re happy to see you, and they’re happy that you’re here… for whatever reason that may be.
There is Only Curiosity, Never Judgment Traveling in Southeast Asia
I assumed that locals’ staring at my inability to use chopsticks was judgment and mockery; however, my Vietnamese friend assured me it’s not judgment, it’s curiosity. People all over Southeast Asia are very curious people; if they ask you a lot of questions, don’t think they’re trying to pry or stalk you. They aren’t trying to judge you and do not have malicious intent. You’ll often get asked a lot of questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? How old are you? Are you married/do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Sometimes, even on my way out of the hostel, someone at the front desk will ask, “Good morning, where are you going?” because they’re just genuinely curious and often want to know if there’s something they can help you with. These questions might seem a little personal or possibly invasive, but they only intend to satisfy their own curiosity!
You Have to Experience New to Appreciate More
This might apply to all traveling, but I really learned it while in Asia. When you have a lot planned for yourself when you’re traveling, it’s hard to appreciate the moment that you’re in because your mind is always somewhere else. I’ve found that the best way to understand how much you love a place is to leave, even if you stay in the same country. You can better analyze and understand your own connection with a place once you’re gone. Absence gives you the time you need to reflect on your experience and is a catalyst for reflection. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy where you are while you’re there, because you wholeheartedly should, but sometimes you don’t realize how much you enjoyed a certain place until you leave it.
You Won’t Love Everywhere You Go Traveling in Southeast Asia
Asia brings a lot of expectations – those Eat Pray Love kind of expectations that promote a romanticized, unattainable notion or experience. You might expect to step off the plane, ride through the rice fields, and settle into a perfect bungalow with a spiritual healer to hold your hand. I thought I would fall in love with some places. It’s unrealistic to fall in love with every place you visit; it’s not impossible, but it’s not realistic. I didn’t love Bali. I loved one specific place in Bali, but overall, I didn’t vibe with it… and that’s totally okay. There’s so much pressure to have a good time wherever you go. Just know that it’s okay to not like a place that everyone else seemingly loves. Everyone’s journey is different, and everyone is searching for something different.
Lastly and Most Importantly, Everything Always Ends Up Being Alright
Delayed flights, flat tires on 16-hour bus rides, really long lines to get your passport stamped, airport check-in counters insisting you have documentation you weren’t prepared on having — the list goes on. There are a lot of ways you can be inconvenienced. For example, one night I got money taken out of my wallet in Hoi An out past curfew. I took it as a learning experience. I reminded myself that no matter what, you always end up where you’re going and everything always ends up being all right at the end of the day. There are only inconveniences, but nothing is ever the end of the world. Take it all as a learning experience, pass on the lessons you’ve learned, and remain calm when things aren’t going your way.
There are definitely more than five things I’ve learned since traveling in Southeast Asia, but these are the most important ones. For more of Emily’s inspiration on getting out of your comfort zone.