Buddha Statue in Mandalay, Burma

Lessons from Asia and Moving On

It feels strange to have finally left Asia after spending almost two years there. For us, travel has been inextricably linked with this part of the world. When I think of backpacking my mind conjures up images of long, cramped bus journeys and never-ending terraces of rice, gold-carpeted beaches and heaving cities full of motorbikes and street markets. I think of wading through soupy, humid air, the smell of citronella insect repellent, incense from temples, and spices from road-side food stalls; I hear beeping horns, crowing roosters, prayer calls and the lapping of the sea.

Sunset on Koh Chang, Thailand

We’ve been back in England over a week now, my tan is fading and our backpacks have been shelved. Everything feels calm and quiet here compared to Asia, there’s so much green open space and we blend into the crowds rather than stand out, there’s no language barrier to contend with and life feels so effortless. It’s no secret that we found the past year in Hanoi pretty intense, so all this simple familiarity comes as a bit of a relief, but a part of me is still struggling to catch up with this change and adjust to the fact that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be returning to Asia.

Family on a Motorbike in Asia

Lessons From Asia

Whenever I pause and try to take stock of all we’ve seen and experienced since we left the UK in 2013, I feel totally overwhelmed. We are still the same people we were before we boarded that plane to New Zealand, but we are also subtly changed from all we’ve experienced since then. First and foremost, travel has taught us to live a different kind of life, one filled with change and adventure but specifically the time we spent in Asia has had, what I suspect will be, a profound and lasting impact on our outlook on life.

A boat floating down the river in Tam Coc

Whilst travelling in Asia we were confronted with the effects of poverty, war and natural disaster for the first time in our lives. We walked through the killing fields of Cambodia and looked at photographs of some of the thousands of people massacred by the Khmer Rouge. We met people in Leyte, the Philippines, whose relatives had been killed and their homes destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. In Laos and Vietnam we saw the scars of past wars, the bombs that still litter the countryside and birth defects caused by chemical weapons. We rode the Death Railway in Thailand and confronted the legacy of colonialism in almost all of the countries we visited. We saw how corruption, animal cruelty and lack of civil liberty and human rights are woven into the fabric of daily life in much of Asia.

Burmese People at a Market

All this has made us realise how fortunate we are to have been born in the UK. This random stroke of luck means that we enjoyed healthy, secure upbringings. It means that we have access to free healthcare and education and that we take free speech, the ability to get a good job and travel anywhere we want to, for granted. In short, we have so many opportunities and choices, which I now know is a rare privilege in this world. Our lives have been free from pain and struggle, which is something I never truly understood until we travelled and lived in Asia. Yes, there is poverty, corruption and there are social problems in the UK, but nowhere near on the same scale as in Asia.
P1120004

This all sounds rather bleak, but we also learnt how beautiful Asia is and how awesome life there can be. I will never forget the many beautiful sunsets we saw, particularly over the ancient temples of Bagan in Burma and the fields of rice in northern Vietnam, or the steep staircases of green and yellow rice terraces in the Philippines and sleeping under the stars in the jungles of Borneo. I still remember, vividly, the intensity of life in Asia, the swirl of colours, smells, noises and movement; the chaos of travelling to work in Vietnam, the rush of riding a tuk tuk through the dusty Cambodian countryside or the simple pleasure of relaxing on a hammock in the shade.

Mount Batur, Bali Indonesia

Time and again we were blown away by the many kind and friendly people we met in Asia, to mention just a few; the stranger in Taiwan who bought us sweets as a welcome present, the many curious people who wanted to have their photos taken with us in Burma and the Vietnamese women who cleaned and bandaged our wounds after our motorcycle crash. I don’t think a day went by in Asia when we weren’t treated to some small act of kindness; a smile, wave, offer of help or cry of ‘Hello’. In particular, I fell in love with many of the boisterous, loud, often irritating, kids I taught in Vietnam and the friends we made while living there.

Girls from my Grade One Vitenamese School Class

Despite differences in culture and lifestyle, I also came to realise that people are very similar wherever they’re from, we all generally strive for the same things: happiness, security, health, a family, job and home. In Hanoi I’d gossip and chat with my Vietnamese colleagues about holidays, boyfriends and work the same way I used to with friends in London. In the middle of the jungle in Malaysian Borneo we were invited to stay with a family in their longhouse. After dinner, coffee was poured and we all settled down to watch a soap opera on TV in the same way we do now we’re back in England. We all have national holidays and festivals, cultural quirks and traditions. Wherever you’re from life is, as they say in Thailand, Same Same, But Different.

Burmese Kids in Bagan

There are too many highlights of our time in Asia to mention and my mind spins when I try and recount them all, there have been so many amazing moments; visiting Angkor Wat, snorkelling in topaz waters, eating banana pancakes for breakfast, squeezing through underground caves, cycling through rice paddies. Yes, travelling in Asia could be irritating, baffling and frustrating, but it also made for the most exciting, exhilarating period of my life. I am incredibly grateful for the time we spent in Asia and I will miss this beautiful corner of the world. Now though, it is time to move on – adventures in America and Europe await.

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29 Comments
  • Nita
    Posted at 01:28h, 10 July Reply

    Happiness is about perspective. In the world where things come easily and many complain so profusely about mot having the latest and greatest, we lose site of the good parts of life. We can appreciate it or waste it. Happiness is a choice. Being able to look back at this trip will help you through any obstacle in life because you had an experience that most people never get. You got to experience the fact that you are truly lucky and have a lot to be happy about.,
    Nita recently posted..Our 2015 to 2016 Curriculum PlansMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:32h, 10 July Reply

      Hi Nita, yes that’s so true. We try to really appreciate and be thankful for how lucky we are nowadays and make the most of our happiness.

  • Dayna
    Posted at 09:46h, 10 July Reply

    I have such a love/hate relationship with Asia but it was still one of the best trips of my life. So excited for your US and Europe adventures – it’ll be different but I think you guys will love it!
    Dayna recently posted..How We Save Money for Travel (and other financial goals)My Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:33h, 10 July Reply

      I’m sure we’ll love it, we’re already getting really excited for the road trip 🙂

  • Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
    Posted at 23:03h, 10 July Reply

    Welcome home to Europe! You have SUCH spectacular memories from your time in Asia, and some of them are probably even better in retrospect. At least that’s how I feel when I think back on my travels. I’m excited to hear about your upcoming roadtrips. Will be following.
    Miriam of Adventurous Miriam recently posted..My night in a former Yugoslavian prisonMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:14h, 11 July Reply

      Thanks Miriam! We will never forget the time we spent in Asia, we have amazing memories of that part of the world.

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 07:30h, 11 July Reply

    Hi Amy, great wrap up of your time in Asia, the end of an era! It has been fascinating for me as a follower of your blog. Enjoy your time in England with family and friends, it will fly by for sure. I am looking forward to your USA road trip.

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:15h, 11 July Reply

      Thanks Gilda, you’re right, the time is already flying by. It won’t be long until we’re back on a plane, this time to New York!

  • stefan
    Posted at 11:35h, 11 July Reply

    Kind of freaking out a bit about our return to UK in December. Hope you’re doing fine back home and obviously excited about the next leg of your travels 🙂
    stefan recently posted..Gay Mongolia: discover Mongolia’s only gay barMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:37h, 11 July Reply

      We’re doing great, thanks and we’re really excited about America. Try not to worry about your return, see it as a transition to the next stage of your travels 🙂

  • Katie
    Posted at 18:18h, 12 July Reply

    I think you’ve captured the sensory experience of Asia perfectly here – it’s taken me right back!

    What a lovely recap of your adventures in Asia. Looking forward to following your next Stateside chapter!

    Enjoy your British summer!

    K x
    Katie recently posted..Japanese Pancakes: okonomiyaki in HiroshimaMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 19:26h, 12 July Reply

      Thanks Katie, enjoy yours too 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 04:00h, 14 July Reply

    What a nice selection of photos in this post, love them all, especially the sunset. I can relate to so much of what you’re saying about being back home again, trying to settle. My Camino tan is fading fast and our backpacks are on the shelf. It took me quite a while to get back into my life and we were only gone for 3 months. I felt everything you’re feeling so I can’t imagine working through 2 years worth. What a fantastic adventure the two of you shared and I know it’s only going to get better from here forward.
    Patti recently posted..Putting a Face on Iran: Women at the Forefront ~My Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:41h, 14 July Reply

      Yep, I think it’s always an adjustment when you return home, whether after a few weeks, months or years. This time in the UK is a good transitional period between Asia and what comes next!

  • Camille
    Posted at 12:05h, 14 July Reply

    You’ve summed up South-East Asia pretty well. Unfortunately I had a bad personal experience last time I was there and I am not ready to go back yet, but I do miss it a lot and it’s hard to be away!
    Camille recently posted..Finding the Edge of Oslo on an Alternative TourMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:16h, 15 July Reply

      I’m sorry to hear that Camille, I hope that one day you return to Asia and have a great experience there instead 🙂

  • [email protected] The British Berliner
    Posted at 13:41h, 14 July Reply

    Welcome back. 🙂 It is hard Amy and as you say, slipping back into England can sometimes feel as if you have never left! The fact is, life in England has always been that way: calm and relatively quiet. It is the British way after all. It is yourselves who have changed. And that’s a good thing.
    I remember returning from Eastern Europe, back to Cheshire where my family live, and meeting a woman who spent 2 hours talking about her washing machine! That was when I knew that life back in surburbia wasn’t for me and that my life was to be abroad.
    Consider Asia the exciting beginning of your future. I can’t wait to see where you end up next. 🙂
    [email protected] The British Berliner recently posted..I’m a fashionista, so I pucker my lips, twirl my skirt, and put on my kitten heels to attend the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin – Spring/Summer 2016!My Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:18h, 15 July Reply

      Thanks Victoria. Two hours talking about a washing machine?! Crazy! I’d forgotten how much everyone in the UK loves to talk/moan about the weather and obsess over ‘heat waves’ or lack of them!

  • Rhonda
    Posted at 16:09h, 14 July Reply

    Wonderful sentiments Amy, and so true. We have tried to explain countless times to people here in the US that yes, poverty certainly exists here as well, but we also have social services, food banks, and countless other sources of assistance. Until you’ve met the street children of Cambodia, or the poor of Malawi or spent time in an Indian slum I don’t think one can truly understand the magnitude of it all. Just seeing your pictures and reading of your memories makes me long for Asia. As we embark on our trip south down the PanAm highway soon, I know what it will likely be a very long time until we’re back in that part of the world, a sad thought. Good luck getting back into the swing of things and can’t wait to see where you end up next!
    Rhonda recently posted..Searching for Answers at PaquimeMy Profile

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:22h, 15 July Reply

      Thanks Rhonda. Sure, it’s true that poverty is relative depending on where you’re from but like you, I will never forget some of the things I’ve seen in Asia and I’ll always remember that in comparison, life in the UK is much easier; we have a benefits system, social services and free healthcare and education for a start.

  • Marguerite Fleming
    Posted at 13:05h, 03 August Reply

    Asia is amazing! I really think that there is much to learn from the people there, their culture and lifestyle. I love reading about Asia and I respect the different cultures there. I believe that this is the richest continent of all where you can find so many different people and landscapes. I wish that I could move to my first stop in Asia today but I need to wait another year. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience. Good luck with adjusting to the normal life in Britain.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 21:46h, 03 August Reply

      Thanks for your comment Marguerite, there really is so much to learn from Asia and the people there are amazing. Enjoy your upcoming trip! 🙂

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  • Alyson
    Posted at 05:39h, 06 January Reply

    Asia is deeply embedded in my soul. I struggle with NOT being there. I was actually in a sort of shocked mourning when we were wrenched out of India in early 2015. But the good news is, we’re back in 2 weeks! Sri Lanka and Nepal this time.
    Strange that I find the same joy in Romania. This little village has a similar vibe. Happy New Year guys!
    Alyson recently posted..Life in the Freezer. January in BrebMy Profile

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      Posted at 12:10h, 06 January Reply

      I’m excited for you Alyson and I’m sure your return to Asia is going to be amazing. I’m particularly interested to hear what your experiences are like in Nepal with regards to how the country is recovering from the earthquakes. I’m glad you’ve found a happy home in Romania too; we are back in London at the moment and while I love this city, it is expensive and exhausting. We’re hoping to find a cheaper, less intense home base in Spain this year 🙂

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