The first post I ever wrote from Asia was titled Holy Hell. And that’s what Asia is. Both Holy, and for many people (not me), a little hellish.
It took maybe 3 minutes in Kathmandu to realize that I’d stepped into a whole new world, and one in which I’d have to learn how to operate. Every city is full of a hundred street symphonies playing over each other: the instruments vary from voices to oh so money motorcycle horns, but sometimes if you close your eyes and listen to the chaos you can hear the beauty in it.
Asia is dirty, frantic, crowded, insane, but for all those things it’s full of countless paradises and is undeniably a holy place. I’m not religious but it’s hard to ignore the feeling of being somewhere special and different in the world when your watching bodies burn in Varanasi alongside the Ganges river, or watching tibetan monks lead musical prayer ceremonies in ornate temples, or wandering through the wild jungle of ancient stones that is Angkor Wat. There is a feeling in Asia that I have yet to find elsewhere in this world and even if there were no other reason, for this one alone, it is worth overcoming the cultural shock and largely irrational fear that may hold you in your home. having an adventure in Asia is a once in a life time experience for most, and for better or worse, something you’ll never forget.
But that’s not the only reason to go. Far from it. I spent 7 months in Asia this past year discovering all the reasons that will inevitably bring me back before too long and trust me it’s a long list. The people in Asia are all incredibly friendly and wonderfully curious as to your whereabouts. For some this is over whelming ad scary, after all it’s rare living at hime when you have strangers constantly staring at you and even stopping you to ask for your photos. But embrace it, smile to the people, talk to them with whatever language (spoken or physical) you can, and you will find one common thread throughout all of Asia, good, kind, warmhearted people.
In Nepal and India I was often asked to pose for business photos, almost always asked how much money I make back home, and also constantly asked how much I weighed. None of these questions were rude, creepy or asked with ulterior motives, but instead with genuine honest curiosity. They ended up serving as great ways to start conversations with locals. So if you do make it to Asia don’t let the stares and photos intimidate you, almost everyone you meet will be friendly and eager to help anyway they can. Of course some caution must be exercised, common sense employed, but please don’t let your fear keep you from interacting with and trusting the wonderful locals all across Asia.
Beyond the holy feeling and the warm locals there’s the food, cheap as chips and never going to your empty wallet. Not only is it cheap, it’s damn good and varied too. India remains the only country in the world where I could quite happily be a vegetarian. While there I adopted a habit I thoroughly recommend to everyone, where for each lunch and dinner I would order two dishes, eat maybe 60% of each one of them then get them packed to go before quickly handing them off to one of the countless families of beggars on the streets of any sizeable Indian town. Two dishes and a drink would usually run me about 4 bucks and it’s a great way to give to the beggars in bigger cities while knowing you are helping them and not the gangs which often control the beggars. But back to the food, from Thai noodle dishes, to Vietnamese Bo Bun, to Nepalese Momo’s to Indian… well indian everything. The heavy spice blends and rich curries and fresh seafood will see you quickly getting fat, but don’t worry, nothing like a few days of Dehli Belly to get back to your bikini bod. See, that’s one thing about Asian food, odds are if you stay long enough you will get sick; but here’s the bright side; it will almost always be worth it.
Asia also surprised me for just how many animals it was possible to see. Safari’s in India and Nepal are a fraction of the cost of their African cousins and if you revise the big 5 just a little it’s entirely possible to tick all the boxes with Rhino’s Tigers, Elephants, Buffalo’s and Leopards all there to be seen, if you have the patience and time to do it. When I was 16 I was lucky enough to explore Costa Rica with my family and was utterly captivated by the monkeys, well after 6 weeks in India your almost sick of them, that’s how many of the sneaky bastards you’ll see.
Getting to Asia may be your biggest expense but once you get there it’s easy to live cheaply. I spent just under 30 dollars a day in Asia not including flights and it would have been pretty easy to live off much less in most places. One more great thing about Asia is the cheap airlines like Air Asia, Lion Air, Nok Air and countless more. They mean that once you’re in Asia you can move around cheaply. For example, my flight from Kolkata to Bangkok ran me just 65 CAD with a checked bag.
So yes, Asia is an utterly enthralling collection of chaos and beauty. It cannot be missed, and is undoubtedly worth fighting through the shock here. Just be ready for everything to be different and revel in those glorious differences instead of whining that “this isn’t how it works back home.” You’re not back home, you’re in an absolutely amazing continent full of good food, cool animals, friendly people, and endless opportunities for truly terrific travel experiences.
Countries I’ve been to in Asia:
Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam.
Countries I plan to visit on my way back to India in 2017/2018
Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, (Syria, Iraq, depending on situation) Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh
Countries I plan to visit upon my return in 2018/2019
Russia, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia.