I cried the day I had to leave China and fly back to my retail management job. I cried while I sat on the curb under the dark morning sky in Xi’an, waiting for a taxi. I cried when I boarded the plane in Beijing. I cried when I stood on the escalator in Calgary and realized that I was about to step back into a life filled with stress and exhaustion. I gave my heart to Asia.
China had mesmerized me. The ancient temples, Great Wall of China, street markets, Yangtze river, and interactions with locals had a profound effect on me. Yeah, an old lady accosted my boobs in Xi’an, the staring masses, and several taxi drivers had refused to drive me somewhere, but there was also the lady on the long distance bus to Chongqing who kept giving me snacks, and the locals at the Great Mosque who invited me to have tea and steamed buns with them.
The Chinese people were a conundrum and I was utterly fascinated by them.
It’s was dark outside when I walked out the door of the airport and toward the shuttle bus stop, the heat of humidity clinging to my body. I was tired and relying on my Lonely Planet guidebook to get me from the airport to my hostel in downtown Bangkok.
I had no idea where I was going. I knew the bus was only 150 THB ($5) and that my stop was near a 7-eleven, but that was it. I wasn’t worried. The directions sounded solid. Of course at the time I had no clue that 7-elevens are everywhere! Needless to say, I got off a little early. I was confident that my guidebook map would take me to where I needed to go, but when an old Thai man saw me wandering alone down a darkened street and offered to take me to my hostel, I didn’t hesitate. As it turns out I was a few blocks away from where I needed to be.
My first night was spent in a 6-bed dorm room where I was the only girl (yes, it was me and five guys in the room), getting my first (and last) Thai foot massage, and eating street Pad Thai that made me as hot inside as I was outside!
I spent a few days in Bangkok before heading up to Chiang Mai, a city I would return to several times. Later I would travel up to Chiang Saen and take a boat from Thailand to China.
By the time I was able to walk out to the bus that would take me from Beijing to Erlien in Inner Mongolia, the cargo areas under the bus were full and I had to store my backpack in a cubby like area next to machinery. It looked dodgy, but I had no interest in lugging the heavy bag onto the bus. As I walked up the steps I expected a standard Chinese sleeper bus, it was anything but. Cargo and luggage was piled on the floor, filling both aisles, forcing passengers to climb on top and make their way to their assigned sleeper pods.
I gingerly climbed into my bottom pod, cargo and luggage piled above me on both sides. It was surreal. The ride was smooth, with the exception of my need to pee at midnight which forced me to leave my pod, climb on top of the cargo, walked to the front of the bus, and beg the driver to pull over so I could pee behind the bus in the middle of nowhere.
When we arrive in Erlien it was 6am and still dark outside. I was tired and ushered to a truck. This would be my first introduction into how locals travel in Mongolia as the 5 passenger truck was filled with 12 people. It was too early to go to the border, and hanging out was not an option, so I found myself being dropped off at a hotel with a group of young Mongolians who then negotiated my room along with theirs and made sure I was okay before going to bed themselves.
My short trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka started off a bit rocky, turning me into a travel coward for the first time. It was during this time that I met a kind mototaxi driver who gave me a quick view of the city as he drove me to my hotel. During my short stay I would meet two very kind mototaxi drivers who would take me to local outdoor markets, and temples. Often being the only white person in the area, these local men would proudly show me their home city, and wait patiently as I snapped photo, after photo. After photo.
Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil was by far my favourite temple in Colombo, and oddly enough the only temple where photographs were not permitted inside. Walking over the threshold was an awe-inspiring experience, and felt very much like I was on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Beams of light from small windows were the only light inside the temple. Everything was made of granite, with the only splashes of colour coming from the clothing of locals, a few statues, and offering trays that laid on the floor. I was completely mesmerized and I could have easily sat down and spent a few hours staring at carvings, and watching locals worship.
I could spend hours sharing snippets from my travels in Asia. I could talk about long bus and train rides, hiking on the Great Wall of China, visiting countless temples and markets. There were challenges and days when I stayed inside. Days when the staring was too much. Days when I hated the country I was in. But those days were few and far between.
I’ve made several trips to Asia since 2008, and every time I return I feel as though I am returning home. I gave my heart to Asia. I fell in love with a continent. and although I should travel through Central and South America as that seems to be the new trend, I don’t really want to do that. I want to return to Asia. I want to continue my love affair. To experience the countries I have no visited yet. To connect with the locals and the culture.
Asia is the keeper of my heart. It nurtured my love for travel, and beckons me to return.
Have YOU given your heart to a specific country or continent?