A travel diary: 6 months in Asia
How about a 6-month getaway in Asia? We met with Rebecca and Damien, a couple of adventurers who went travelling to do volunteer work and discover this fascinating continent. Here’s what we learnt from them:
What were your motivations to travel in Asia for 6 months? Why did you
choose this continent in particular?
Damien: The decision to leave came naturally. Professionally, I felt I had reached the end of a cycle and then I wanted to start a new project. Rebecca was in a similar situation and we also wanted to find a new apartment to settle down more comfortably. Before embarking on these ambitious common projects, we decided to travel abroad for several months.
Rebecca: I had never travelled outside of Europe and I wanted to experience different lifestyles. Firstly we opted for Asia for logistical reasons, as it is a relatively cheap continent where it’s easy to travel as a backpacker. But most importantly, it was also the continent we knew the least about and where the cultural choc would be the strongest.
Regarding the logistical aspect of such a long trip, were you focused on planning every detail or did you leave room for improvisation?
Rebecca: I worked two jobs until the very last minute and stopped working only four days before we left, so I neither had the time nor the courage to plan the trip. It was also a choice to not do too much research in order to keep an element of surprise when arriving in each country.
Damien: I discovered Asia when I arrived in Bangkok. I hadn’t done any research before leaving, I neither knew the places worth seeing, nor the traditions and cultures of the countries we were planning to visit.
What route did you follow once in Asia? Was there a specific destination you enjoyed most?
〈We arrived at the beginning of January in Bangkok, Thailand. We then visited the South of the country and crossed over to Malaysia by bus. Afterwards, we flew to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), then Vietnam, Cambodia and we finished with the Philippines. We loved every one of them but the one that will remain dear to us is Myanmar. Since the country only opened its doors to tourism five years ago, the people are very happy to welcome travellers. Furthermore, it’s in Myanmar that we had the opportunity to do volunteer work in a school specialising in teaching English. We lived with young Burmese for a week, which allowed us to understand their way of life.
What struck or surprised you the most during your journey?
Rebecca: It’s hard to pick something in particular because the cultural gap is so massive, that everything surprised us when we arrived! Hygiene conditions, safety: it was light years away from what we were used to!
Damien: The most striking for me was to see these chaotic mobile markets offering incredible quantities of food in questionable storage conditions. These places are filled with smells we never had had the chance to smell before.
Asian culture seems to be light years away from our Western culture, how did you adapt to cultural differences?
Damien: I had never left Europe, so I was shocked by the cultural gap between our continent and Asia. It took me a few weeks to get used to the food, and sanitary and safety conditions. We were so used to our sanitised environments that it was a real shock when we arrived in Asia, everything was scary! But after a few weeks, what was once inconceivable became commonplace. After a bit more than a month, we stopped paying attention to futile details and started focusing on the human aspect of our journey.
Did you get a chance to meet the locals of the countries you visited? Did you keep in touch with some of them?
We had the opportunity to spend some time with locals in Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam thanks, in part, to our involvement in the management team of Ultra ASIA Race, a running event that takes place in the Mai Chau Mountains. We’ve kept in touch with them on Facebook and Instagram. Every once in a while, we chat about our daily lives, which are rather different!
A 6-month trip abroad can be overwhelming for a lot of people… Did you have any doubts or fears during the journey?
The first few weeks of the trip were a bit tough. Finding yourself far away from your family, your country, and having no point of reference is definitely unsettling. You even start wondering what you’re doing there, whether you’ve made the right choice. But once you meet other travellers and locals, this feeling goes away. Encounters are what makes a journey beautiful and allows you to enjoy it to the fullest.
Do you have any advice for our readers who are preparing a long journey abroad?
More than anything else, try to do volunteer work: these experiences help you meet and spend time with the locals, share unforgettable moments and discover new cultures. Our time at the school in Myanmar and organising the Ultra ASIA Race in Vietnam are the most beautiful moments of our trip in Asia. These two experiences undeniably taught us a lot more about Burmese and Vietnamese cultures.
For more information about how to prepare your Backpacking trip
And another guide here