It’s hard to put into words how I felt at the end of Part 3. I’ve tried to isolate my thoughts about Southeast Asia and India apart from the end of my RTW trip as a whole, to reflect on my reaction to that part of the world specifically, but I don’t think it’s possible. Just like leaving Australia I couldn’t ignore my longing for South America and anticipation for Southeast Asia, leaving India couldn’t be separated from the effects that months of travel had had on me.
It’s not that I was less enthusiastic. If you go back to my blog posts when I first arrived on the Asian continent I was full of hope for what was to come. As I hopped around I had a ton of incredible experiences that have been highlights of my past year, from exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat and the waters of Gili Air to interacting with people in Myanmar and the landscape in Hampi. And I could never forget the formative time I spent at Dreamtime and Shambhala, places that reached to my core and made me truly think about what I value most in life. For all of these things and more, I look back at Southeast Asia with a fondness that will never waver.
But despite all of that, I still hesitate when trying to express what those four months were like to me. Along with the highs, I had the most lows of my trip. I had to flee Vietnam due to an unsettling feeling, I was nearly robbed by a guy on a motorbike and had lingering aftereffects of such an experience, and I had transportation issues from missing a bus to losing money on an unsuccessful tatkal train ticket attempt. These things couldn’t have any effect other than bringing down my overview of this part.
And then there’s the experience of traveling around this part of the world that I may have alluded to in location-specific posts but haven’t outright said yet. It can be sensory overwhelming. Maybe there’s a reason my favorite places were removed from the main trek. The soundtrack of cities was honking horns and zipping motorbikes, people yelling and dogs barking. Intense smells wafted through the air from curries to human piss. I smelled burning crops the other day and felt a wave of familiarity. Months of “walk at your own risk” takes a toll on someone who likes to explore on foot.
At some point a fellow traveler said to me, “You’re either a South America person or a Southeast Asia person.” I wish I’d never heard this. As much as I tried to see Southeast Asia from a clear perspective, in some way I already knew the outcome that was eventually confirmed: I’m a South America person. I don’t really believe it’s that black and white of course, and I sort of hate myself for even admitting this, but there’s just something about South America that vibes with me and Southeast Asia that doesn’t. It’s a feeling, a gut reaction, that can’t be put into words. Does the fact that it was my first three months as opposed to my last four months of a long trip matter? Probably, it shouldn’t be ignored, but I honestly don’t think that’s the reason.
Southeast Asia and India are dynamic places, I don’t want to take that away from them, but as energetic as that could sound it’s also explosive. So in the end I suppose I would say Part 3 was every bit the experience I wanted it to be. That might confuse you after how this post has gone, but let me elaborate. Color, as my friends in Bali would say. I didn’t expect Southeast Asia to be easy. I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to be challenged, dirty, exhausted, and exhilarated by somewhere so unlike anywhere I’d been before. It delivered. I was fascinated by it and experienced intense emotions throughout my time there. I truly believe that I have come out of Part 3 a better version of myself having experienced the things I did.
So now that I’ve come to that realization, I without a doubt recommend going and will happily continue to offer advice on my favorite places. I intend to return myself one day.