This month, Wout (@woutmaerschalck on Instagram) joined the Dragon Trip for an amazing 31-day tour around Southeast Asia. We caught up with Wout to find out what his favourite parts of the tour were – and what he loved about Southeast Asia!
Why did you choose to visit South-East Asia?
I chose to visit South-East Asia because it has always been a dream of mine, but I couldn’t do it earlier due to Covid. After bidding farewell to my friends, I embarked on this long-awaited journey to Bangkok, seeking new experiences, solace, and a chance to hit the “reset” button on my life. The trip was filled with excitement, exploring diverse cultures, and embracing the unknown. It became a transformative journey of self-discovery, leaving lasting memories and gratitude in my heart.
What was the most important thing that you learned about the region on your trip?
During my trip to Cambodia, one of the most impactful and unforgettable experiences was visiting the Killing Fields. It wasn’t a pleasant topic to delve into, given the dark and hard-hitting history associated with it, but it left a profound impression on me.
The Killing Fields are sites where the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, carried out mass executions and atrocities during the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge was a radical communist party that took control of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Under their rule, they sought to create an agrarian utopia, leading to forced evacuations of cities and a brutal campaign to eliminate perceived enemies and intellectuals. The Killing Fields were places where thousands of innocent Cambodians were brutally tortured and executed.
One of the most notorious Killing Fields is located in Choeung Ek, just outside Phnom Penh, which I visited during my trip. Walking through this haunting site, I learned about the tragic stories of those who lost their lives there. The exhibits and displays helped me understand the unimaginable suffering that took place during the Khmer Rouge regime. The visit to the Killing Fields was a somber and deeply emotional experience. It made me reflect on the capacity for cruelty that humans can inflict upon one another and the importance of learning from history to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
It struck me that these events weren’t adequately covered in my school education, and I realized the significance of seeking out this knowledge as an adult. Understanding Cambodia’s painful past and acknowledging the atrocities committed during the genocide is crucial for honoring the victims and ensuring that such dark chapters in history are never forgotten or repeated.
What was the best experience you had on the trip?
The best experience during my trip was undoubtedly the unforgettable cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam. It was a truly unique and mesmerizing location, unlike any other place I had visited before. The sheer beauty and tranquility of Halong Bay left me in awe from the moment I set foot on the boat.
As the cruise set sail, I was surrounded by an ethereal landscape of limestone karsts jutting out of the emerald waters. The bay’s natural beauty was nothing short of magical, and it felt like stepping into a dream world. The gentle lapping of the water against the boat and the distant calls of seagulls provided a serene soundtrack to the journey. It was a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, allowing me to connect with nature and find a sense of inner peace.
The highlight of the cruise was undoubtedly the sunset over Halong Bay. As the sun began its descent, the sky transformed into a mesmerizing canvas of colors—warm hues of orange, pink, and gold painted across the horizon. It was a breathtaking spectacle, and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the beauty of nature unfolding before my eyes.
The cruise itself was an experience of luxury and comfort. The crew on board took great care of us, ensuring that we had everything we needed and guiding us to the best spots for panoramic views. The meals served were a delightful blend of Vietnamese cuisine, introducing me to new flavors and culinary delights.
As the cruise came to an end, I found myself reflecting on the beauty of Halong Bay and the memories created during this voyage. It was a truly awe-inspiring experience that reminded me of the power of nature to nurture the soul and leave an indelible mark on one’s heart. The cruise in Halong Bay became the highlight of my trip, a cherished memory that I will fondly recount to friends and family for years to come.
Where was your favourite place to visit in Thailand?
My favorite place to visit in Thailand was undoubtedly the Wat Doi Suthep Temple, perched majestically on the mountain of Doi Suthep, just outside the vibrant city of Chiang Mai. Upon arriving at the temple complex, I was immediately struck by its beauty and tranquility. The ornate golden spire of the temple shimmered under the sunlight, and the gentle sound of temple bells filled the air. It was a place that exuded a sense of serenity and devotion, inviting visitors to explore its wonders.
Before reaching the main temple, we walked up the impressive Naga staircase, flanked by intricately carved serpent-like creatures, believed to protect the temple. The ascent offered an opportunity for quiet contemplation, as the sounds of the city gradually faded away, replaced by a feeling of peaceful detachment.
As we reached the top of the staircase, we were greeted by the grandeur of the temple complex. The central pagoda, adorned with intricate details and exquisite architectural designs, stood as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment. The views from the temple’s elevated location were awe-inspiring, revealing the lush landscapes and surrounding mountains in all their natural splendor.
Inside the temple, the atmosphere was both reverent and vibrant. Monks in saffron robes chanted ancient verses, and the scent of incense wafted through the air, creating an ambiance of spiritual sanctity. Devotees lit candles and offered prayers, their faces reflecting a profound sense of devotion and reverence.
The temple’s serene ambiance, stunning architecture, and spiritual energy made it a favorite destination during my time in Thailand. It was a place where I felt a deep connection to the country’s spirituality and history, reminding me of the beauty that lies in the harmonious coexistence of faith, nature, and cultural heritage. Wat Doi Suthep Temple became a cherished memory, one that I will carry with me as a reminder of the profound beauty and spirituality that I encountered on my journey through Thailand.
What was the best food you ate in Vietnam?
The best food I had in Vietnam was undoubtedly the mouthwatering Banh Mi, and the one that stood out the most was the delectable creation I savored at Banh Mi 25 in Hanoi. Banh Mi is a culinary masterpiece that perfectly encapsulates Vietnam’s fusion of flavors and culinary heritage. It is a delightful sandwich that showcases the country’s love for fresh ingredients, bold spices, and the art of culinary craftsmanship. The Banh Mi at Banh Mi 25 was a symphony of flavors and textures. The crusty baguette, with its perfect balance of softness inside and crispiness outside, provided the ideal canvas for the gastronomic masterpiece that awaited within. The sandwich was generously filled with a variety of ingredients that harmoniously complemented each other.
First, the succulent and savory grilled meat added a burst of umami goodness, and the tender slices of roast pork offered a deliciously rich flavor. Next came the medley of fresh vegetables, which included crunchy cucumber, tangy pickled carrots, and refreshing cilantro. The Banh Mi was further elevated by the addition of homemade pate and creamy mayonnaise, lending a delightful creaminess that tied all the flavors together.
From the first bite to the last, every moment spent savoring the Banh Mi at Banh Mi 25 was a celebration of the joys of food and the cultural riches that Vietnam has to offer. It was undoubtedly the best food I had in Vietnam and an experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.
Any top tips for travellers going to South-East Asia?
Travelling to South-East Asia will be an enriching and unforgettable experience. Here are some top tips to make the most of your journey:
- Embrace the Culture: South-East Asia is a region rich in diverse cultures, traditions, and customs. Take the time to learn about the local culture, show respect to the locals, and be open to new experiences. Engage in conversations, try local customs, and immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of each country’s unique heritage.
- Stay Hydrated: The climate in South-East Asia can be hot and humid, so it’s essential to stay hydrated. Carry a reusable water bottle and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Be cautious with ice in drinks; opt for bottled water when unsure about the source.
- Try Street Food: South-East Asia is famous for its delectable street food. Don’t miss the chance to try local delicacies from street vendors. Look for busy stalls with a high turnover of customers, as it’s a good indicator of tasty and fresh food.
- Bargain with a Smile: Bargaining is a common practice in many South-East Asian countries, especially at markets and street stalls. Approach it with a smile and a friendly attitude, and you might just score a good deal on souvenirs and local products.
- Respect Dress Codes: Some religious sites and conservative areas may require modest dress. Before visiting temples or sacred places, check the dress code and cover your shoulders and knees out of respect.
- Carry Cash and Local Currency: While credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, it’s essential to carry cash, especially when venturing into rural regions or visiting small establishments. Local ATMs can be your lifeline during the trip, providing convenient access to cash when needed.
Finally – where’s next on your travel bucket list?
Next on my travel bucket list is a much-anticipated family trip to Tuscany, Italy, right after my South-East Asia adventure. The prospect of reuniting with my loved ones and sharing my SEA adventures through my blog fills me with excitement and anticipation. Exploring iconic cities like Siena, Florence, and Rome will undoubtedly be an enriching experience, offering a stark contrast to the vibrant and diverse cultures I encountered in South-East Asia. I will regale my family with captivating stories of bustling markets, ancient temples, and breathtaking natural wonders from my travels with The Dragon Trip in South-East Asia.