I’ve been away from the blog for an embarrassingly long time.
It’s because my whole life has changed this year.
My last post on the blog left off right on the cusp of taking off on my dream trip around the world. Man… if I had only known how much my world was about to change. 2017 has seen me giving up my longterm home, moving, traveling, recuperating, readjusting. Designing a new life for myself that honestly looks so radically different from 2016 that attempting to comprehend it all still makes my head spin. Everything has changed.
I spent this past winter and spring living and traveling on an epic backpacking adventure through Thailand, Vietnam, Bali and Cambodia. The longest I’ve ever traveled abroad for as well as a mind-boggling amount of plane rides, buses, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, taxis, and other forms of transit taken over these months. I have so much to tell — but let’s just start by saying this trip has thoroughly worn me out!
I’ve taken my time in coming back to the blog because my health hasn’t been the greatest (more on that later) and rebuilding my immunity and energetic stores after so much life change has been my number 1 priority as of late. Kind of a double edge sword because it is SO HARD to come back to something after being away for this long. It doesn’t matter how much you love it; getting back into the routine of writing is mega hard work. For that matter, forming any sort of routine these days has been a challenge after going so long this year without well, much of any.
One day I will master the whole “blogging while traveling” thing. Or “blogging while in the midst of big life change stuff.” It’s an aspiration of mine:) However, I’ve compiled a travel rundown of my time in Southeast Asia full of impressions, food, stories, inspiring moments, etc… in other words, all the juicy stuff! Plus of course lots of pics. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live and travel this region, I’m so excited to share with you my experiences. Not just the good stuff but the highs and lows, the simple and the enthralling that come with all longterm travel in foreign land. And in case you’re wondering, I did stay 100% vegan for the entire trip and mostly raw as well 😉
I will always think of my life as “before” and “after” Southeast Asia. Giving up so much (your home, jobs, savings, security, stability) for the opportunity of a lifetime will do that. This experience has changed me, brought me to my knees in both gratitude and gut-wrenching pain. It’s one of those pivotal life experiences that forever marks a turning point – the closing of one life chapter, the opening of a new.
I have no regrets and despite all the post-travel recuperation that’s ensued, I’d honestly do it all over again in a heartbeat. Because dreams.
You gotta make em happen. One way or another.
Come ride with me through my backpacking dream of a lifetime — a compilation of landscapes, adventure and magic moments in one of my all-time favourite regions of the world:
Making so many new friends! Almost everywhere I went for a meal in Ubud, I’d end up chatting with someone sitting nearby or someone who had just walked in. I met a number of great people that I hung out and planned activities with during my time here: a girl from Australia, a guy from Germany, a girl from the UK, a girl from New Zealand, a guy from Portland… it was really lovely to cross paths with so many young, friendly, spiritual backpackers. Bali attracts the soul-searching types for sure.
I’ll never forget…
Wild ecstatic dancing in the middle of the ricefields at night with a bunch of other creative hippie souls.
Meeting a Balinese healer who read my energy field and told me I have a weak solar plexus chakra. He took me under his wing for some reason, gave me multiple energy and chakra clearings, paid for my meals, drove me to a healing event, paid for my admission… all of this he covered himself and refused to take any payment from me.
Getting the 2nd best massage of my life at Karsa Spa (the best massage I ever had was last summer in the south of Bali). If you’re in Ubud, you must check out Karsa.. MUST! Get the intuitive heart massage… spiritual, calming, heart-centered, this massage left me in a floating state of bliss for the rest of the day.
The spacious, tropical oasis that is the Yoga Barn. Yes it’s touristy and made for westerners and you won’t find the locals hanging out here… still, the space is absolutely gorgeous and worth spending time at in my opinion (save your money and take yoga classes elsewhere though – the schedule is packed and enticing but classes are mediocre at best). I recommend the Yoga Barn Kafe — one of my favourite places to eat, hang out, write, and meet other travelers!
Dinners at Earth Cafe – I swear I ate here almost every single night and always got the same 3 things – huge organic salad bowl, chickpea pumpkin soup, and/or side order of smashed garlic potatoes. Heavenly! Longterm backpacking is super ungrounding and all I wanted to eat during my travels was mountains of potatoes to root my energy back down.
Yoga classes, healthy food, spiritual practices, the feeling of being surrounded by endless opportunities to tend to your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Everything in Bali just feels beautiful, whether it’s the freshly picked flower arrangements or the way the sun sparkles over the rice fields or the exquisite carvings on a building column. Being in the midst of it all, you can’t help but feel more beautiful as well – more radiant, more feminine, more at peace, more alive.
The incredibly kind Bagus family – they made me giant fruit platters and guava smoothies for breakfast everyday when I told them I was a raw vegan, invited me to dinner with their family, drove me 30 minutes out of town and back for free when there was an event I wanted to attend, even booked a guesthouse for me close to the airport using up their online discount so I could save some money. This small homestay was a major highlight for me, not just in Ubud but during my entire SE Asia travels. There are plenty of more beautiful places to stay in Bali for sure but the level of hospitality and genuine warmth from this family you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. I felt like I WAS a member of their family. Check em out here and if you book a room with them, please tell them I said hello:)
It’s a tough one, Ubud has some great food… but I’ll go with the tempeh pumpkin spinach lasagna at Dayu’s Warung. A real treat for me as I usually avoid eating soy but you know.. when in Asia! This lasagna is vegan, gluten-free, grain-free, hearty and filling and one of the weirdest concoctions I’ve come across. Sometimes I still dream about it…
Otres Village and Beach
Sitting on the steps of Angkor Wat after watching the sun rise, bonding with a new soul sister from Canada that I had just met that morning. The two of us sharing stories of heartbreak, illness, and loss from our past and discovering so many life parallels between us. Hugs, teary eyes, gratitude, and the realisation in that very moment that this is the reason why I felt so compelled to come to Cambodia. The two of us, we were meant to meet. So much gratitude for crossing paths with a soul sister clear across the world!
I’ll never forget…
Temple trekking with my soul sis in Siem Reap. At one point the two of us took our shoes off and climbed a high point in Bayon barefoot. Spent a long time up there taking in the view and meditating in the warm sun (whilst amused tourists down below took pics of us) 😉
Dao of Life cafe! Just go there… trust me on this. Beautiful homey vegan food, much of it raw, and such a kind Cambodian staff to match. I spent so much time hanging out on their rooftop eating, writing, curled up on the cushions reading and taking in the fresh ocean breezes and beach views. This is the ultra hangout spot complete with free books, hippie art, a swap shop, and even kittens!
Torrential Cambodian thunderstorms in the middle of the night. Climbing down from my bungalow, running out into the storm and getting soaked, watching the jungle turn into a sea. Talk about feeling alive… I’ll never forget how turned up every one of my senses was in that moment.
The deep, maroon-coloured sandy roads of Cambodia and the peace I felt wandering around under blazing bright sun, my birkenstocks caked in dust, sweat dripping from my brow, watching the dusty rural landscape stretch out before me. Quiet subdued simplicity. I connected with this country more than any other on this trip and I can’t even fully explain why. But it might have to do with these moments.
Watching the sun go down on sleepy Otres Beach, a bright neon red perfectly round fireball disappearing into the sea. I felt like I was on another planet in that moment, so far away from everything I knew in my old life. Wild and free.
My atm fiasco in Kampot when I discovered my debit card (aka the ONLY way I could access cash in a cash-based country) was frozen due to theft in Indonesia. An incredibly patient tuk-tuk driver was solely responsible for saving me — lending me his cell phone, purchasing an international calling card with his own money so I could contact my bank, driving me back and forth to several atms in town before we could find one that actually worked… all this whilst I was ill from food poisoning! I summoned all my inner strength and resolve that day. And of course gave the driver a very generous tip when I was finally able to get cash…
Fearing for my life (and quite frankly it felt like risking my life!) when I got onboard a speedboat to a tiny island off the coast of Cambodia. Charging through the rocky, violent sea, at times the boat completely hoisted up in the air by huge waves, made me forever grateful to live an existence where I can choose to be secure on land!
The flat, quietly dilapidated expanse of a Cambodian countryside and the warm-hearted, often disabled people I crossed paths with. Cambodia both pulled at and broke my heart in so many of the same moments. If you are not familiar with this country’s dark history and the effects of it, I recommend reading up on this to understand.
Hands down, the Mother Earth Salad at Dao of Life! I mean it’s gorgeous, yeah? And packed with raw vegan goodness: sprouted mung beans, red cabbage, mango, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, avocado, and pumpkin seeds. I ate this more times than I can count and highly recommend getting this salad if you plan to pass through Sihanoukville on your travels. Ridiculous amounts of joy from this dish :)) So much love put into their food.
Meeting a fellow raw vegan backpacker from Germany quite randomly (he sat down on the same bench as me in Hoi An one day. I was munching on watermelon, he was munching on corn). We started talking and discovered to our shock that we shared the same weirdo, fruit-filled eating habits, that we both traveled around with kilos of fruit in our backpacks, that we both shared a similar diet and dietary beliefs. We became great friends, planned outings together, swapped silly travel food stories of how we were both managing to survive in such a meat-centered country. He invited me to join on his motorbike trip throughout the rest of Vietnam and I literally changed all my travel plans to make this happen. Another one of those incredible ‘meant to be’ moments that I felt so grateful for!
I’ll never forget…
Spending time at the adorable cat cafe, a shelter that rescues cats off the street and saves them from ending up on someone’s dinner plate (no joke, Vietnam apparently has a big cat and dog meat trade going on and animals are regularly taken off the street and tortured in really gruesome ways before ending up as a meal!) Learn more and help out here.
Biking into town every morning to pick up my daily fruit from the market. A typical stash I’d bring back would be a whole watermelon sliced up, bunch of bananas, a kilo or two of mangoes, a few mandarins, and a milk fruit or some sliced pineapple. My days were filled with munching on sweet tropical fruits!
The absolutely insane crowds that came out for the full moon lantern festival. I went out with my hostel mates for the night attempting to get dinner and watch the lanterns take off… the street closings and total crowd chaos on the streets made that impossible. It took us over an hour to make it across the bridge and to our restaurant destination in the old town – where we basically stayed put and didn’t leave for the rest of the evening!
Getting locked out of my hostel with a Belgian friend of mine – the two of us wandered around hoping our host would come back soon, eventually jumped the gate to the hostel after midnight in an attempt to break in (but then discovered the front door was locked as well). We waited around on the street messaging and emailing and calling; eventually our host returned to let us in at 1am… (did I mention that backpacking adventures are never boring?!)
Taking an uber to the famous vegan restaurant in HCMC with one of my hostel mates for dinner one night. The two of us went all out and ordered 4 dishes each, so much food it could barely all fit on the table. It took us several hours and even our server was shocked but we did manage to finish it all.
The sheer motorbike mania, noise, filth, smells and pollution of Ho Chi Minh City. I was there two separate times on my trip – and both times couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough. I remember leaving my hostel in the evening to look for food that first night and getting lost and totally overwhelmed immediately. I lasted a whole 20 minutes before I fled back to my room in horror and disgust. Walking down the streets of this city regularly put me into a state of panic; the intense garbage smells, the dirt and the grime, the crudeness, the neverending traffic darting all over the place, it was all just too much. I am NOT a city person and HCMC is not for the faint of heart!
Walking meditations through Linh Ung Pagoda – I loved quietly observing all the lively expressive buddha statues, each one conveying a very palpable human emotion such as happiness, anger, sadness, mischief, boredom, etc. And the panoramic views looking out towards Da Nang peninsula and the ocean were just stunning.
Discussing life, love and gender differences with my raw vegan friend while spending a day on the beach. The sun beating down, waves washing ashore, munching on baby bananas as we shared ideas on masculine and feminine energies in the world, how gender roles have shifted, what this means and what we all seem to be looking for. It’s funny how you can travel to the other side of the world, to a place where things look and feel so unlike anything you’ve ever known.. and yet even here, manage to cross paths with a kindred spirit:)
I spent much of my time in Vietnam feeling rather undernourished and desperately craving potatoes and avocado. If it wasn’t for the fruit markets, I would have completely lost my mind. On my last day in the country, however, I went to a restaurant for lunch that had a red bean veggie burger on the menu. It sounded so good to me! But was it grain-free? I tentatively asked, though I doubted the server would understand. Turns out she not only spoke English but understood what the terms gluten and grain free meant! Yes the burger did contain breadcrumbs — but it could be made without! Oh man. I’ll never forget the immense gratitude that swelled in my heart when my burger arrived in a lettuce wrap, made with kidney beans and an assortment of veggies like broccoli, red pepper, beets and mushrooms. Plus avocado on top! I devoured everything, my body and soul singing the whole time “yes yes thank you thank you THANK YOU!!” Then I immediately ordered a second one to go. I’m sure this burger looks like nothing special but for a weary, hungry traveler with little to eat around, it felt like the most satisfying meal in the world.
Amazing raw food dinners at Rasayana. I met a French expat and American expat living in Shanghai here and spent a ton of time chatting and hanging out with both of them. Literally every dinner or every other dinner was spent at this restaurant and inevitably I’d run into at least one of these guys. Nothing beats incredible food + company in a beautiful location!
I’ll never forget…
Rasayana meals! Seriously, I practically lived at this raw vegan place and it’s such an oasis away from the busy Bangkok streets. Every dish is beautifully prepared and delicious. My favourite thing ever is the mock salmon sushi rolls… still dreaming about them now. Check it out, this place is a must-visit if you love healthy food.
My cute little dorm room where I stayed for the longest time, resting and rejuvenating and rebuilding my health after getting food poisoning for the second time on my trip. This room was so tiny, just a twin bed and a little desk could fit in there but it was all mine. It had powerful AC and a humongous floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a courtyard garden down below and oh how I loved that space! Peaceful and rejuvenating.
Actually enjoying Bangkok:) I never wanted to spend much time in this metropolis, always preferring to take off to other parts of the country with less people and more nature. But Bangkok turned out to be very good for me, providing rest, healthy food shopping, good vegan restaurants to choose from, easy public transit, and everything within walking distance of where I stayed. After spending a lot of time here, I realised that Bangkok is really not such a bustling, crowded, noisy place after all – it’s got some pockets like that, sure, but overall this city is relatively quiet. I could definitely spend more time here.
Hanging with my former roomie who moved to Thailand 3 years ago. This was great fun, the two of us laughing and reminising, wandering around town, and I loved hearing all his personal experiences and stories living as an expat.
$5 Thai Massages in Chiang Mai. Unbelievable. And yes it was definitely one of those no-frills open room type places where people are separated by just a little cloth on a clothes line. But still… $5!! As you can imagine, I went back multiple times.
Malls. It feels a bit weird to say this but if you really want to get a feel for Bangkok life, you’ve got to get out and experience the malls. Thailand malls are in a league of their own – clean, high-tech, sprawling, ginormous and bustling with activity. And everything happens here! In a mall you can buy your groceries and clothes, view art exhibits, go to the cinema, see a concert, go to a spa, take a yoga class, eat at a fancy restaurant, see a museum, visit the aquarium, even check into the hospital (yes I know this from personal experience!) Malls in Bangkok are classy and refined, nothing like the chain malls I remember hanging out at as a kid in the states.
Raw food cooking classes, Thai-style! Spending entire days creating popular Thai dishes like banana flower salad, tom kha soup, and of course pad thai, all with 100% raw food ingredients! It’s amazing what can be created just from fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. Some of the dishes were a little fat-heavy for me but I loved learning how to work with Thai chilies and other foods that are not readily available in the states like pomelo, banana leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and other various roots.
Sweet potatoes! Available warm and fully cooked from street food vendors, markets and grocery stores, my 2-month potato craving was FINALLY satisfied in Thailand! I ate 3-5 per day, not even exaggerating lol.
Lastly, the wandering. That’s what I’ll always remember from this journey – Thailand in particular as so much time was spent here. The immense amount of wandering that longterm travel affords. Waking up each day and allowing that day to be guided and shaped by one question only – “What do I feel like doing?” It’s an amazing and empowering feeling being all on your own in a foreign country, no agenda, nowhere you have to be, no one dictating your plans other than your own wild heart. As a backpacker, this is what fuels me and makes all the challenge and exhaustion worth it.
I’m tempted to say anything from Rasayana!! 😉 But instead I will go with… watermelon breakfasts! Every morning I’d wander across the street to buy half of a watermelon from the market, take this back to my room and totally dig in! Simple I know, but Thailand is HOT and daily watermelon is a necessity! I looked forward to this every single day like a little kid anxiously waits for Christmas.
How travel has changed me
These months in Southeast Asia have literally changed my life. And when I tell that to people, they are curious – “How exactly have you changed? In what way?” It’s difficult to put into words. I mean I look the same, aside from a rather dark suntan. Nothing particularly monumental happened whilst I was backpacking. I’m still the same person I was before. And yet, I’m not.
Travel always opens your eyes up, to other lifestyles, ways of being, ways of thinking. There’s so much that I used to care about and be concerned with before that just doesn’t seem so important anymore. For example, looking a certain way – wearing makeup, looking presentable, doing my hair, even shaving. I know what you’re probably thinking… she’s come back a total slob! But really, I’ve just started asking more questions about why we do the things we do.
It’s one thing to have good hygiene. It’s one thing if you genuinely enjoy “making yourself up.” My only question is — how comfortable do you feel walking around in public without all the upkeep? How comfortable do you feel leaving the house with unshaven legs? Without the mascara or the eyeliner? Is there maybe a part of you that does these things because you’re expected to? Because you don’t feel good enough or beautiful enough as you are? Perhaps none of this rings true for you. This is just my personal experience but it felt so freeing to travel around most days makeup-free, frizzy-haired, wearing the same 5 outfits I had brought with me day after day (yes I got laundry done there!)
I feel similarly about living a more minimalist kind of lifestyle. There’s so much unnecessary stuff we tend to buy and collect just from living life – tons of clothing, books, gadgets, knick knacks, jewelry, accessories, shoes, bags. These things pile up in our home and we don’t even realise just how much STUFF we own until the day comes when we have to move and it takes a million boxes just to pack it all up.
I brought just one 30L backpack with me to Southeast Asia. I brought my laptop, 5 outfits, pjs, flight clothing, toiletries, supplements and snack food. If it didn’t fit into my one small backpack, I didn’t bring it. And you know what? I was happy. I traveled for months wearing the same few clothes and it was actually quite nice – I loved and felt good in everything I brought. Nothing sat around in my bag; everything got used and cycled through. Backpacking makes you realise the benefits of owning very little. It makes you realise that all that stuff you own – it’s not needed and it’s also not what truly makes us happy in the end. Real happiness comes from experiences, not from belongings.
With the fulfillment of one dream, new dreams arise and old desires often change
Going on this trip was the culmination of 4+ years of longtime yearning. Backpacking through SE Asia was, quite frankly, my #1 dream in life. The person who I was before taking off on this journey was one who was so very naive though. So sure of what she wanted in life and so sure that it would be better than anything. I had things all mapped out. I wanted a life filled with travel and adventure, location-independent work, the ability to pick up and go anywhere. I wanted to be young and wild and free. I wanted so badly to get out of the city and live a life on my own terms.
I saw things on this trip that challenged my old ways of thinking. I saw things that opened me up to suffering and loss. I met people who showed me, through their own ways of living and being in the world, that things that look and feel impossible to me in this world are far from it. Through so many challenges I encountered on the road, challenges like getting sick multiple times, running out of money, getting lost, getting stranded, I gained an inner strength and resolve in my ability to succeed against the odds.
With all this has come a shift in perspective and desire. I’m sure you can relate to what I’m talking about here. Sometimes there are things we want for ourselves so badly in life – it could be a job, a certain place to live, a relationship with a certain person, a career. We want these things because we think they will make us happy – AND because we think it will make our lives better. More fulfilled. Maybe more glamorous. Only it doesn’t always work out that way.
Have you ever gotten what you desperately wanted only to find out it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as it was cracked up to be? I experienced this time and time again this year to the point where the bulk of the desires I held 6 months ago are no longer the desires I hold today.
I used to think of Southeast Asia as THE place for me to live in the world – rich exotic culture, tropical paradise, friendly people, the most delicious food, tons of fresh fruit, warm weather year-round, spiritual practices galore… not to mention it’s so cheap to live there! It sounds kinda ideal, right? The thing is, no place in the world is perfect. You understand this when you’ve spent a good amount of time in an area, when it becomes more than just sightseeing and being on holiday. I saw a lot that made me fall deeper in love with SE Asia and at the same time, a lot that made me realise the fantasy was just that – a fantasy. An attempt at once again searching for happiness outside of myself instead of cultivating it within.
Although none of this means I will stop traveling. Travel is and will always be such an important part of my life. A chance to learn and grow and expand outside of the box. And I have no regrets over the sacrifices that made this travel dream and transient lifestyle possible. There’s still a feeling inside that makes my heart flutter, a feeling of being able to fly off whenever the desire comes up. A feeling of being open, unhinged and free.
With all the changes 2017 has brought, this kind of lifestyle has become a reality now – one that feels incredulous and has me so grateful because it makes all the hardship of the past year worth it. Free time, an open schedule, being able to pursue my interests, dreams and passions without restriction — these things mean everything to me and to me, they are worth fighting for. They are worth giving up other things for. But I won’t be taking off on another epic round-the-world adventure again quite so soon after this one… 🙂