Ten life lessons I’ve learned from visiting ASEAN countries #MyAseanStory 

By MARY LOUISE LIGUNAS

my asean story

1. Home can be anywhere in the world.

I first went to Singapore in 1997. I was six years old and my dad, my siblings and I tagged along since my mom had to fly there for work. There’s not much I remember from the trip but I must’ve loved it since I’ve been there more than five times after that. Whether it’s just a half-day layover or an entire week’s stay, Singapore taught me that I can feel at home anywhere in the world that I decide to love.

 

2. You can find friends anywhere.

Years before I met fellow travelers in hostels, I learned about the importance of being friendly watching my father haggle in Bangkok. He was given a fifty percent discount for a polo shirt after he talked about Manny Pacquiao to a Thai vendor at the weekend market. Even if there was nothing to gain, he’d smile at people in the train or begin a conversation with our cab drivers.

 

3. Try not to romanticize things.

Before flying to Kuala Lumpur, I saw the Petronas Towers in a local movie. Watching the film made me more excited about the trip and seeing the twin skyscrapers for myself. When I finally got there, I realized that situations are not as ideal as they seem in documentaries, movies, postcards, photos, blogs and magazines. Finding the perfect place to take a photo was challenging, and not going at the right time of day or year will leave you drenched in sweat and haggard-looking in photos. With the right disposition, however, you’ll gain rich memories and good stories to tell.

 

4. When it’s love, you’ll know it.

My first out-of-the-country travel with friends was to Ho Chi Minh. If you want to know how much I enjoyed it, know that I’ve returned to Vietnam for two birthdays after that. The culture, the energy, the coffee, and the food draw me in with each visit. I can’t wait to go back on my next birthday.

 

5. Going solo is sometimes necessary.

My friends and I planned a trip to Bali. I have Indonesian friends based in Jakarta and I didn’t want to go to the country without seeing them so I flew to the capital first. Though I spent many hours of the day with friends, not having companions in the flights allowed me to talk to strangers and staying in a hostel gained me a couple of new friends. Aside from meeting people, the peace and freedom that go with being alone are highs I’ve began looking for since then.

 

6. Minimizing can enrich your life.

Time travel would be the most apt description for my trip to Yangon and Bagan. The architecture, the absence of Uber and Waze, and the overall vibe just made me feel like I was living in a different era. I loved every bit of it. It was great not having to rely on technology to get to places, it was interesting hearing screeches in the railway because the trains were so old, and it was mind-blowing that telegram there was a system, and not a messaging app. I felt that all those allowed me to be fully present in each experience.

 

7. Be ready for detours.

Having grown up with my mom and older sister fixing itineraries for our trips, it was a bit of a challenge when I had to do it for me and my friends. A lapse in judgment made me decide to go on a day trip to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap. Luck seemed far when our bus broke down midway and we didn’t make it to the museums we planned on visiting. Even without a change of clothes, we decided that it was more practical to stay the night so we could see a bit of the city the following morning. Instead of sulking at the misfortune, we looked for a cheap hostel, bought toiletries, looked for good food and ended the night with drinks. I loved that we still saw the museums I wanted to go to, shared interesting conversations with people we met and had an unforgettable 24 hours in Cambodia’s capital.

 

8. The road less travelled will gain you experiences not people get to have.

This seems like a no-brainer but I was affirmed of this during a short trip to Brunei. An irresistible promo fare led my best friend and I to the small country. One trip allowed us to appreciate and understand Islam, eat amazing versions of food we’ve tried in Thailand and Indonesia, and get to know about fellow Filipinos who’ve decided to work and live there. Our Muslim tour guide also became a good friend whom we’re still in touch with today.

 

9. Nurturing your sense of adventure is essential.

Laos is the only ASEAN country that I haven’t visited yet. I have no flights booked to date but I hope to make the trip by next year. This early, I already know that I want to swim in the Kuang Si Falls, go temple hopping, meditate in a monastery, and see the sunset over the Mekong River. Having been to the nine other countries have taught me that there’ll always be something to do, someone to meet and somewhere to be. I can’t wait to find out what that country has in store for me.

 

10. Have a home base.

I love travelling and I see myself doing it for many more years to come. It has enriched my life in many ways but I know, deep in me, that there will never be a place like home. I’ll always find myself booking that return flight to the Philippines.

(Submitted for the #MyAseanStory blog writing project )

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