How Traveling in Southeast Asia Changed Me Forever

How Traveling in Southeast Asia Changed Me Forever

What I Learned In SEA - 01


When I flew to Vietnam eight months ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.


What I Learned In SEA - 02


I imagined kayaking among limestone karsts and trekking with elephants and tigers in the untouched jungle. I envisioned deepening my yoga practice and becoming an avid surfer in Bali, a place that would instantly feel like home. I assumed I would feel bliss and catharsis often in such a beautifully spiritual place. I expected to internally grow to unimaginable heights.


What I Learned In SEA - 03


I thought Southeast Asia would be like Costa Rica, only with temples and pad thai.

I was in for a rude awakening.


What I Learned In SEA - 04


Southeast Asia greeted me with hoards of motorbikes and black clouds of exhaust. I took bus rides through countryside covered in every type of trash imaginable. I swam at beaches on stunning islands littered with tourists and techno bars. I witnessed animal exploitation and environmental degradation to an alarming degree.


What I Learned In SEA - 05


I never felt so far from my life in Pura Vida.


What I Learned In SEA - 07


Simply being away from “home” failed to bring out my “best self” the way that traveling in Costa Rica had. I wanted the fast track to happiness and I did not find it. Southeast Asia bombarded me with everything I sought to escape in Costa Rica. I struggled. A lot.


My first month in Vietnam I considered that perhaps I had made a huge mistake.


What I Learned In SEA - 08


But despite my self-imposed internal struggles, I did not run away. I faced the demons that lay dormant among sunshine and oceans on Costa Rican beaches yet erupted in smog and over stimulation in Southeast Asian cities.


What I Learned In SEA - 09


In the process I grew more than I thought possible. I guess I was right about one thing: traveling in Southeast Asia did in fact change my life.


Here are just a few of the greatest life lessons I learned:



What I Learned In SEA - 10


Why Have the Same Same When You Can Have Different?


While in the past I was constantly looking for what I loved in Puerto Viejo in other places, in Southeast Asia I realized that the best thing about travel is finding something completely different.


In Southeast Asia I can ride in a tuk tuk in a crazy city or walk barefoot on a deserted island and feel bliss. I can eat fried noodles or a raw salad and both will taste delicious. I can kneel in a temple or raise the roof in a club and feel connected.


The fact that we live in a world with myriad languages, traditions, lifestyles, beliefs, is what makes life so beautiful. It’s what keeps us challenged. It’s what continues to allow me to break down my cultural paradigms knowing that there is not only one truth.



What I Learned In SEA - 11


We Need Far Less Than We Think We Do


The first four months of my travels through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia, I was constantly worried about running out of money. Financial fear has affected me for as long as I can remember, and being across the world with only $2000, no return flight, and no credit cards offered little in the way of “security”.


Many times this fear actually hindered my ability to enjoy my experience. I became so fixated on worrying that I couldn’t achieve my goals, that I failed to see that I was already living them. However the longer I spent in Southeast Asia, the more this anxiety began to melt away.


Meeting many people who live on less than $3 per day truly challenged my ideas about how much a person needs. My budget in Southeast Asia seemed scant to me, but for a local person it was beyond extravagant. There were families who were grateful simply to have a bowl of rice every night.


When I dined on a plate of phad thai a quarter the size of what I used to eat, I found myself surprisingly satisfied. When I chucked plenty of things I packed that I believed I couldn’t live without, I never missed them. When I spent less than $20 per day, I enjoyed a fabulous life.


I realized that despite how much I had downsized in the past, I was still living in excess.


So when my bank balance dropped to $50 in Thailand, I did not freak out. I reminded myself that, fair or unfair, simply because of the color of my skin, the country on my passport, and the education provided by my family, I would never starve. I could walk into a hostel and inquire about work trade. I could spend a few extra hours writing articles online. I could go back to Indonesia or Vietnam where I had friends offering a free place to stay. I had, and always will have, options.


$50 sounded small to me, but most people in Cambodia live on that in an entire month. Discovering how little I actually needed encouraged me to never allow finances to control my happiness again.



What I Learned In SEA - 12


Don’t Be Cheap


I remember one night in Chiang Mai walking out onto the street to catch a ride home at 3am. I hailed a tuk tuk, who then quoted me a rate three times what I had paid earlier that day. Insulted, I shook my head and continued on.


Except I couldn’t find another tuk tuk, so I walked. Alone. At 3am. The bars were just shutting down and there was plenty of traffic on the street. I thought I’d be safe. Then a Thai guy on a motorbike followed me for blocks before pulling over on the side of the road, exposing and then pleasuring himself. But hey, at least I saved 80 baht! Right that’s less than $3…


The moral of the story is, whether it’s taking an unsafe boat, buying a pair of poorly made shoes, turning down water vendors in the heat while searching for a mini mart, insulting someone with your cheapness, or declining a safe ride at 3 o’clock in the morning, it’s rarely worth it in Asia to save a buck. I wish I had realized this sooner.


Yes Southeast Asia is cheap. Ridiculously absurdly cheap. But sometimes, you get what you pay for. More expensive tours will likely be higher quality. More expensive spas will likely be cleaner. More expensive shoes are less likely to fall apart. And when you’re desperate for a bottle of water in the sweltering heat, a hot shower in monsoon season, or a safe ride in the middle of the night, spend the extra dollar. It might not be what the locals pay, but sometimes, it’s worth it.



What I Learned In SEA - 13


No Good Comes From Guilt


One of my greatest internal conflicts in the beginning of my travels in Southeast Asia was the constant guilt I felt.


I felt uncomfortable and ashamed when women tried to sell me trinkets and snacks on the street. I felt spoiled when local families waited on me from beachfront hotels. I felt inclined to turn away when approached by children and land mine victims begging me for money. Most of all I felt a barrier as wide as the ocean between the locals and myself.


One day, standing outside of the fancy air-conditioned grocery mart in Siem Reap, a small Khmer boy wearing tattered clothing approached me. He didn’t ask me for anything, he didn’t make any gestures, he just looked at me. He looked at me as if he wanted to say something but did not have the words. I studied him for a moment, reached into my bag and pulled out a shiny imported apple. I handed it to him, he took it, and immediately ran away. As I walked home I passed luxury resorts, disabled women holding soot covered infants, swank cocktail bars, and small children digging through the trash.


I was confronted with an alarming disparity between wealth and poverty and I realized that if I wanted to embrace Cambodia I would first need to bridge the barrier between its people and myself.


To do that I knew I would need to release my guilt.


From then on I interacted with people who were “less fortunate” than me the same as I would with anyone else.


I engaged with children selling bracelets on the beach, teaching them yoga instead of avoiding them or buying their wares. I listened when genocide survivors told me their stories with compassion instead of pity. When locals described their lack of education or impoverished upbringing, I accepted my unfair privilege without questioning why I deserved it. Where I once found guilt I then found friends.


I saw that on the inside I was the same as everyone else. Each of us simply walked different karmic paths lined with different lessons. I could learn as much from understanding their path as they could from mine.


I have learned that feeling guilty about my blessings does not help another human. Rather than indulging this guilt that ultimately stems from feelings of unworthiness, I decided to use my education and my advantages to inspire, empower, and learn from everyone I can.



What I Learned In SEA - 14


Validation Must Come From Within


In the West I have always fallen into the “petite” category. In Southeast Asia I towered like a giant. The clothes sold in markets were way too small and I could not fit my feet into a single pair of shoes. One day shopping for shoes a woman saw me approach and literally yelled “NO HAVE BIG! NO HAVE BIG!”


I don’t need to tell you, that no matter a woman’s stature, she never wants to be called “big.”


While in Costa Rica I did yoga, rode my bicycle, and thrived on raw salads, living on carbs and sitting on scooters in Southeast Asia I became increasingly out of shape. I spent months growing out a bad haircut. My typically clear skin rebelled against my diet and the extreme humidity. I did not feel beautiful most of the time.


If Latin America has the ability to boost a woman’s confidence, Southeast Asia stands a chance in tearing it down. Walking down the street in Costa Rica you might hear whistles, in Belize marriage proposals, and offensive things I won’t repeat in Mexico and Nicaragua. In Southeast Asia you hear “tuk tuk!” “motorbike!” You are no longer walking sex; you are a walking credit card. As obnoxious as the attention was in Latin America, without it I sometimes questioned myself.


But as the months passed without male attention, I began to see that whether I thought I looked fat in a photograph or ugly in the mirror reflected the state of my spirit so much more than the body that faced it. I worked on feeling confidently beautiful because of the brightness of my soul.


At the same time I faced harsh criticism from my readers. In the past, praising comments that I was “an inspiration” made my day and confirmed that I was on the right path. Then I published posts that drove controversy and was called anything from “self-indulgent” to “slutty” to “narcissistic.” I wish I had been stronger but in reality that feedback made me feel very low.


Through this experience I saw that the same way a man could never fully make me feel beautiful, a compliment or an insult could never fully make me feel validated. Among the criticism and among the praise, my sense of self worth had to come from my own self-love.



What I Learned In SEA - 15


We Can Have Boundaries Without Walls


Traveling on my own with the constant aggression and machismo in Latin America taught me to protect myself in vulnerable situations. Witnessing rampant infidelity, being the victim of scams and robberies, and dodging offensively sexual remarks and stares, all caused me to form concrete walls around my marshmallow soft heart.


These walls protected me but these walls also shut people out.


Southeast Asia by contrast felt innocent. People spoke softly and bowed their heads. Women smiled and called me “sister”. Men diverted their gaze. I heard monks chanting instead of gunshots firing. I rarely heard rumors of rape and home robberies.


I began to carry a purse with me in public. I began to leave belongings on my towel while I swam at the beach. I began to stare at the stars alone at night. I began to feel safe.


Emotionally breaking down my walls was a greater challenge. My subconscious believed that no matter where I was, without the walls, my heart would never be safe. I carried the trauma of my past relationships along with my fifty-pound backpack.


In Chiang Mai, despite the walls I built, I developed feelings for another traveler. I remained cold, I set many boundaries, and I often pushed him away. From not leading with my heart, when we said goodbye, I felt hurt and full of regret.


When we reunited a month later in Bali I promised myself I would be open this time. I wasn’t. I concealed my emotions and chose again to protect myself from what I was afraid to feel.


For the months that followed in Indonesia and Thailand I contracted debilitating food poisoning three times in Bali, stepped on a sea urchin and developed an infection in Lombok, and was bitten by a rabid dog in Koh Lanta. Out of sheer necessity, I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to let people be there for me. I re-learned to enjoy the comfort of closeness and friendship.


Consequently, by the time I reached Cambodia I felt ready to let my walls come down. There, finally, I admitted to myself that perhaps I had felt love for the man I met in Thailand and again in Bali. Though we said goodbye months before, I still had not let him go. Acknowledging and releasing this personal truth opened my heart tremendously.


But a week later in Phnom Penh I saw again the risks of living with an open heart.


I opened myself to people I shouldn’t have. Scammers with ill intentions but perfect poise seeking easy targets along the river. Fortunately I rescued myself out of a shady neighborhood on the outskirts of the city surrounded by six people who wanted to harm me.


In the immediate aftermath I felt the desire to shut down again from fear. I had opened myself to people I thought were genuine and in return they took advantage of me. I felt terrified that I could not trust my own intuition to see through a person’s lies. It reminded me of how I felt when I began building my walls in the first place.


But I wasn’t ready to give up all of the work I had done to let love in. So I made a deal with myself. I created non-negotiable rules for my own protection, but I remained open to engaging genuinely with the world.


Still, I continued to struggle to accept generosity and love from the people I met, often wondering why I deserved it. In doing so I likely made people feel rejected who more than anything I wanted to be close to.


These experiences showed me that we do need boundaries in life to feel respected and stay protected, but they should never come at the cost of becoming hardened.  The world is simply too full of magic to block it out with a bulletproof fence.



What I Learned In SEA - 16


I Used to Live in a Bubble


Growing up in Seattle to post-Hippie parents, I learned to compost from a young age. I attended a liberal university in a liberal city where people “care” about the environment and human rights. In Seattle every block has a vegan restaurant, a recycling bin, and someone preaching about the destruction of the rainforest or sexism in the workplace or an unjust war.


No surprise I felt at home in Costa Rica, a country that thrives on ecotourism, operates the first carbon neutral airline in the world, and has its own brand of all natural organic beauty products. I composted my fruit scraps in the jungle, woke to monkeys and sloths in my yard every morning, and swam at unpolluted beaches.


The sad reality is that most of the world does not operate this way. Environmental protection, emissions standards, labor laws, women’s rights… these are first world luxuries.


I was living in a bubble.


Try eating “organic” in Vietnam where the soil is so polluted with Agent Orange that villagers in the countryside develop diseases simply from walking barefoot in their own front yards. Try finding recycling bins in Cambodia, a country where only the poorest of the poor collect plastic and tin cans in exchange for pay. Try observing wild animals in countries that build casinos in their national parks. Try preaching sustainability in places that get wiped out by typhoons or sold by governments to foreign billionaires.


In Cambodia and Laos people still die every single day from unexploded ordinance from the American Vietnam War. Country people get kicked off of their land as governments sell it to foreigners building rubber plantations. Children are sold into sex slavery by their own parents.


The West has the privilege to care about things like pesticides while the rest of the world develops without regulation in an attempt to survive.


You can hear about environmental destruction and human rights violations in a classroom, read about it on the internet, watch it on television, but the moment you see it for yourself is the moment it becomes real.


Traveling in Southeast Asia showed me that the world is in serious trouble and we need to do much more than switch from regular Clorox to “green” Clorox to turn it around.



What I Learned In SEA - 17


We Choose Our Own Happiness


The major difference between Westerners and locals in Southeast Asia can best be observed in so called crisis situations. Translation: when things go wrong.


I cannot count the number of times I saw travelers become agitated, angry, and voice their discomfort over broken down buses, long lines at borders, scams and corruption, electricity outages, slow wifi, and a whole host of occurrences considered quite normal in the third world.


Meanwhile I watched locals wait patiently without the luxuries of Kindles and iPods.


Hailing from privileged societies we are used to believing that we have control. So when we feel that we don’t have it, we fight against our circumstances instead of accepting them.


From monsoons and typhoons to genocide and war, people in Southeast Asia accept that we don’t actually have control over our circumstances at all.


I met people who lost their entire families to war and starvation but sang and danced and smiled. People who lived on a pittance yet happily invited me to eat their food and drink their beer. In fact often the poorest people were the ones who smiled the widest, offered the most, and expected the least.


These people showed me that happiness is a choice that comes down to one humble quality: gratitude.


We will never become masters of the universe but we can become masters of ourselves. We cannot control our surroundings but we can control our perspective. It is precisely that perspective that can send us into a state of peace and bliss or into our own anxiety-ridden hell.


Given this choice, I choose happiness.



What I Learned In SEA - 18


I Don’t Know Shit About Shit


In Southeast Asia the more I sought to understand, the more convoluted the world became.


I felt the magic of nature on unparalleled levels and I struggled to breathe because the pollution was so extreme. I met foreigners deeply dedicated to helping the country they resided in and others perpetuating the industries that led to its destruction. I received unbelievable kindness and generosity in countries where it’s not uncommon to beat or rape a child. I respected the peaceful mentality of acceptance and surrender but wondered how greater persistence and drive might improve many people’s lives.


Instances that warmed my heart could easily have been insincere and full of deception. Things I thought I did to help could have had the complete opposite effect. And as much as I developed fantasies about the people and the places in Southeast Asia, I must recognize that my impressions are all colored by my own personal worldview.


More than anything I realized that the world is wildly complex, ever changing, and layered with a glass pane reflecting the personal beliefs, judgements, and emotional baggage of whomever cares to look inside.



What I Learned In SEA - 19


Everywhere in the World is Home


Before I arrived in Southeast Asia I had a pretty good handle on what environments I felt best in. I knew that I thrived in laid back surf towns, taking yoga with other Westerners, drinking green smoothies for breakfast, connecting with nature on jungle hikes, and dancing to reggae in beach bars. In other words, I knew that I thrived in Puerto Viejo.


Consequently I often rushed through countries like Colombia and Morocco, despite how much they excited me, aware that they lacked the things that I believed made me grounded, relaxed, and happy.


In Asia I stuck it out.


I stuck it out when I couldn’t find cute expat cafes to blog from. When I felt ill constantly from eating more street food than superfoods. When no one spoke English and I simply couldn’t grasp the language in any country that I visited. When I visited beautiful places devastatingly destroyed by tourism.


Over time weaving through motorbikes carrying entire families and crates full of chickens, being constantly shouted at by tuk tuk drivers and touts, listening to techno music beside Westerners high on drugs, stepping over litter and Styrofoam and mangosteen peels and marigold flowers, and living among shocking poverty and overt wealth, all began to feel normal.


Eventually I stopped trying to find my Puerto Viejo in Southeast Asia and instead I opened my eyes to the magic of where I actually was. It stopped feeling like “sticking it out” anymore; it started feeling like something I loved.


By the end I felt more comfortable sitting on a stool in the street or on the floor of a local’s house than I did in a Western restaurant or an organic café. I felt more at peace in the hectic stimulation of the cities than I did in a constructed meditation center. I never learned the languages but I learned to speak with my hands and appreciate the warmth and smiles without words.


Southeast Asia became home.


Through this process I realized that if I choose to adapt to a place, to observe and accept the culture rather than try to understand it, to love it for exactly who it is not what I want it to be, and to feel grateful to be granted the opportunity to be there at all, every single time I set down my bag, I am home.


What I Learned In SEA - 20


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  1. Bill Dwyer Says: June 16, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Wonderful review of your SE Asia travels and travails, Camille. You’re a very powerful young woman. Can’t wait to read more of your experiences and insights. Btw, knowing you ‘don’t know shit about shit’ puts you ahead of a lot of people.

  2. Lovely post; you are so insightful and such a gifted writer.

  3. Gabrielle Says: June 16, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    There we go, girl! I think at a certain point we realize that our fantasies/expectations don’t really “deliver”. They are almost intended to be “unfulfilled loves”. One of my favorite things about Costa Rica is that I didn’t always get what I wanted, that it wasn’t presented to me on a plate. There is excitement in not always getting what we want.
    I love this scene from High Fidelity talking about chasing fantasies.
    In the end you start to realize that reality is more exciting than your fantasies because reality is something you get to touch. Something that’s real… something you will experience physically and emotionally.
    I think the key thing for most people is managing our expectations and finding balance between ideal scenarios and what is or could be. Don’t stop fantasizing about what “could be” by any means… someone’s got to want something greater than what we’ve always gotten to aspire to. I, personally, need to stop suffering from what “could be” in my life versus “what is”.

    ps. I vote Brazil… I’ll more than likely be in South America next year (Peru) for another class. Integrated course: Spanish, anthropology, and biology… pretty excited.

    pps. You really did all 8 months on just $2000? Plane ticket and all?

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks for sharing Gabrielle :)

      I agree that we need to find the balance between accepting our circumstances and striving for something more. Practicing surrender and exerting our will. This is a lifelong practice for sure.

      I likely did all 8 months, airfare included for around $10,000. I have everything written in spreadsheets, just need to look back and post that. $2,000 was what I had saved, so the rest of the money came from income I earned through freelance work on the road (a few exceptions like birthday and Christmas money from family and a tax return.)

  4. Hi! I love tho post and most of your posts, I had a lovely time relaxing and taking the time to read and absorb this longer, well-written post. I loved it so much, I finally signed up for your newsletter! (bloggers like that, right?) Anyway, reading this post brought something to my mind that I think about often and have researched only a tiny bit: Do you think happiness is a gene? I know it’s random and a bit off topic, but I’ve always found it interesting that happiness does not seem to be based on environment, necessarily, as often times the “poorest” are the happiest, as you have mentioned numerous times. On your search to achieve and understand what happiness is, do you ever consider that maybe some humans are just born with a happy outlook on life and some are not, regardless of social status, economics, environment, etc.? Interested to hear what you think.

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Logan, thank for your comment and for signing up 😉 Nice to hear you loved the post!

      Hm, I guess I believe it’s more likely something taught to us by our culture than a gene we inherit. Personally I feel like my entire life I’ve been taught “perseverance” instead of “surrender” and that asking for more usually leads to having more. Contentment is often associated with complacency. I also think that the human mind loves to solve problems, so when all of our problems are solved for us we like to create them. People who work hard to simply feed their families and have seen others even less fortunate than them seem to value the moments when they don’t have problems to solve instead of trying to create more. Of course I’m barely scratching the surface here and honestly, who knows if these people are actually happy or if that’s the way I perceive their behavior based on my own cultural norms.

      Interesting topic for sure!! I hope to learn more about this for years and years traveling the world :)

  5. Oh, great post!!!! Awesome.

    Where to next?

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks Deb! I’ll be announcing the next destination in my newsletter this week! If you haven’t already be sure to sign up at the bottom of this post :)

  6. Great post! There is so much we can learn from Southeast Asia. :) My 15 months being based in Bangkok changed my life. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced shopping in SE Asia while receiving a “No have big size” speech. Always nice to hear! 😉

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 17, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Haha, thanks Karisa I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!! I’m already fantasizing about when I can get back there, I’m sure you can totally relate 😉

  7. Very inspiring post! I like the connections you make between Latin America and SE Asia. As I’m currently living in Latin America, I can relate to a lot of the things you say about it. I’m hoping to visit SE Asia one day soon and felt like I would be prepared, but based on this blog post, it sounds like nothing can prepare you!

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thank you so much :) It’s sooooo different from Latin America; the complete opposite really! But, as I said in the post, that’s what makes it so awesome :)

  8. I love love your last little paragraph. Loving a culture for what it is rather than comparing it and judging it. And what you said about guilt for our first world privileges was so well said and I hope more people can adopt that philosophy as well.

    Much love

  9. A beautiful post, Camillle! You are beautiful inside and out…

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thank you dear <3 as are you!! Glad we got to meet on this trip and I know there will be many more meetings to come! :)

  10. Can relate so much to this!

  11. Thank you for sharing Camille. It’s a pleasure to have an insight to your personal experiences. You are gaining so much strength and personal growth with such a variety of encounters with so many different cultures. Your analytical skills and curiosity tells us you have developed an inquisitive and compassionate attitude toward others. The happiness you choose for yourself is a wise one and the love you have come to feel for others regardless of their social or economic status must be exceedingly rewarding. It is apparent you have a kind and curious heart. May your journeys and experiences bring you joy and happiness. Hopefully we will all continue to learn from our experiences and gain strengths where we need in addition to compassion and concern for others. I hope you continue to seek and desire the person GOD has intended you to be. Treasure the journey.

  12. Camille,
    My fiance and I are lovers of travel, nature and adventure and have planned our Sept-Oct honeymoon in Puerto Viejo. While researching the area, I stumbled upon your blog and I wanted to tell you how thankful I am that I did. You’re an incredibly gifted writer. For the last few weeks, I’ve taken a moment each day (as I sit in front of computer screens all day at work) and close out of the reports and the systems and the spreadsheets, and catch up on your past travels. I just wanted to thank you for your inspiring words. I’m excited to hear you’ll be returning to Costa Rica. I can’t wait to go back! Buena suerte with your yoga teacher training.. your future students are lucky and will benefit from the inspiration you’ll bring to their practice. You’re wise beyond your years. Thank you again.

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 20, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Lisa thank you so much for your kind compliments!! Congrats on your upcoming wedding. I hope you have an amazing time in Puerto Viejo and do let me know if you have any questions :)

  13. Banana Bug Says: June 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    A beautiful and poetic tribute to your amazing adventure. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with us.

  14. Loved reading this. Interesting to see what other people take away from their travels (also makes you feel a little less crazy haha).
    I should be headed to SE Asia in the next 2-3 months. I’m filled with so much excitement but fear as well. I know that this next adventure will offer me so much more than I even am imaging now.

    Thanks for sharing xx

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Don’t worry you will fall into the rhythm quickly and soon love it :) Especially if you start somewhere easy like Bali or Gili Air :)

  15. This is unlike any post about SE Asia that I’ve ever read… It’s interesting to see it from the perspective of someone who’s been living the Latin American life! And you’re absolutely right about the whole guilt thing. It’s a tough lesson, and I still have to remind myself sometimes that avoiding less fortunate people, or looking at them with pity, isn’t doing anyone any good.
    You have a beautiful writing style. Keep it up!

  16. Banana Bug Says: June 21, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    We are ALL in toe-tapping anticipation about where you will be trekking next.

  17. I stumbled across your site in search of information about Puerto Viejo, and I haven’t been able to stop reading your blogs! I can resonate with everything you’ve written. This blog is probably my favourite. It’s so touching and candid. You have managed to articulate so well all the things that I think and feel also. Currently in Puerto Viejo now reading this :)

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Thank you so much Fas!! Please enjoy Puerto Viejo and definitely go take some classes at Om Yoga and have a decadent Italian meal at La Pecora Nera and tell Ilario and Sianny I say Hi :)

  18. Loved the insight and honesty in this post. As someone who has spent time in Central America (and loved it!!!) and heading to SEA next month, I’m interested to see if I feel the same way – especially with our common love of yoga, surf towns, and similar privilege. I hope I can learn to love it as you did!

  19. Interesting life lessons. Information for reflection. Thank you.

  20. […] more than a year away, in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, the USA, and along the Pacific Coast of Costa […]

  21. Thank you so much. Have been looking at your blog. I am also traveling SE Asia solo after a long stint in Central and South America and many of these points hit home. You put into words so many of my emotions.

  22. are you going to travel to India? i would like to read your impressions about India. liked your writing style and thinking style.. keep it up.

  23. Awesome post, yes for me it’s the other way around. it was my trip from thailand to australia that showed me how profoundly lucky i am to be in the land of opportunity, where you don’t need to be rich to be happy

  24. Wow, I admire your courage exploring SEA. I am from there but I never had the chance to explore it that much. I feel safer walking alone in the streets of Europe. I wish, I will be backed home soon to explore it myself. Great article and thanks for sharing. Safe travels to you!

  25. Love your blog. And photos. And words. Nicely written with emotion and substance. I’ll be taking my first ATW trip next year as a solo female traveler. So I enjoy looking through your posts. I’m a little intimidated by southeast Asia so it’s great to read things like this. In the end what is your conclusion about it? Would you go back? Did you end up loving it through all the hardship? Or is it too overwhelming?

    • Camille Willemain Says: November 21, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      Thank you so much Sheri. Yes I would absolutely absolutely go back and I plan on it. It’s an amazing place and I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for the world. GO! :)

  26. Monique Cormier Says: November 21, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    I’m at the airport ready to board a flight to Bali after having spent some time in Laos, and I stumbled on your blog. I really appreciated reading your thoughts and observations. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Beautiful post! I’ve been to Thailand but not Cambodia, Vietnam etc. I’m hoping to go next year so this will help me have reasonable expectations and maybe not spend so much money on the best accommodation, restaurants etc. In my head I think I need thousands of dollars to go for 3 months…it seems I’m yet to learn the lessons you have. Thanks for writing :)

  28. I am in Vietnam right now (been here 9 weeks, and will be until mid-January) and it costs me about 25% more than it did in India. Of course, I do not sleep in hostels and while I most of the time use accommodations at between $10 and $15/day (similar to India); I travel alone and never share a room (except in flood ridden Srinigar); the food can be a bit challenging (love seafoods), along with the local transportation, and if one does tours, which is useful for out of the common way attractions, then it all adds up to about $40 per day.

    • Camille Willemain Says: December 1, 2014 at 9:42 am

      Thank you for sharing your experience and giving us some insights on your budget! Always helpful to hear :)

  29. I was surfing to find something about Koh Lanta and came across your blog. It’s fantastic. I love your way of writing and using photos, and everything you write seems to come from the heart.

    We’ll be keeping an eye on you, getting your hints and all for our own trip, where we already are. Thanks!

  30. This is just awesome Camille
    Feels so great to have found your blog today. Since I opened the first window, about 1h back, I have been reading non stop and going through many of your posts. You are GOLD. Looking forward to more and safe travels to the ice countries :) Say hi to Raphael and you guys have fun!

  31. I love your article. I fall in love with Asia too, this is so special. You’ll always meet someone who’s been there or there… And the bucketlist is endless. :)

  32. Did running out-of or low on money in SE Asia force you to find new ways to increase traffic on your website or anything? I know it’s a little strange to ask but I’m genuinely curious.

    I left my travels early, because while I was traveling it was so hard to stay focused on making my blog better, or creating a business, all I wanted to do was go out and make new friends and see new places, not work, haha!

    • Camille Willemain Says: January 20, 2015 at 9:26 am

      It did for sure! Anytime money got really low, it forced me to get my hustle on. In general, almost running out of money has been stressful, but actually a blessing. It’s shown me that I will always figure it out, and that I need to keep pursuing this dream. Good luck to you dear!

  33. […] wandered to the last guy I had really cared about, who I said goodbye to more than a year ago in Southeast Asia. I knew he wasn’t the guy for me, but I still thought about him everywhere my feet wandered. And […]

  34. If you think South East Asia can be rough, you should avoid China. I visited China my first time in Asia and despite having a job there at the time, I gave up after 3 months. The culture is very difficult there.

    I visited SE Asia after and kind of liked the “anything goes” care free attitude. It’s quite a dangerous attitude to live by, but one of the reasons I always like Asia. I guess its different for a guy!

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 23, 2015 at 11:54 am

      I absolutely love Southeast Asia, I hope this post didn’t sound like anything less than that. I’ve heard China can be quite a difficult place to acclimate oneself to.

  35. Hi Camille, i was searching about SE Asia, and i found your blog. As I read it, I can feel it. These reminiscences of my childhood as well. I mean, the struggles I had to get a better life. Anyway, you’re a brave woman. I hope you will come here again and enjoy learning more new things :)

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 28, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      Thank you so much Dila. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Southeast Asia and the amazing people there. I hope to be back sooner than later. Though, a piece of me will always be there.

  36. There’s two kinds of backpacker stereotypes in the backpacking world

    1. The trashpacker- Backpacking is an excuse to party. Usually involves drinking, smoking weed, doing drugs, partying with other white people, and occasionally going shopping or checking out typical tourist attractions. Typically have no regard for the country or their culture and is only interested the pockets of western culture inside the tourist areas. Can usually be found talking about how alcohol and cigarettes are “so cheap” in the country they are in. Can usually be identified by their collection of tank tops featuring the most common beers of the countries they’ve been in.

    2. The “enlightened traveler”- Has an excessive fixation with culture and the “spirituality” of traveling. Can be usually be found at meditation retreats, visiting a local yogi, or paying to volunteer at an orphanage to absolve their white guilt. Known for using words like “amazing” or “incredible” in excessive amounts in describing the people they’ve met during their travels. Prone to melodrama and keeping journals, either personal or online. Can usually be identified by baggy elephant pants.

    • Camille Willemain Says: May 31, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      Lol. I suppose one could accuse me of having an excessive fixation on the “spirituality of traveling”, I’m a yoga teacher, and I say amazing constantly, but I’ve never owned a pair of baggy elephant pants and I certainly never paid to volunteer as I don’t think that’s the best way to help.

  37. When I traveled India the first time for 2 months my first words in mumbai were “f** this i want to go home!”. There was dirt everywhere, it stunk, thousand of people have been on the streets and all the poor begging for money. And dont forget all the cows everywhere! I was scared because it was so different and i wanted it to be like home. I coudn’t adapt to my new environment and tried to fight it. Thats why it felt terrible. It took some days to let this go, this was india and not switzerland! After that i started to see the true beauty of india, i started to see the the poorest smile and saw that they accepted what they are. This insight was truely amazing and it still makes india a second home for me.

    I think this was a similar expirience than you had in south east asia. Its not about fighting the unknown its about adapting, observing and learning. Fighting stops you from connecting and relate to your surrounding and stops you from all the love and beauty every place has to offer.

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 11, 2015 at 8:09 am

      Totally and so spot on! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve heard many people say this about India. It’s somewhere I plan to spend a lot of time in, but I’m definitely prepared for serious culture shock and the opportunity to really surrender.

  38. Great stories and even greater pictures and impressions!

  39. hey camille come to my country bangladesh.i will show you the eternal beauty of this country waiting for you.

  40. I have been looking for a blog to read about, from the point of view from a solo female traveler in Southeast Asia. This blog was both inspiring and informative. When I take on my adventure, I think I will struggle with many similar situations. I learned from this blog, and I know I will recall certain lessons while I travel.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, I can’t wait to be able to write something of my own after my travels.

  41. Hello :) your post is SO inspiring. I live in singapore (I’m Singaporean) which is the bubble within Southeast Asia. Definitely love traveling in this region like I have in the past few years and your post really encapsulates a lot of my thoughts. So well written. Excited to hear More!

  42. Hey Camille!

    Sorry I have to ask: where was that beautiful picture of the trek under “I don’t know shit about shit” taken? It looks amazing and wherever it is, I WILL GO THERE!

  43. What a great post. I’ll be heading there next January and can’t wait for all of the good, bad, confusing, and enlightening experiences! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  44. Camille, I agree with so much of the above: sticking it out, keeping our hearts open, fear, etc. Man, it’s so good to know I’m not alone. Thanks for this post. It’s so good to know I’m not alone :)

  45. Natasha Says: June 29, 2016 at 9:36 am

    I have read everything I could find on google about SE, honestly, your blog is the best! It allows not to have illusions about the future travel! Very inspiring and wise. Thanks!

  46. I really enjoyed your post because you touched on the flipside of traveling Southeast Asia that I think the bloggers I have been reading missed, that the local peoples don’t enjoy the same privileges as travelers do. Even as a Saigon-born Asian American, I still experienced more luxury than the vendors on the streets.
    I love that you had opportunity to grow and overcome your struggles. Thank you for not grossly romanticizing Southeast Asia, ignoring the environmental degradation, poverty, health issues, mental health issues and so on. I wish you the best.

    • Camille Willemain Says: August 27, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Thank you thank you thank you, I appreciate your acknowledgement. I wish you too all of the best. xx

  47. thuy halle Says: August 24, 2016 at 3:34 am

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  48. Hello :)

    What a beautiful blog post. I personally find this very inspiring and truthful. Even though we are living the dream in SE Asia, it can still sometimes be hard and sad. I think people who don’t travel can’t understand that.

    I also just want to thank you for your openness in your blog. This isn’t like all the other generic blog posts about ‘finding yourself’ etc, its personal and heartfelt, so thank you for sharing that with the world.

    I hope you’re happy and still enjoying your travelling :)

    Safe travels 😀

    • Camille Willemain Says: December 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Thank you so much Jade I really appreciate that! I’m on my way back to Southeast Asia next week and I’m really excited about it. I’m looking forward to sharing more personal, authentic, heart centered writing in the future xoxo

  49. Wonderful, thoughtful post! I loved the comparison of worlds, the vulnerability of your words, and the in-depth realization of all you learned. Looking forward to reading more from you!

  50. A really really beautiful blog Camille!!

    I can relate to a lot of things because i lived in Chiang Mai for 2 months, and coming from Europe or the US it is not easy for us to accept all the things that are very very different. But as soon as you realize different is not always bad, you can start to enjoy the beauty of this amazing country, and i always love when people share their experiences. So thanks for your beautiful words and safe travels wherever you go! ♥

  51. Wow, this is such a well written piece. I just love how it encapsulates travel in Asia and what highs and lows it can bring. To feel is to live….

  52. This marks my first response to a blog post in all these years. You were forwarded to me by a friend and this post is excellent, eloquent and spot on. A perfect summation of what it means to grow from a vacationer/backpacker into a traveler. The world welcomes open hearts and minds. Especially those willing to help guide others along a path towards fulfillment. Thank you for giving my friend (the one who sent me the link) a better understanding of what I was trying to tell him. I leave again on 7/2 and this time I think he is coming…

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 4, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      That is so beautiful. Thank you for your support and kind comment <3 I hope your journey is pure magic!

  53. thank you. thank you thank you thank you for sharing all of this <3