Asia hits you like a sharp shock to the system. Whether it’s the oppressive heat that cooks you like a chapati in a clay oven, the street food that sets your tastebuds aflame and your intestines into twists, or the cacophony of a culture so different from your own, after Asia – you will never be the same.
From over two years living abroad and on board this colourful continent, I can fully recommend a visit to Asia for those who have never been and a “come again soon” for those who already have. So far I’ve lived in Bali, India and Sri Lanka, in each country living like a local and learning the life lessons that follow in tow.
Below I share my top 5 reasons to travel Asia, but be warned – they may not be the typical travel tips you’re expecting to hear.
Travel Asia and you will:
Learn to let go
As we danced to a deep jungle beat the heavens broke forth, and a downpour of tropical rain gushed to the earthen floor. We rejoiced in union to God’s communion, not thinking what back at the campsite had in store.
At a trance party in the heart of the Malaysian jungle – I learnt to let go.
When you travel, your entire world fits snugly into the size of a suitcase. You learn to live with a whole lot less and even the sparse items you carry, not to attach yourself to. At a weekend stopover in Malaysia, en route to India, a borrowed tent with no rain cover was the last custodian between a tropical thunderstorm and all my worldly possessions. But yet I danced like the spirit of the jungle itself was coursing through my veins.
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Living in Asia, you learn to let go of many things. Without doubt, all social conditioning, what you once considered reasonable expectations, and any notion of what the world is and how it works, slowly start to dissipate. You’ll no longer have a need for a watch and if you live by the beach, say goodbye to your shoes. Once you set your sandy soled feet in your first Asian country, you make a silent agreement with yourself to start life all over again. Overboard goes anything you’ve ever been taught about this thing called life as you welcome in the beautiful and the bizarre and start each day with a fresh perspective.
As the Indian summer sun shone its way between the surrounding Himalayas and basked our balcony in a welcome warmth, my best friend picked up my tiny nail scissors and aimed them determinedly at my head. It was 11:45 in the morning; the last rays of sun my almost waist length hair would ever see.
In India, from the southern sandy stretches to the tips of the Himalayas – I learnt that to find myself, I must first lose myself.
India is a powerful, vigorous country. She is majestic and menacing all at once. She forces you to confront your fears and challenge your beliefs, not to mention any notion you may have once held regarding personal space. You will share overnight train rides with four generation families, sip sweet chai on street corners bustling with traffic and livestock, and talk cricket with tuk tuk drivers as you try not stare at their missing teeth and bloody betel-nut-stained gums.
In India you will lose your senses and find your soul.
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And that is exactly what happened to me. A diet too high in sugar and spice (apparently not always so nice) sent my Pitta Dosha into overdrive and my luscious locks to dislodge themselves from my scalp. Rather than hang on to an old identity, I birthed a new me.
Living amongst people from all walks of life, the impoverished masses, the devoted monk and the chillum cradling Swami, will all provide you the wisdom you need along the way. You may soon realise that material possessions and aesthetic identity markers are not important, as your value system shifts to follow the natural ebb and flow of Mother Earth and all her people on it. Travelling through Asia, you may start to see yourself in a new light.
Simplify your life
With toes sunk in sea sand made of shells and lips sipping on a swirl of lemon ice tea and cool ocean breeze – I found the motto to my life. Etched on a weathered blackboard on Bingin Beach in Bali was the code to my existence ‘K.I.S.S’
From 10 months living on the Island of The Gods – I learnt to Keep It Simple Stupid
In rural Asia you will meet the richest people in the world. They have pockets filled with dust and hearts of pure gold. Their lives are so simple we from the West struggle to see where their deep felt satisfaction stems from. But therein lies the secret – from simplicity.
Living in Bali was the first time I’d lead the local life in an Eastern country. It was during my time there that I first realised there was a different way to living, many in fact, and most better than my own. In the more rural parts of Asia you’ll learn that living with the sun as your clock and the moon as your god is all that there need be – and it’s more than enough. There’s no need for material wealth, material relationships and material health. In the East people live with a humble and deep rooted integrity and not a minute goes by without seeing them smile.
On arriving at the meditation centre, I gave a hearty hello to the gate opener, much to dismay of Serj the betel nut chewing tuk tuk driver who gestured to me to “ssshh!” before hurling another wad of red saliva out the corner of his mouth. I guess the game was now on. I would be silent for the next 5 days.
Meditating and teaching yoga in Sri Lanka – I learnt to be present.
In Sri Lanka you’ll meditate to the melody of Buddhist chanting across the mountain tops. On this lush island you’ll soon find you have all the time in the world to watch wood being delivered, fish being reeled in, coconuts being collected from the top of the tallest palm trees. There is no such thing as stress and certainly no such thing as time.
One of the greatest gifts the East will give you is to bring you back to the present moment. To use the here and now to sit back and enjoy life rather than spinning a perpetual coin between past and future. Sri Lanka has turned out to be my favourite Asian country so far and by far. Her sunsets and sunrises demand full attention and the generosity of her people will bowl you over with humility. People come to paradise for pampering and life re-newel, an escape from the harried lives they live back home. But taking a leaf from the Sri Lankan locals, you learn this paradise is within yourself and is accessible through the present moment at any time.
My week spent at a mountain top meditation retreat taught me that the less we think, the more we know. And the more time we spend in the present, the more time we have to spend.
Not a single whisper beneath the expanse of stars but for the crunch of sand as fairy light ribbons floated silently up the steep volcano side. Hundreds of hikers, bowed over pilgrims, making peace with their own internal war of strength and determination as they stepped one foot hole at a time up the second highest volcano in Indonesia.
After the most gruelling climb of my life up Rinjani in Lombok – I learnt to live life one foot hole at a time.
Living on Lombok, time will go so slowly you’ll think it’s standing still – because it is. What I perhaps found first the most challenging aspect of living in Asia gradually turned to the biggest blessing. In the West we create so many problems for ourselves because we have invented this concept of time. But living in the East I have learnt to let go of my thirst for productivity, my ingrained need to have it perfect and polished, ready and on time. Have what ready and by when? Rural Asia doesn’t follow the rules of timelines and deadlines. Instead she will cast you a lifeline to slow down your life and trim down your to-do list, or throw it away altogether.
Climbing Rinjani I met my inner strength. I realised that life needn’t be a race and often times steady does it best. Life really is a journey to be taken one step at a time, with moments to breath, take rest and live.
As Oscar Wilde said “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Lilting to the slow steady rhythm of Asia, you’ll learn to take back life and truly live.
Now It’s your turn
Having said all this, each trip to Asia is of course entirely unique and each country offers its own blend of beautiful experiences. This is simply what I have learnt on my particular travel trajectory, but don’t take my word for it. Now go and discover Asia for yourself.