This is a long time coming, and I’ve been meaning to publicly summarize my thoughts and consolidate my experiences on my journey. Since returning, so many people have reached out to me, expressed their curiosity, and asked me for advice. I’ve become a de facto Asia travel planner and role model for other women who want to travel solo as well (which makes me feel great, actually).
The number one question I’m asked is, “What was your favorite place you went to?” My answer is none of them— they were all my favorites. It’s an extremely hard question to answer, because each country was special to me in many different ways. There are highlights across the entire journey, of course.
Here are my top memories from each country (paired with my favorite photos as well) and why it is so meaningful to me. If there is something you absolutely must do or see in each of these countries, then this is my recommendation for what it must be.
I feel like I can’t answer this question very well because I’ve been to India so many times. My favorite memory is simply going to Chennai and spending time with my grandparents.
Without a doubt, it’s the Everest Base Camp trek. I’ve written extensively about the trek (FAQ, Pre-trek, Days 1-7, Days 8-14) because it was so incredible and I recommend everyone do it. The entire experience is truly life changing and there is nothing more spectacular than seeing Mt. Everest in person and the entire Himalayan mountain range. The people you meet, the pain you fight through, the perseverance you gain, and the strength you find within yourself are all the more reason to do this. You discover a lot about yourself on this trek. Top moment of my life, if not just this trip.
Beautiful, serene, stunning Bagan. This place will take your breath away. Three days biking around Bagan is enough to enjoy the splendor of all the old temples and feel like you’ve truly stepped back in time. Catching the sunrise while watching hot air balloons rise above the plains in this still very untouched place is a magical experience. If I could go back and had more money to spend, I would absolutely pay for the $350 (per person!) hot air balloon ride.
Even though I’ve been here before, it’s still Chiang Mai. There is something very spiritual about Chiang Mai. I always meet excellent people here and feel truly at home. I would move here in an instant. What made Chiang Mai so special this time around was the friend I met who made me realize how much I had changed, the monk who gave me perspective, and a single hike to a forest temple that made me realize how happy I am. These were pivotal moments for me in my journey.
This is a tough one, but I’m going with the Plain of Jars. This is an undoubtedly non-touristy area. I’ve written about the tragedy that occurred here, which I had no knowledge of prior to coming to Laos. Despite the amount of blood shed at the hands of the U.S. and continuing struggle the people of Laos face, they still go on. I’m glad to have finally learned about the Secret War.
Really I can’t decide for Cambodia. Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields were both humbling to see and learn about. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap was obviously majestic. The Killing Fields and the Prison in Phnom Penh were educational and critical to understanding Cambodia and its people.
The island of Koh Rong Samloem also stole my heart. I decided to skip Koh Rong, the party island, headed straight to its smaller sister island. I had no lodging or anything booked, but luckily a guy approached me as I got off the ferry and asked if I wanted to camp at the end of the island near their resort. Highly improvised but ended up being the best choice. The best things in life are unexpected. What followed was four days of hanging out, relaxing, meeting incredible people from all over the world, fresh fish BBQs, swimming in the clearest water, a stunning trek through the forest, and walking along the whitest sand. One night we decided to get into the water and everything began to sparkle around us. We sat there like kids playing around watching the bioluminescent plankton light up. Truly magical.
Many people skipped out on Sa Pa, the mountainous region in the northern most part of Vietnam where you can find the most stunning rice fields and the kindest people. Let me tell you— everyone who skipped out on Sa Pa made a huge mistake! The month I spent there traveling south to north was the best decision I made, despite the cold and bad weather I faced up north. I absolutely loved living in the villages of Sa Pa, eating with the local people, and hiking around the mountains. I even extended my stay because I loved it so much.
I wish I had spent more time in Malaysia because I did not get to fully experience it, but the Cameron Highlands was my favorite part of my 1.5 weeks there. I met my favorite people in Malaysia here and had such excellent conversations. The tea plantations are a dream to walk through. Not to mention, I had some of the best Indian food and strawberry scones I have ever had in my life here.
Again, another place I needed more time in. The lack of transportation and 7,000 islands to explore did not help my very indecisive self. However, the entire island of Palawan is seriously stunning. The Big Lagoon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in the world. On top of that, when I finally allowed myself to have fun, Palawan was definitely the place to be— much better than Boracay which is just a ridiculous party destination. The little town of El Nido is a great place to meet people and find a group of friends. Everyone in the town knows each other. This is a place where you could get sucked in for sure…
This is the hardest one for me, but scuba diving in Flores on a live-aboard beats everything else I did in Indonesia (even all the incredible treks!). I spent 4 days living on a boat in the middle of the ocean with a few other people, waking up at 5:30am to get into the water by 6am for our first dive, followed by two more dives throughout the day. I have never seen more incredible, colorful, and diverse marine life and coral. It’s considered one of the best places to dive in the entire world, so I am ecstatic I had the chance to do this. Thankfully I got my advanced scuba diving certification before coming here (its required really), because the current is out of this world and occasionally frightening. Also, I will never forget that moment a manta ray just came out of the blue and swam right above my head. I stopped everything and just watched in awe. Majestic.
Truth be told, I did not do much in Singapore. I did hardly anything touristy. Rather, I just ate a lot of food and walked around with my friend. But while I was here, I felt so independent, free, confident, and happy. I had learned everything I had wanted from this trip. I was exactly where I wanted to be.