Wandering Solo

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

The first thing that people asked me after learning that I’ll be taking ten days off work to go around three different Southeast Asian cities is, “Who’s coming with you?” Almost always, they are surprised to find out that I will be traveling alone. It is usual belief that one only enjoys an activity if he has somebody to share the experience with. How difficult is it for a first-time kayaker to go island hopping by himself? How do you finish four different dishes on your dinner table? How do you play badminton alone? How does a rock band sound like if only drumbeats are there for one to hear? Well, there are things that are just too difficult to accomplish by yourself but it is not a bad idea either to do some things on your own.

Perhaps, traveling solo is one challenge that many people may not dare do. Scary. Lonely. Boring. Stressful. Yes, it will be all of that if that is your perspective. Like other free-spirited individuals, I chose to view the experience with a more positive frame of mind: adventure-packed, spontaneous, surprising, tranquil and liberating.

I booked my very cheap 5J tickets last Nov 2009 (emphasis on very cheap: PHP176 for MNL-BKK, USD19 for SGN-MNL). It took months of planning to iron out the itinerary and other details. As the day arrived closer, excitement and anxiety both crept in. It wasn’t my first time to travel alone in a foreign place but this is the first time that I’m doing it outside of a business trip. Not to dismiss the fact that this will last for more than a week.

Time flies quickly when you’re so busy. I was involved in a project and on the day that I was supposed to leave, I crammed two days worth of work into a couple of hours. By 5PM, I finally left my professional hat on my desk and looked forward to the adventure ahead.

The hours spent waiting for flights at the airport, the four hours at sea, the 7-hour wait at the train station, the half-day bus rides and the endless strolls under the sun (and a bit of rain). Time seemed to stand still but these were the moments that let me reflect on the present and where I want to be.

The kababayans (translated: fellow countrymen) who lent me their pen so I can fill out the arrival/departure card. Shared suggestions on what they can do in BKK as first-timers. Satisfied our hunger by eating during the wee hours of the morning. Then, after being friends for three hours tops, we had to finally part ways since I am bound for Koh Samui via a 6AM connecting flight.

The Ang Thong Marine Park snorkeling tour with the excellent dive crew of 100 Degrees East. I was with a Canadian, an American, French and Australian tourists. Funny that fate has brought together the three countries I have seen so far and the one I that want to be in next year. The two young, nice and friendly Economics majors, an American and a Canadian, who were my BKK-Aran busmates, my Thailand-Cambodia border crossing buddies, my taxi-mates bound for Siem Reap, my Angkor Wat-mates. Isn’t it wonderful when total strangers turn into new friends? In Ho Chi Minh City, I stayed at a high school friend’s house. I got to spend a little time learning about the life of Filipinos working abroad. After all the animosity and the unfamiliarity of the past days of wandering, I end up where it feels closer to home. It was a fitting last stop. I had so much fun and I didn’t want to leave yet. I am neither lost nor lonely. I wasn’t soul-searching. Sometimes, being alone lets you open your eyes to new possibilities and you are able to see them clearly because you are free to think. No work, no problems. You become aware and you are able to enjoy the present. You get to be you and at the same time you get to be different. I was alone when I started the journey but I realized that it wasn’t so while I was in it. So do I regret traveling solo? Not one bit.

Clockwise from top left: One of the islands in Ang Thong Marine Park; Emerald Lake; A young girl waiting on the train station bench; A girl selling water after school; Shrimp Paste Stir Fried Rice & Iced Coffee; Welcome statue at Renaissance Koh Samui
Clockwise from top left: Angkor Wat at Sunrise; Four Monks and a Dog; Boy on a ferry while crossing the river; Grandmother and grandchild; Bayon; Fish Amok
Clockwise from top left: Sunset at Moc Bai (Vietnam side of VN-KH border); Bike frenzy; Vendor oustide Reunification Palace; War Remnants Museum facade; Beggar outside Notre Dame; Opera House at night