It was but six weeks into my international jaunt and I knew I had to connect with my two friends that had been there the last time I relocated. Last time was Sydney, and they absolutely made the transition between cities ten times easier. This time they were involved as well. Less directly, but had certainly urged me to explore all of what SE Asia has to offer.
Another friend I caught up with in Singapore had said it's worth making it habit to get out of Singapore at least once a month. It had been longer and I flippantly booked a trip to Kuala Lumpur for that weekend. It was $200 SGD return including accommodation. I asked some people within the office how to go about it, got some tips, and then plunged in.
My friends in Chiang Mai are renowned for springing surprise visits to Australia. It was time to return the favour to one of them. Booking a last minute trip there was a spur of the moment decision, seeing the reaction and receiving a hug from one of my dearest friends was something I'll cherish.
Some of my best friends from Sydney were travelling to Chiang Mai and circumstances conspired against their visiting Singapore to see my digs. Some back and forth made things work, and it was time to re-visit one of my favourite places in SE Asia. What was different this time, was that we had a whole crew with us and we were headed to a village outside of Chiang Mai, the fabled Pai (link to Wikitravel).
This was my first business trip with a new company and while Manila isn't somewhere I'd ordinarily go to, I was keen to make the most of the experience.
I have not heard many people talk about the similarities Japan shares with other countries. Tokyo blew my mind. I knew I was in another country the second I was off the plane. I loved every second of it. Before I'd even left the airport I was amazed by their toilets! Their toilets for crying out loud. I was here on business again and had just completed a leg from Melbourne (was there for a wedding). To say I was tired was an understatement. I lasted until about 4.30 that day much to the derision of my boss.
Bali has never been on my to-do list. From what I heard it was a bit of a tourist mecca and not much else. However, a group of friends from Australia were headed there and it'd be rude to ignore that fact when they were so close to Singapore. I made a weekend of it, and stayed in some very lush villas in Semanyak.
Like a lot of my trips in SE Asia, this one was organised at short-notice. And after all the travel I'd done in the past couple of months I wasn't sure if I was keen. A colleague asked if I wanted to go however and who am I to knock back an adventure?
One of my best friends announced he was getting married in Melbourne in January and I put the random travels on hold for a while to save money. This interrupted my Christmas plans and it looked like I was spending Christmas in Singapore. An old colleague from Sydney got wind of this and at her insistence I boarded a bus to Kuala Lumpur for her family's Christmas celebrations.
Another colleague from work was at a loose end as to what to do on New Year's Eve, and a cheeky Facebook status update saw us make plans to visit Vietnam to bring in the New Year. There were hotel dramas, but to be fair, I had a miracle run through Asia thus far and wasn't too bothered. I remember updating my status while there commenting on how crowded it was. A few know-it-alls commented on my update and said "oh, that's Ho Chi Minh". No, fuck you guys, I had been to Ho Chi Minh before and this was ten times more staggering.
After racking up so much airtime you would think I would have this down-pat by now. I didn't quite think this trip through. I was going to my friend's wedding in Melbourne during its hottest period. I was leaving from Singapore which is always hot. In between was Tokyo which was hot last time... To put it bluntly, I froze my dick off.
This one doesn't even count. I spent eight hours in the airport bored out of my mind (it is a good airport though, bloody large!) only to realise the connecting flight had lost my luggage. I went through immigration, got stamped, and found my purple suitcase in the lost and found section. Checked back in, put my bag through, and made my way to Melbourne.
Another business trip. I don't to give Manila a bad wrap, as the people are some of the kindest in Asia, but I had another woeful time. The hotel placed me in a smoking room and couldn't move me anywhere else. I got sick. And did back-to-back-to-back meetings over four days.
Another last-minute decision. And given I'd just got back from Manila the last thing on my mind was travel. But a bad week culminated with a very frustrating Friday, meaning I was desperate to see some friends.
The travel continued in earnest. This time it was a last-minute business trip to talk at a conference of one of our key partners. I stayed at the Majestic, a place I'd stayed at on my original trip, it didn't disappoint. The French-colonial architecture is beautiful.
I presented before one of my biggest crowds yet. An audience of 200 people or so, and to top it off, I won best presentation of the day to boot! The afternoon/evening I entertained clients, and made my way back to Singapore, still convinced of it being one of the best cities in Asia.
Bangkok - 25th March, 2012
I had deliberately avoided Bangkok. After enjoying Krabi and Chiang Mai (repeatedly) so much, I didn't want a more commercialised, city-centric version of the country I love. Yet business brought me there, and reeled off one of my biggest tours yet work-wise. Fortunately, I fell in love. If anything, Thailand without the village-like atmosphere I adored, was even more intriguing. It was cosmopolitan to the extreme, with all sorts of characters running around the city in harmony.
It had its dodgy-side, but I'd read up, and was experienced enougih with Asia now to know what to expect. My only regret? I didn't try and stay for the weekend. As being able to let loose without having to worry about work would be a real experience, especially in a city like this.
Jakarta - 24th April, 2012
My last business trip before I depart (knock on wood) and there was one thing that really resonated with me. Jakarta (and in a broader sense, Indonesia) is fucking huge. The scale of what we were dealing with was mind-boggling. It's punching in the same weight-division as the US for sheer population size. And yet it gets lumped in as SE Asia.
The other thing that really struck me was the gap between rich and poor. Like Manila, there is obvious poverty around the city and disparity between hotels I was staying in, and the shanties you see on the side of the road is sad to see.
It was never going to be the most pleasant trip with all that goes on there, but it was one of the most awe-inspiring.
Kuching - 27th April, 2012
My last trip before I head home (again, knock on wood) and this one was for selfish reasons. The move to Australia has been preying on my mind and the thought of being cooped up in Singapore without relaxing was too much to bear. I'd heard about this city from a few people, and it sounded like a great place for downtime. I caught an advance screening of The Avengers, ate sumptuous seafood, had my first full-body massage, and drank at some of the local bars. But most of all, I relaxed. Which is just what I needed.
20 stamps, and many memories. Asia, you've been great and I'll be returning for sure. I came with an open-mind, a willingness to explore, and gave back what I can. It's been one of the most awesome experiences of my life.
Next in the sights is Europe - I don't think its ready.