Travel. I am in love with it.

We all have our own reasons related to the word “Travel”.

Mine is to learn new things, try new foods, meet new people, drink delicious coffee, make meaningful connections, visit places that I think are extraordinary, manage everything from planning to expenses, food, accommodation and so on, and most importantly, enjoy the freedom to be myself.

In 8 months (and counting), I managed to travel to 7 countries in South East Asia and have had amazing experiences along the way.

Traveling to different places has a deep impact on me. There are some important things I learned about myself and especially how I want to approach my career and life in general. However, what’s most essential to the places I visited are the people I have met along the way.

When traveling, if lucky enough, you encounter spontaneous moments where locals show signs of hospitality and want to share a special experience with you. These are the moments that are going to stick with me longer than any other hike, night out, or site seeing experience.

I will be updating this article as I come across these moments. These are the ones that I have remembered to date that I would love to briefly share.

Malaysia 🇲🇾

Dabong is a small rural village closely situated to a beautiful waterfall my friends and I were visiting. Upon arrival, we noticed the village is so small that it only had one restaurant! We strolled around looking for food and stumbled upon a wedding with the whole neighborhood in attendance. The bride’s mother and family invited us to hang out and eat delicious Malaysian food (also known as Makan). We hung around a for little as we learned about their village, played around with their rowdy children and got henna tattoos!

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Fun times and good food at this small neighborhood wedding.

Leaving Dabong, we had to go to another town 30 minutes away called Jeli so we can catch a bus to the city of Ipoh. Upon our arrival at the bus terminal, we came to find out all the buses were booked for the next 3 days because of a holiday. Oh No! With limited options, my travel crew at the time (shout-out Mike, Clarissa, and Janieke) decided to give hitchhiking a try.

After about an hour of waving cars down, our hope of getting picked up started to fade. Eventually, I stumbled across a nice family at a nearby restaurant that offered us a ride! They are some of the nicest people I have ever met and were genuinely interested in learning about other cultures.

Fast forward one week, we kept in touch met up with them a couple of times in their hometown of Penang (one of the food capitals of the world). They picked us up and took us out to a local spot for some Laksa (a popular Malaysian spicy noodle soup). Fun times!

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Anwar, Sri and their family taking us out to local eats.

In Dabong, we stayed at Abe Din’s guesthouse called Rose House. He was constantly making us feel at home bringing us delicious cakes made by his wife. He also went to the morning market and brought us a food called Nasi Kerabu, blue rice with fried chicken and other spices.

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I was on the Perhentian Islands getting my scuba divers license. One morning, while waiting for my upcoming lesson, the owner of the scuba shop randomly called me over to hop on a boat to the nearby fisherman village. From there we were invited to a house where many were celebrating the end of Ramadan as we got to eat delicious foods and desserts! It was encouraged to eat a lot so I accepted the challenge and was stuffed!

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Amazing food and desserts at a packed house of hungry Malaysians!

During my travels, I always seek out a great cup of coffee. If the cafe’s atmosphere is up to par I usually spend many hours/days working on our software products for 10factory. Lunabar Cafe was a spot I happened to fall in love with. I became a frequent visitor consistently enjoying their interior design while drinking delicious coffee and cakes. I ended up spending so much time there that the staff all became good friends with me as they would show me around Penang, take me out to dinner and even teach me Mandarin.

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Lunabar Cafe, my happy place in Penang, Malaysia.

Vietnam 🇻🇳

This moment I’m about share really jumpstarted my stay in Vietnam and shaped its course for the following 3 months. While traveling, I try and visit coffee shops where locals are hanging out so I checked out Cafe Dinh, a run-down cafe with character famous for its “Egg Coffee”.

I happened to be sitting by 2 other Americans so I struck a conversation with them. Maria was an English teacher living in Hanoi showing around her friend Kyle, an English teacher living in Saigon. Kyle happened to be with one of his Vietnamese students Tam aka Tristian. Long story short, we hit it off and I hung out with them for the day and was invited to a delicious home-cooked meal at Maria’s place. I stayed in touch with Kyle and Tam and hung out with them multiple times throughout Vietnam! More about that to come!

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Cafe Dinh followed by dinner at Maria’s house with Tam and Kyle.

Tet Holiday is the lunar new year where the big cities are basically abandoned as the Vietnamese return to their hometowns to spend about two weeks with their families. Given most things shut down, it’s hard to move around as a tourist during this period. Tam (Kyle’s student I met in Hanoi) was kind enough to invite to stay with his family in his hometown, Phan Rang. I had a special two weeks there as I basically got taken in by his mom and brother. During the holiday, I attended big lunches at Tam’s relative’s house and had many special moments meeting his friends.

My days in Phan Rang were relaxing and consisted of waking up early for sunrises at the beach, where everyone was starting their day by stretching and swimming. We spent hours drinking coffee at various cafes, eating home cooked lunches prepared by Tam’s mom, eating delicious Banh Xeo for dinner, hanging out with tam’s friends, and playing basketball and soccer!

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I met Phuc (Ryan) in his home city of Da Nang. Funny enough, Phuc is a mutual friend of Tam and he really made my time in Da Nang special by showing me secluded beaches, local coffee shops, amazing banh mi spots and inviting me to his home for family dinners.

One of the many memorable days I had with Phuc was when we visited a family-owned farm that was about one hour outside Da Nang. We spent the day on this beautiful farm next to a lake. The owner of the farm was very welcoming and cooked us a meal by preparing one of his chickens. We spent the entire day eating and drinking beers until the sun went down.

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I gave him the nickname Phuc Nation b/c this guy Phucs.

Although communicating with people in foreign lands can be difficult, one beautiful language that many of us understand is the rules of soccer. I would always find people playing and would ask to join as we had a great time playing a game we love!

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A beautiful game.

I spent a couple of weeks traveling by motorbike exploring the mountains and villages of Northern Vietnam. One day, a kid named Huy waved us down and asked to come to his house by the big river. After hiking down 15 minutes, we come to see his house is floating on the water. He invited us to go Paddle-boarding as we were the only ones out there!

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At Huy’s house on the water in between the Gorge of Ma Pi Leng.

Cambodia 🇰🇭

While on the beautiful island of Koh Rong Sanloem, I became a regular at a delicious and chill restaurant ran by a small Cambodian family. After eating there many times and having great conversations, the family’s grandmother and mother invited me to cook with them. I learned how to make a delicious chicken curry. mmmm

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Myanmar 🇲🇲

In 3 days, I hiked ~55km from Kalaw to Inle Lake visiting many villages along the way. Our first stop was at the Shapin Village where an 83-year-old retired farmer invited me over for tea with his wife and friend. One of them surprisingly picked up English and I was having a blast making him laugh!

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Thailand 🇹🇭

Through friends of mine, I was able to meet Sapee a Northern Thai who lives in a small village 2 hours from Chaing Mai. He took me on 7-hour trek where I saw all types and animals, terrains, waterfalls and more. What a day! Not an easy hike but well worth it.

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Sappe is a friend and a great guide to the Northern Thai jungle, check out the website I made for him at thailandjungletrek.com

Taiwan 🇹🇼

Couchsurfing is a website that connects locals who open up their homes to travelers. It’s a great way to get an authentic local experience. When I got to Taipei, Taiwan, I decided to give Couchsurfing a try. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Jerry and Kelly. They showed me around by taking me to beautiful nature spots and delicious night markets.

Like myself, Jerry works in the tech space and builds a travel-related product on the side. Jerry set up an awesome event for me. I got to speak to Taiwanese people about my trip and gave some pointers for those looking to travel. It was very fun and informative!

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(Left)With my hosts Jerry & Kelly at a night market. (center/right) Event set up where I got to speak to the people of Taiwan about my journey abroad.

Japan 🇯🇵

Unlike the other countries I’ve been to in South East Asia, Japan is more expensive to enjoy as a tourist. Transportation, accommodation, and food can cost 2x–20x more than the other countries mentioned above. In Japan, Hitchhiking has become a popular method of transport among backpackers because it is a safe, budget-friendly, and “people-friendly”.

I decided to give hitchhiking a try when leaving Shizouka heading to Nagoya. A local by the name of Hiro saw I needed a lift and gave me a hand. He ended up being one of the coolest people I met. 5 minutes into the ride we started freestyle rapping and having a great convo. I ended up going with him to his small countryside hometown called Kikugawa and spent the day hanging with Hiro and his friends. I had a great connection with them instantly and was given gifts when I had to part to my next destination.

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With Hiro and Kito from Kikugawa, Japan

One of my favorite travel experiences! In Hiroshima, I stayed with a huge family on top of their ramen shop that has been running for over 60 years. Oh yeah, and the ramen is one of the best I’ve eaten! The restaurant is called “Ramen Youki” if you ever go to Hiroshima.

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With the Hara family who has been running their ramen shop since 1958!

I spent time in a really small town called Gokase. It’s so small most Japanese people haven’t heard of it. I was hosted by an amazing family. The couple’s father builds log houses for a living and I got to stay in my own cabin!
I had a great time with them making sushi, eating at the local izakayas and admiring the surrounding nature.

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The log cabin I got to sleep in. Nodoka, Kieta and baby Mayu in Gokase, Japan.

Traveler who loves doing nothing and drinking coffee.

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