It doesn’t really feel like it, but I’ve been back from my two month Central American ( + Cuba) trip for over a month now. I was supposed to only have two weeks to relax before jetting off to the Philippines for a big family reunion, but unfortunately got held up by visa requirements for some of the countries I was planning on going to. My family left without me, and while waiting for my passport to be mailed back to me, I had time to sit and plan for my longest and probably most challenging trip thus far.
I have not done any of that planning, instead opting to do my typical show up and act confused until someone generously decides to make it their responsibility to keep me alive. It works every time.
Just kidding. I don’t actually do that most of the time.
After traveling for the better part of the past year, I’ve heard countless stories about backpacking through Southeast Asia. The temples of Thailand, the pho soup of Vietnam, the beaches of the Philippines, the tourists of Bali… The list goes on, and it almost feels like taking on Southeast Asia is a rite of passage for me to be officially initiated into the backpacker community.
Despite hearing so much about it and being drowned with countless suggestions of what to do while I’m there, I feel less prepared than I have ever been for a trip. The last few countries I’ve been to?
Mexico. Panama. Colombia. Panama again. Peru. Bolivia. Peru again. Mexico again. Costa Rica. Nicaragua. Costa Rica again. Guatemala. Mexico yet again. Cuba. And finally, Mexico another time.
Notice a trend? As someone who is fluent in Spanish, traveling through these countries posed little to no challenge when it came to communicating and finding my way around. Sure, I had other struggles, especially in Cuba where nothing makes any sense, but for the most part, the going was easy.
For the most part.
Aside from my broken Tagalog that I started forgetting when I was 5 years old, I don’t speak any of the Southeast Asian languages. I hear English is pretty commonplace in some parts, but being able to communicate almost ubiquitously has been something that I’ve taken for granted for the past year.
The chaos of Southeast Asia is something I both yearn for and am terrified of. When I started traveling, getting lost, aimlessly wandering, and absorbing everything around me brought so much excitement. However, this was a lot easier and likely a lot safer to do in the European countries that I started off most of my early travels in. I hear that places like Bangkok and Hanoi are sensory overload. You simply can’t afford to let your mind wander or else you’ll probably get hit by one of millions of motorbikes.
India is so close by and a very cheap flight away, but every time I think about going to India, I watch the India episode of An Idiot Abroad and Karl Pilkington knocks me back to my senses. Who knows what will happen once I get there, though? I booked a return flight from Jakarta just so I don’t have to deal with all of that annoying “oh you don’t have a return ticket” mess that border control sometimes gives you. For some reason, booking a round trip with a return flight from Jakarta was only $120 more than booking a one-way to Bangkok, so I’ll gladly pay a little extra to guarantee not being deported.
Between my arrival and my tentative yet impulsive return flight, I have three full months to traipse around these countries filled with so much history and culture. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries on Thailand and Vietnam in the past few weeks, but I’ll admit that all of them have been about food. Besides, after Cuba, I’ve learned that no amount of preparation and research on a new country can actually prepare you for the fire pit that you’ll inevitably be thrown in.
I also plan on going to Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, and a quick trip back to my home country of the Philippines. Looking around the region, places like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and Brunei have also all captured my attention.
I think that Southeast Asia will really be a big stepping stone for me as a traveler. Like I said, it almost feels like a rite of passage to finally take on Southeast Asia. After getting comfortable with the way of life in Latin America, I am eagerly looking forward to be thrust well outside of my comfort zone once again.
Have you been to Southeast Asia? Let me know what you thought about it and any and all suggestions you may have! Leave a comment below and follow me on Instagram to keep track of my misadventures across the globe!