Or … why you can never really ‘do’ a country

Clapham | London | August | About lunchtime | Raining

Sunset on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo
Kinabatangan River in Borneo (not Clapham)

We’ve been back now for six weeks after our 90 days travelling in south east Asia. I’ve been working out some numbers; in all, we stayed at 37 places and visited 8 countries:

In all we took 21 boats, 19 flights, 16 mopeds, 12 buses, 3 bicycles, 2 horse and carts and 1 sea-plane and over 32 blog posts, with some more to come. Whilst I am happy about the amount of blogging I did and managing to not get divorced (here are some tips on blogging while traveling with a partner), I do hold some flight-shame about the carbon emissions, something I’m going to have to offset somehow.

Before I left a friend of mine asked me ‘what do you expect to achieve?’ The question threw me because I never challenged the ability of travel to inspire, open our eyes and minds, see how other people live and understand the commonality of humans and our values.

Travel is the best thing in the world, with the possible exception of cake.

This really was one hell of a journey, I was almost tempted to use exclamation marks on blogposts. It was an utter privilege to have been able to do something like this, a special passage of time I know we will never ever forget.

A beach on Selingan Island near Borneo
Selingan Island, Borneo

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I have also realised that looking at the stats in the opening line of this post …

  • We stayed on average 2.4 days in each place we visited.
  • We stayed on average 11.2 days in each country (we spent just two nights in the smallest country we visited, Singapore, and in long linear countries like Laos and Vietnam, we spent close to two weeks.)
  • On a whim, we were able to stay longer when we found a very special place, or needed some rest and recuperation. We extended our stays to 5 days in Bagan in Myanmar and in Gill Air, a tiny island in Indonesia just off Lombok).
Waterfalls in Laos
Waterfalls near Luang Prabang, Laos

But here’s the thing: I still have that urge to go back to those places again one day, see how they have changed and explore a little deeper. I do though hope to avoid the hospitals of Danang and Hué next time.

People say, ‘we did Vietnam,’ ‘we did Peru’, but the truth is, you can never actually ‘do’ a country as a traveller. You can only ever skim its surface, especially in the constraints of modern living.

But in the constraints of modern living, 11.2 days in each country, 2.4 days per stay, is a taster, a thali just enough of a bite to entice you, to inspire you, fill you with a desire to would want to go back again.

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This post is part of the series called ’90 Days in South East Asia’ was written on-the-road (mainly on buses, boats and planes) except for this one which was written in a cafe on a rainy day in south London.

All the links to blog posts in the series are below:

1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

4) Flying past Mount Everest

5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

12) Where the rhinos roam

13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

14) A tale of a dry day in India

15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

22) On our way down south in Laos

23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

25) Getting over a fever

26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

28) Mandalay Days

29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island

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