This is a post from my friend Justin Levy from New York city whom I met while he was passing through Pai to do some Muay Thai. He was changing course looking to the writing scene as am I and here are his thoughts on his trip through Southeast Asia.
Trying to explain your Southeast Asia trip to those back at home in a nutshell?! You’re crazy, forget it; the conversation was over way before it started. But if you can articulately explain the complexities of organic chemistry to a second grader then you can handle a proper recap of this extraordinary region of the world. For me organic chemistry was never my specialty. Even if I fail, I’ll try my best – here we go.
It may seem that everything is out to get you, and it is. It’s you versus the alien elements of a radically diverse environment, a place no westerner can adapt to right away. If you can, congratulations – you should have no problem hosting your own survival show on the Discovery Channel.
Asia is a place where your stomach and local dry cleaners will hate you. The water is undrinkable; health and safety are non-existent. Still, everything seems to work in harmony. Tropical climates are great for loosing those few clumsy pounds you put on gorging on airplane food and free wine. Sweat it out my friend. If your internal organs aren’t crying for help within the first few days of arrival, you aren’t eating the right foods. Sure, a tech-savvy flash packer can try to search the top rated restaurants closest to the hostel but you won’t do that.
Everything they tell you in the guide book are of no importance, you’re going to eat that delicious fly covered mystery street meat on a stick anyway because it smells so damn good. I don’t see a refrigerator in sight but that guy just ate the BBQ chicken heart in chili sauce and he’s still standing, I’ll take two please. As a wise traveler once told me, if you’re not getting sick, you’re not traveling. No wiser words have been spoken, dig in.
Every day is a new adventure. Walking to 7-Eleven to buy a pack of gum could inspire a novel. Yes, you will be asked a half dozen times if you want a massage, even if you’re coming back from a massage. Yes, the mighty, ubiquitous 7-Eleven; Western influences run deep in some parts … cough Starbucks cough Burger King. Twenty two hours on a plane will not get you far enough from the inescapable grasp of Ronald McDonald. The traffic in Asia is intoxicating to watch.
You can wait a long time to cross and you will. The longer you wait the better; there are few more amazing things than watching the density of motorbikes, animals, and questionably safe trucks stacked with cement and rice flow together in a mosh pit of controlled chaos. It’s truly eye opening. You can be lost somewhere in Bangkok’s remarkably confusing and endless China Town one day and the next day gulping down a cold Bintang with fish guts dripping down your chin on a deserted island in Indonesia.
These are a few suggestions if you decide to visit this remarkable, take no prisoners place. Now please by all means, I am not dictating what you should do because let’s face it, everyone has their preferences but just have fun! Turn off your phone; don’t worry if the place you’re staying at has Wi-Fi. I have never met such remarkable people, both local and fellow traveler.
You will be in one of the few places in the world where people say hello and run up to take a picture with you. No, people don’t want you to take their picture; you’re going to cheese it with them. You’ll be a rock star and they will change your life in one way or another. You’re probably going on a jungle trek. Bring lots of bug spray and sunscreen because like I said, nature is trying to get you. Embrace the stillness of nature, realize you’re so far from home and if something goes wrong, there is absolutely no one that can help you except you. You’re on your own buddy, so don’t get dengue. Regardless of what CNN might report, the world isn’t that scary.
Sure, you don’t want to let your guard down after finishing a bottle of Sangsom but people are generally good. Breathe in the cold stillness of morning air on top of an active volcano; jump from a boat into the bath warm waters of the Indian Ocean to swim along sea turtles and other questionably dangerous marine life. Then hang on for dear life as you and your new friends weave through the wrong side of traffic in a tuk tuk, explore the ancient temples which are definitely older than your own country.
Take classes in things you’ve never thought you’d sign up for even if it means getting whacked with a bamboo stick and yelled at in Thai for slowing down during a Muay Thai workout; leave your map at the hostel and get completely lost in the back allies of a foreign city.
Then sit down roadside in a small plastic chair alongside locals and have some of the best food your taste buds have ever savored for a fraction of the cost back home. Go meet random people at your hostel and end up best friends eight hours later; rent a motorbike, feel the passing air cool down the remnants of water on your skin from that waterfall you just climbed a few minutes ago as you barrel through hillside tribes and around mountain ranges; learn about someone’s heritage and what makes them tick and embrace every damn second.
But lastly, inspire. Drive people out of their comfort zone to do something so extraordinary it sets off a pervasive emotional or physical reaction in others. I dare you from this point forward to become more inspired by everything and everyone around you. I am inspired by the people I have met and by the badass, exotic, mysterious, place that is Asia.