Looking Back

Here I am, 2 months into my journey, finally getting an opportunity to reflect on my travel experiences.

Most of the time as a wanderer I am moving from place to place, busy absorbing the sights and sounds but recently I had the chance to meet up with my expat cousins in Singapore who are well-established in their high-flying, white-collar jobs. They were curious to understand why I had decided to leave behind my career, my house and my livelihood to become a nomad.

The truth is I believe many would have liked to go travelling for an extended period of time. After all, who would not be tempted to go on a vacation for a whole year instead of the annual, rigidly time-tabled 2 weeks-holiday (if even that). However as enticing as this sounds, there could be dozens of reasons to justify not going and letting circumstances get in the way. But I believe that life is too short to constantly worry about the future, about the ‘what-if’.

One thing I did not want to do was to live life with regret. Last year I found myself at a  crossroads where I was not quite sure what I wanted to do with myself. So far I had followed a well-trodden path in my academic and professional life without really reflecting on whether this had any purpose to me. Travelling would be a way to learn about the world beyond my immediate surroundings, to find other opportunities and of course to have fun along the way. And so it was that about 9 months ago, my wife and I made the conscious decision to make the circumstances work for us. It was surprising how, since the final decision was made and priorities fixed in our minds, the practicalities of making it happen – though long – felt achievable.

Gorgeous views over the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Spending quality time with other fellow travellers is one of the best ways to enjoy your trip

‘How are you planning your itinerary?

Are you booking your tickets and accommodation in advance?

Do you have a predefined budget?’ 

These are some of the questions we were being asked by our friends and family. Looking back at it now, all I can say is that things went to plan insofar as our plan was set extremely loosely. We had only decided on our first and last destination. What was to happen in between and which route to take was entirely made up along the way.

Broadly speaking the aim was to follow our destinations in a logical geographical order, from north to south or east to west, but in reality this rule does not always apply because state borders are not neatly arranged that way. So zigzagging from one place to the other is bound to happen. In hindsight I realise I could probably have found a more efficient way of moving around had I done more thorough advance research. But I figured that’s OK. I have never regretted my travel choices because no matter what happened, and wherever I ended up I always found an experience that was worth having.

‘A long-term traveler needs a flexible mindset’, is what I tell myself. Although this did not come naturally to me, being used to arranging travel itineraries like a project plan, I grew to appreciate not knowing what I would do or where I would be the following week. There is something uniquely satisfying to have this kind of freedom and a seemingly endless supply of time, to the point where I could afford to be idle (a moral crime in our industrialised world).

Having the luxury of time is helping me ‘live the moment’– appreciate the experience more intensely without stress or anguish over missing out on something else. I could extend my stay if I liked a particular site, go off the beaten track or rent a beach hut to do nothing but gaze at the sea.

For an original experience, spend the night in a treehouse in the jungle in Thong Pha Phum National Park, Thailand
The best beaches are often the ones off the tourist trail, known only to the locals like here in Koh Kradan, Thailand
Talking to locals often provides another dimension to the experience – Kota Bharu market, Malaysia

One of the few things I am learning as a traveler is to let go of my expectations, for I have realised that my most enjoyable moments were mostly the ones I had not anticipated, such as coming across a secluded beach that literally appeared out of nowhere at the end of a walking trail, sharing a hike with a fellow traveler with whom I had a meaningful conversation, tasting the most delicious local dish in a ramshackle hawker stall, talking to a museum curator about his efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of his family, or admiring a sunset over a lake.

Of course, certain popular touristy attractions cannot be missed – and some of them were my highlights.  However I make the effort to visit early in the day before the arrival of the crowds. Having a stunning location to myself brings in a whole new level of experience. Somehow the history of the place comes out alive as I’m free to roam around undisturbed. It becomes easier to let my mind loose and imagine the site as it was intended to be used originally. As an amateur photographer and new blogger I am also inclined to seek out the story behind and to capture the impressions in my camera. And as a self-confessed greedy food-lover I like to taste as much as see the cultures around me. Naturally, I suppose this enhances the travelling experience.

The remarkable history of the Nyonya community, borne out of the intermarriage between the Chinese and Malay people is brought alive in the Pinang Peranakan house in Penang, Malaysia
Phanom Rung Historical park, Thailand, where the amazing ancient Khmer temples can be admired in tranquility
It is worthwhile waking up before everyone else to experience the eerie atmosphere as the sun rises over the sunken temples of Saam Prasob, Thailand
One of the many faces of Thailand captured on our journey

Right now as I am jotting down these words I am sat in front of an amazing sunset on a beach in Borneo after a day hiking in the jungle (and in the last part getting chased by growling macaques). In two days I would like to travel up the Batang Rejang river – the so-called ‘Amazon of Borneo’, to get to the heart of the forest.

I do not have the faintest clue how to get there. Fortunately I do not have to worry about it now. There is always a tomorrow!

Sometimes we don’t need much to experience magical moments. A setting sun over a quiet lake is enough (Khao Laem Lake, Thailand)

This photo essay was put together by Marvin Tse Ve Koon.

Marvin is a travel blogger who recently quit his job in banking to explore Asia with his wife.

Follow his work on Instagram @lets.go_now and @lets.eat_now

Featured image by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

One comment

  1. Beautiful images of two lovely countries. I will reach this point in my life, and have a similar game plan. I also want to do Workaway and other service paths, as part of my extended travels.

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