Coming home after a whirlwind, monthlong adventure such as the one I just had always leads to a bit of a letdown—even when home is Paris. Southeast Asia is not an easy part of the world to travel through in that it’s hot, rickety, sometimes smelly and often loud. That said, it’s also affordable, colorful, cultural and rich with some seriously unspoiled natural wonders that inevitably lead to extraordinary discoveries of both the external and internal kind, many of which I hope to continue to share in time to come.
So even though part of me was ready to nourish myself with some creature comforts we often take for granted like squishy pillows, consistent shower temperature and fresh drinking water from the tap, ending the journey was tough.
Upon seeing my slippers left neatly at the bottom of my closet where I’d left them, it was as if no time had gone by; as if I hadn’t just traveled to three countries, kayaked amongst limestone islands and ate frog for the first time. Once my feet touched the wool, I shivered from feeling a too-cozy, depressing sense of familiarity; of routine and mundanity.
Had that all just happened? I wondered.
Indeed it had, and my credit card statement and nearly empty checking account isn’t the only proof: At least for a little while, jetlag has this wonderful way of reminding me it wasn’t all just a fleeting fantasy.
When I wake up in my bed in Montmartre at 3:30a.m., I am transported back to the maddening market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where at that hour I might be navigating myself around live chickens and squirming fish, or mounds and mounds of rice. Or at 9p.m. when my eyes are fluttering closed while trying to watch the new season of House of Cards, I recall that if I were still in Bali, I’d likely be swatting away a mosquito during a deep slumber.
As the days pass, though, and my body and mind begin to adjust to the time zone and reality of home base, I may no longer continue to question the necessity of a permanent address as I have been since returning; I may settle back into buying groceries at Monoprix, topping up my metro card, practicing yoga with Benoit or Amanda, and sitting down at my home desk to write about it all. Which, let’s face it, isn’t so bad when you’ve got that Paris light to look up to.
But it’s hard to know what type of life to choose sometimes: the exciting, spontaneous temporary one or the comfortable, familiar stable one. Sure, it’s nice to slow down and settle in for a little while; necessary, almost. But soon enough I know I’ll crave something besides eggs or a baguette for breakfast.
Until then, I’ll let these nitty-gritty facts, figures and feelings of the last 32 days be a testament to where I went, what I discovered and the life I continue to shape.
Bali is magical.
“The Magic of Bali.” You hear this phrase a lot on the island; how its pull is “hard to place” or “in the air” but definitely THERE. It sounds completely hippie-dippie, but I also don’t know how else to explain it other than just feeling it; knowing it. Despite the island—and more specifically Ubud—having changed significantly since my first visit 15 years ago, Bali does tug at your heart strings and make music out of your emotions.
Every meal I ate I thought would be my last.
When you hear gut-wrenching stories of bed-shitting and keeling over on overnight buses you think it’s going to happen to you at any moment. Thankfully, it did not, and by the time I got to Hanoi, Vietnam—street food capitol of the world—I felt totally comfortable sitting down anywhere on one of those small plastic stools for a cheap bite of something unique. The only issue I faced was choosing where to indulge as they all look and smell so good!
My hair is shocking.
At least four Vietnamese women asked me about it. They were confounded by the texture, the body, the color (specifically why it’s different from my black eyebrows and the silver strip you can only see with my hair up, which was pretty much all the time thanks to 80% humidity.)
When they say “stir fried frog” they mean “stir fried whole frog.”
It does not just taste like chicken. I ordered it in Hanoi at a restaurant thinking they’d at least cut it up into strips and I wouldn’t be faced with webbed feet and a bulging belly, but indeed I was faced with webbed feet and a bulging belly. Also, skin. I took two bites and then proceeded to move it around the plate while attempting to eat the bamboo shoots mixed in despite my nearly choking in the process. I’ll spare you the photo.
Traffic rules don’t exist.
The stories are true: Crossing the street in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, is actually a death sentence. Traffic lights are a rare sight, and those that do exist are merely optional for those with a motor. You better continue to look both ways incessantly because anyone on a bike or tuk tuk doesn’t see red and will just keep going! (And so should you. NEVER, under any circumstances, back up. Just. Keep. Walking.)
Days away: 32 (9 in Bali, 10 in Cambodia, 13 in Vietnam)
Weight of backpack at the start: 17K (37lbs)
Weight of backpack at the end: 18K (39lbs)
Flights taken: 10 (Paris–>Singapore–>Bali–>Singapore–>Siem Reap–>Phnom Penh–>Saigon–>Danang–>Hue–>Hanoi–>Singapore–>Paris)
Flights missed: 1 (I showed up to the airport the day after I’d apparently bought my ticket to Hoi An. What would’ve been a $30 flight became a $60 flight since I had to purchase a whole new ticket.)
Airlines flown: 6 (Singapore, Air Asia, Jetstar, Vueling, Vietnam Airlines, Angkor Air)
Cities/towns/bays visited: 10 (Ubud, Bali; Canggu, Bali; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Kep, Cambodia; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Saigon, Vietnam; Hoi An, Vietnam; Hue, Vietnam; Halong Bay, Vietnam; Hanoi, Vietnam)
Boats taken: 5 (one rickety wooden affair from the Kep pier to Rabbit Island in Cambodia; one sunset ride on the Mekong in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; one incredible luxury cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam; one quickie kayak ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam; one paddle boat tour of the Cua Van floating village in Halong Bay, Vietnam)
Buses taken: 2 (one 3-hour “local” from Hoi An to Hue in Vietnam, where I had to remove my shoes before boarding and could only sit reclined; and another 3-hour shuttle van to Halong Bay City that had plush leather seats and WiFi)
Shoes packed: 4—two sandals (a flat and a wedge); two sneakers (a cute ‘n’ trendy slip-on and trendy ‘n’ supportive slip-on)
Shoes needed: 2 (the flat sandal and the supportive sneaker)
Shoes tossed: 2 (the flat sandal and the supportive sneaker)
Mosquito bites received: Inumberable (mostly in Bali)
Mosquito sprays purchased: 3
Mosquito sprays remaining: 1
Laundry done: 4 times (including once in a tub in Hanoi and once in a sink in Ubud after someone spilled red wine all over me)
Massages indulged in: 11
Yoga classes taken: 6 (3 in Bali; 1 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; 1 in Hoi An, Vietnam and 1 in Hanoi, Vietnam)
Things I will miss:
Being handed a cold, lemongrass-scented towel whenever boarding a plane or boat or sitting down at a restaurant, or checking into a hotel. All the frangipani flowers. All the welcome drinks. All the fresh passion fruit. All the funny WiFi passwords. Fresh coconut water (served in a coconut, natch). Bamboo everything. Hammocks. Cheap massages. Burning incense. The smell of lemongrass. The smell of burning palm leaves.
Things I will not miss:
Having to wash my hair everyday. All the honking. All the roosters. Wet bathroom floors. Squat toilets. Condensed milk.