Travel Diaries #10: Five weeks in Asia

The excitement of travel...

After leaving the mountains just three weeks earlier, I found myself back at the airport in the early hours of the morning. 12 uni students and I were about to embark on a five week tour of Asia. As part of their business studies ‘Global business Asia’ we would visit local companies, social enterprises and business in Asia. Add to this the ‘assisted backpacking’ style travel throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.

The itinerary was jam packed and I knew we would be on the move absorbing sights and cultures of Asia. Most of all I was excited to join the 12 millennials studying business. There is so much to learn from the next generation and I couldn't wait to meet them and learn a fresh perspective and approach to the world.

Amongst the group there were established entrepreneurs, future thinking gurus, mature minded soles, cryptocurrency traders and instagram influences. Just about every one of them had their finger on the pulse when it came to ‘new’ business, tech, online and social media. I knew they were about to blow my mind with what they could teach me. I was excited to offer them an insight into travel and a small part of the world.

A few days in Thailand

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A flight delay ment our stay in Bangkok was brief. The group started to mingle, form and norm. My aim was to get to know the group as I tagged along on their sightseeing adventures around the city. Visiting local markets, the golden buddha, the royal palace. I learned how difficult it can be to find a vegan meal in a street full of eateries.

I loved being back in a foreign country where there is always an element of mystery. You're never quite sure where you might end up or what you will see. With twelve 18-20yo experiencing this alongside me, some for the first time, made it even more exciting.

In Bangkok I learned that you will get scammed by the tuk tuks as a few of the students and I went on a wild goose chase around the city.

Crossing borders

Thailand to Cambodia...one of three border crossing had come up quickly. There is a strange feeling at borders, a buzz and hum. Like a feeling of being nowhere. We experienced extreme polarities at this border as we entered a tin shed to have our passport stamped. Not quite like the immaculate immigration area at the airport, yet the same buzz. The busy importance of officials and the need to be on our best behaviour, there always seems to be and underlining nervousness and anxiety in this authoritative environment.

You must follow the rules and things feel so sterile as if you can't smile when passing through. Official documents and filling out forms but somehow these things seem unimportant. Trapped in a void of nowhereness waiting, waiting, waiting. The procedure feels a little like herding cattle stressful unknown and that feeling of ‘are they going to let me through?’

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Returning to Cambodia

Now enroute to Siem Reap, I was fortunate enough to have been here just four months prior. A seemingly familiar place. The tourist town greeted us with the celebrations of the water festival yet most of us were drained from the long hours in transit. A comfortable hotel and we would settle for the week. The students participating in a community project reviewing a social enterprise and visiting many local businesses.

Between all this we squeezed in a trip to the beautiful Kulan Mountain, a visit to Krbol Riab Community, the Phare Circus. Many, many, markets and of course the spectacular Angkor Temples were I caught a glimpse of the sunrise this time. A bus ride down to and a few nights in Phnom Penh for some more business visits, sightseeing in the capital before heading to country number three...Vietnam

In my recent trip here in June 2017, I fell in love with the culture, people and this country. The natural beauty that this place has to hoffer and the kind hearted soles are everywhere to be found. The spectacular Kulan Mountain waterfall stole my heart despite some minor slip ups.

Cambodia was the beginning of where I started to realise, with this type of group, that anything that could go wrong, would. People will go to great lengths to get a photo for instagram. Bribes in government departments are real and you need a visa to get out of the country...it will take you at least a day to get a new one so don't lose the original that comes in your passport.

Buzzing Vietnam

A country developed a few years ahead of the later was buzzing with energy as we rolled into Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is a place that excites me. The people, the culture, the landscape and of course the food. My group dynamics were really coming into the light in Vietnam after about two weeks on the road. The city was fun and lots to see and do and we stayed for a few nights.

A sleeper train to Da Nang and down to the beautiful Hoi An. The world heritage old town sight is gorgeous. Taylors will whip up any type of outfit, shoe, leather goods or jewellery that you might be after. Endless shopping, delicious food and many tourists floating everywhere. Our time in Ho An was brief but joyful, before our never ending sleeper train to Hanoi.

Due to severe weather and flooding on the track our 17hr sleeper train turned into a 30hr mid trip chill out. With nothing to do but wait, lye on our bunk beds and feast on rice and ration our snacks. Arriving into Hanoi at around 10pm ment a day would be cut from our trek.

The Pu Luong trek took us through local communities and beautiful mountains east of Hanoi. Staying in home stays and seeing how these country villages and communities live. In equisit nature but complete simplicity.

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The trek was divine and I was glad to return to Hanoi, another familiar city where I had been before. Our time here was short as we ducked out to the glorious Halong bay for a night on a Junk boat. Kayaking around limestone cliffs, scrambling through caves, squid fishing and stunning views.

Vietnam is a place hard NOT to love. Previously I had only visited the north so I was delighted to find even more gems in the south. Hoi An was a stand out and a place where I could explore for a lot longer and put it simply you just can’t go past the delicious food in this country.

Vietnam taught me that travel can be stressful when your caught up in delays, managing group dynamics and 12 young adults. But it will be equally rewarding as you sit in the presence of the beautiful culture and energy of travel learning from millennials and new friends.

To China it was.

A love hate relationship with China

I’m not going to lie, after my last trip to China I knew I needed to be on the ball as we entered into this country. I hadn't fully enjoyed the last time I was here and was determined to make this visit change my mind. Fortunately for the group, some of the students spoke the language which made things dramatically easier.

A day on the bus to Nanning and another day on the speed train and we were in Shanghai. This city buzzes like nothing else. People everywhere and fun things to visit and see. Our final destination. The business visites here were epicly interesting. A place where business is thriving it’s interesting to learn what people are doing, new trends and how to make the most of 24 million people in one place.

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We ate delicious food, visited markets and comedy. The bund was a spectacular sight to see of a skyscape which was simply paddocks 30 years prior. People everywhere and a group of weary students we explored the city as best we could and went to the top of some of one of the world's tallest buildings.

My time in China on this occasion had changed my mind a little about this country. Shanghai has some energy and excitement, thats for sure. I learned that the world is a fast moving place and China and its people have some interesting ways of living and believing. I felt like I was from the past when using cash as everything is done on smartphones, including paying for your crepes at the market stall down the lane.

In the end

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Travelling for five weeks with this crew was a long time. They did amazing as a group to compromise, stick to the plan and walk off track, learn and immerse themselves in asian culture. One good thing about travelling for this length of time with the same group is how well you get to know one another. People have a lot to offer and you can learn a lot. Especially from the next generation. In the end we all wanted to get home and have ‘our own space’ but I know this trip will live on in the memories of these guys, as it will mine.

This trip taught me to never let my guard down and know that anything that can go wrong will even on the very last day. In the end everything works out, and with great challenges there are also great wonderful memories.

 
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