South East Asia is a back-packers paradise, and almost a rite of passage for many gap-year students; we caught up with Remy about his time over there exploring.
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What made you take the leap of faith and book that ticket?
I had just completed my degree in film production and was making a living freelancing and working in hospitality but I felt like I was living each week on repeat. The numb feeling of routine started to get to me. I felt like I was searching for something but I didn’t know what. I knew I needed to change things up and see something new. The only thing that kept me sane were the adventures with you guys, but I needed something different. I wanted to run somewhere drastically far away from anything I ever knew, so I did. I dropped everything, bought a flight and a Lot pass with a company called Stray Asia, and headed out on my own.
Okay cool, so if you had to pick one, what was the highlight…aside from cross-dressing! After I travelled off the beaten track through Thailand, Loas, Cambodia and Vietnam. I got my self a cheap motor bike in Hanoi and decided to ride back down to Saigon. The whole trip was not easy. Filled with break downs in the middle of no where late at night, sometimes in the rain. Busses and trucks speeding past with murderous intent. Also I had never used a manual bike before, so learning in Hanoi was liking throwing myself in the deep end, with rocks tied to my arms and legs. But every day I would find myself in a long stretch of quiet road; surrounded by rice paddies and mountains. With the wind on my back and sun on my face, words of Bon Iver drowning out the rumble of the bike. I felt like I was truly alive.
Is there anything you maybe regret, or some advice you would give yourself before the trip? Laugh louder and cherish my time around the people I was with. I miss them now. I look at photos and wonder if I’ll ever see them again, I hope so. I can’t talk much about my tales from travelling with my friends back home because they weren’t there. There's no shared frame of reference. These memories were with complete strangers that grew to become my friends. I might not see them again but I know I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.
You mentioned Stray Asia; what were the advantages of using a guide? It helps get past the wall that westerners stand outside of, peeking through the cracks; wondering, what's on that plate, what are they saying, what does this and that mean, how do I find this and that, and so on. You learn a great deal from them. More than you can from any travel book. But aside from that, they are an absolute laugh!
That must have really enhanced your experience – so what was the most interesting /eye-opening thing you learned whilst out in Asia? While in Vientiane in Laos. I went to this place called the Cope Centre. This is where I learnt everything I now know about the history of Laos. How it’s one of the most bombed countries on the earth, from a war that it was never a part of. There was this part where it had kids drawings and words with it that were translated. One of the drawings really made my stomach flip and heart ache. It made me so angry and ashamed at the same time. A quote from a movie went through my head. “What's the point in being a civilisation anymore if we are no longer interested in being civil”. Do you know the movie?
The locals in Laos have all the reason to hate us westerners. But all they showed me was their love, so many genuine smiles. I haven’t dared to moan about any first word problems since. I have no right to.
Woah, okay so you got pretty deep there, lets lighten the mood – lets talk hot-spots…where are we headed? In Laos I’d say Vang Vieng. I was told stories of this place years before I arrived. I took a note of it on my phone to remember. I had completely forgotten about that note and the story. But when I was in Vang Vieng it somehow felt familiar to me. Little did I know at the time I was taking part in the very same activities that were told to me years ago; tubing, renting a motor bike getting well and truly lost hunting down the lagoons and caves. I couldn’t shake off the familiarity. It was weird. I thought it was just being drunk and hungover in the heat. Then while I was scrolling through the hundreds of pages of notes on my phone (I have had this phone for 7 years) – the first note was there: “Laos, vangviang go there, tubing story”. A strange feeling rushed over me. It was like I was meant to come to this place. Making those stories my own tales to tell and pass on to another.
In Cambodia Siem Reap was probably my favourite spot. At night its so lively, bars, music and food everywhere. The famous Ankor Wat temple being one of the wonders of the world is obviously mind blowing. But I do recommend going to the circus that it always running there. The price for the ticket goes towards a good cause for the kids and families affected by war and poverty. But also the whole act is full of some of the most talented people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
But It i had to choose it would be Vietnam being my favourite. I didn’t care too much for Thailand, the beaches are nice but just too many tourists for my liking. More of a place that you go on holiday to than travelling around. In my opinion. Choosing my personal favourite hot spot is pretty tough. But when I think of Vietnam, I think of Hue. I spent the longest time there than I did anywhere else during my travels. The Forbidden Kingdom is nice if you are not already ‘templed out’. The abandoned water park is an awesome day out. Its like you are in a little pocket of time. But what made it my favourite place was the locals. I became friends with a few who taught me a lot and showed me an amazing time. I’d go to Brown Eyes bar to play some pool and relax. Just soak it all in, people watching and making small talk. Then a female bartender behind the bar was being playful and friendly. We had a laugh and a chat. She invited me to karaoke with her friends after her shift. Being the yes man I am I thought sure why not. I’m sure they will be just as bad at singing than myself. I went and had an awesome time. But I was wrong. They could definitely give people a run for their money on any western singing competition. It was kinda intimidating. But I was drunk and “I don’t wanna miss a thing” is my shower song. So what ever….
Awesome, thanks Remy – so for anyone reading this who might be after some tips…what’s your advice? Don’t be afraid of what you want. What is fictitious in a novel or film is not so much the story but the method by which characters thought and feelings develop into action, a method which rarely occurs in daily life. People don’t put them selves out in the vulnerable cold enough for what they want. Scared of seeming weird, scared of being shut down, scared of being scared. Don’t hesitate. Right when its most scary to jump, that’s when you should jump. Just grab it with both hands and brace yourself. For this experience will scar your very being. It will show you what matters. If you are reading this. You’re already on the right track.
It’s great to have you back in the UK so we can start getting prepped for our next adventure…we’ll have to fill you in on the details – Before we wrap this up, any further comments you have? People ask me a lot if they should go with a tour or on their own I say try and do both to b e honest. If you are going to choose a tour I say go with Stray Asia. Their tours are flexible. You are not racing around trying to see everything in one day before you have to get back on a buss or boat to go to the next destination. Its Hop on hop off. If you want to stay somewhere longer, you just do. Then catch the next buss or the buss after that. The guides teach you a great deal. More than you could ever learn from a book or western traveller who thinks he is the nuts because he has been travelling for a year. Also you don’t know how much you get ripped off everywhere when travelling alone for the first time. Food, drink, bike rentals even at borders. Stray guides warn you an show you the way as it were. You wont be asked for extra money at borders in Cambodia with Stray. In short, its less stress, more fun and you go off the tourist beaten track to places the solo travellers have never even heard of. If you are interested just lick on their link below. http://www.straytravel.asia/