It’s hard to believe that it’s been well over two years since we last stepped foot on US soil. It’s been quite a journey for us, and it’s crazy to think about all we’ve done. Camping next to waterfalls in New Zealand, taking part in Thai TV game shows, sleeping at Mt. Everest Basecamp, becoming legal residents of China, sliding down waterfalls and having personal meetings with monks in Thailand. But alas, after more than two years living / working / traveling around Asia we’ve decided it’s time to go home.
We still thoroughly love exploring the world and we plan to continue our travels — because we’ve only scratched the surface during these last 2+ years. But we are looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family, especially during the holiday season.
While we are excited to see so many friendly faces back home, sitting here in Bangkok pondering our departure, we can’t help but also be quite sad to leave Asia. After all, Asia has been our home for years. We’ve become familiar with this place, and it no longer feels as foreign as it used to.
Here are just a few of the things that we will miss about our time living in Asia.
Cheap & Awesome Street Food (while sitting on a plastic chair)
Obviously, Asian food in the States tastes nothing like the real thing. We are surely going to miss many of the snack foods and savory flavors of the dishes in Asia. From spicy hot pots in China to Pad Thai in Thailand. But it’s more than just the food – it’s the availability of good cheap food everywhere!
We will miss all the little food stalls that line the streets, each with their own specialty. Being able to walk by and see what people are making and grab an inexpensive bite is so convenient. And most importantly, we will miss the charm of all the little “pop-up” restaurants along the street in the afternoon or evening – where someone with a cart cooks up dishes while hungry patrons find themselves a plastic chair to sit on, a fold up table, or even just use their lap as a table.
If you’ve ever been to Asia, then you know exactly what we mean! There is something about having a meal in a plastic chair, on the side of a busy street, with people buzzing about and the sound of horns honking…and the occasional dog and cat laying at your feet.
I’m sure it sounds terrible to some people back home, but I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it really is to experience. Not to mention the friendly cooks, incredible food, and affordable prices — oh how we will miss it!
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Friendly People (who always greet you with a smile and go out of their way to help)
Perhaps we are just happy, optimistic people, but we’ve found people in Asia to be some of the most welcoming, kind, and friendly that we have met on the road. Certainly some of it is rooted in their culture, but we appreciate the warmth and friendliness that we have experienced. Coming from the States, sure there are friendly people, but it’s just not the same.
We will never forget the wide smiles and welcoming gestures that we’ve received throughout Asia (although that’s changed recently with the election…but that’s a very different story for another time!).
Especially when we don’t speak the language in many of these countries, we are always surprised at just how patient and helpful people are to us. They never make us feel bad that we can’t communicate well in their language (even though we do try) and it seems they strive their best to help us.
In fact, I’ll never forget one time in China when my taxi driver wanted to reassure me that we were almost to my destination. He didn’t know English, so he called one of his friends on the phone (who knew a little broken English) and gave me the phone, “Uh, hello. My friend wants you to know that you will arrive soon and not to worry.”
How sweet this gesture was. I can’t help but be concerned that foreigners in the States who don’t know English (or even residents) don’t receive this kind of treatment.
Curiosity (they want to know all about us…)
Piggybacking off of the last item, people are not only friendly throughout Asia, but genuinely curious about us. The questions seem to never end. They want to know all about us – where we are from, and why we are traveling, what do we think about the US election, etc. Of course, some of it is friendly small-talk, but in many cases they just want to keep talking! Whether it’s to practice their English or not – even if they don’t really know English…they still want to chat!
We will miss these conversations with locals because it always gave us a chance to ask them about their lives; it’s a true cultural interaction.
We’ve made some connections with some of the best people – and having curiosity and this kind of open dialogue is what helps bridge the gap between cultures. It’s wonderful to experience it, because sadly, an open & genuine culture exchange is something that rarely happens anymore back home in the States.
Freedom of Not Being Constrained by “Safety”
Certainly, I’m not advocating that we throw safety out the window. But I’m sure many of you can agree that Western countries can go a little overboard when it comes to safety. Everyone is so concerned about lawsuits and things like that.
There is something really freeing about the ability to say “screw it” and just go about whatever it is you are doing.
Whether it is piling people on a motorbike, jumping on a moving train (or boat), or climbing a sketchy ladder or bridge. To just be able to do things without so many constraints is a great feeling.
Of course, things can go bad…but that’s a risk with everything in life. Sure, we have those moments when we say to ourselves “wow, this is totally NOT safe” — but you know, thankfully it all works out fine. Although, there have been times when we evaluated the situation, shook our head and said “nope.”
The “Make It Work” Attitude and Ingenuity
When traveling Asia, we are constantly impressed with things that we see and how people “make it work” with so little. While we understand this is out of necessity to survive, you have to appreciate their ability to use what they have to accomplish their goals. Whether it is a makeshift towing mechanism on a motorbike, ladders placed on top of trucks to fix power lines, people dangling in a crane from a harness (that was pretty absurd actually…) – but the list goes on.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen something and thought “damn, that’s genius!”
It’s pretty remarkable and proves that people can be so resourceful when they need to be. That’s something that we just don’t see that often back home.
From our perspective, living / working / traveling in Asia has been great because it is affordable. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to pursue our passion for building our businesses with this lifestyle in the States.
It’s just far too expensive, and I must say, we are not looking forward to the increase in our expenses when we go back home. After spending a couple dollars on meals, it’s going to be tough to spend $30 again anytime we want to go out to eat.
Mango Smoothies (Josh)
The availability of fresh fruits is wonderful throughout Asia – and the affordability of it too. Back home, fruits are so expensive and there are so few markets to buy them…everything is expensive from the supermarket.
We are especially going to miss those fresh fruit smoothies that you find at so many restaurants and pop-up carts along the street. And Josh in particular is going to miss his favorite mango smoothies. It’s an addiction really, and I’m concerned he may have some withdrawals when we go back home!
Chopsticks…I Can’t Believe I’m Saying It!
I never in my life thought I would say this, but we really DO miss eating with chopsticks already. When living in China, it’s really all we used (even in our apartment). We got so used to them and saw how their functionality can actually be superior to traditional western cutlery (in some ways, not all).
Imagine our surprise when one day we got annoyed that someone gave us plastic cutlery instead of chopsticks! We were actually annoyed because we preferred the chopsticks, especially for eating noodles! So we really will miss this…
Motorbike Rides Through the Countryside
One of the biggest things we will miss in Asia is just hopping on a bike and riding around the countryside on a motorbike. It’s one of the most freeing feelings, and there are so many open roads to ride. We will never forget the sights of rice fields, temples, villages, and even coast lines. We also enjoyed seeing kids smiling and waving at us as we ride by.
Taking a ride was one of our favorite things to do in Asia, and we will sorely miss it.
The Smell of Incense from Temples
I’ve always liked the smell of incense, but after being in Asia so long, I will miss it even more. Just walking about and getting a whiff of incense from a nearby temple is something that will always stay with me.
Just thinking about it, I can imagine hearing chanting from monks or the sound of chimes from worshippers. It’s calming to me, and so spiritual. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same when I smell incense. I’ll be immediately transported back to Asia in my mind.
The Bright Orange Sight of Monks
Even after being in Asia for all this time, I think we both still get surprised when out of nowhere we see the bright orange robes of a monk. Whether they are walking among us, riding the train, or praying at a temple.
We’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful interactions with monks over time, from locals giving us food to offer them on a train, to being blessed many times in different temples all around Asia. We were even fortunate to have a private sit-down meeting with one of the most inspirational monks we’ve ever met.
We find the sight of these monks deeply moving and beautiful, so we will certainly miss seeing their bright orange robes around us.
Having a Chang on the Beach…or the Street! (In the land of the free, it seems there’s a law for everything!)
This might seem silly, but there’s something about the freedom of not having these open container laws like we do in the States. Whether you are sitting on the beach, or hanging out with some friends on the street.
But it goes beyond just having a beer…it’s the whole concept of “live and let live” that we appreciate.
We actually had conversations a lot about this with our English students in Asia. The fact that in America, there’s a law for pretty much everything. You can’t do this, or that. During our travels we really realized just HOW many rules and laws there are in the States which don’t exist in Asia. Of course, we are not advocating getting rid of laws because, sadly, there are people who need rules in order to maintain a civilized and functioning society.
What we discovered living in Asia is that there’s just a whole different concept of personal freedom (…even in China!). Sure, it can have negative impacts if people don’t have common sense or respect for others. But for us, we appreciate being able to go about doing things our own way and not having to worry about so many rules or laws.
Lively Markets – Good Even If Just Strolling
We will also miss all the local markets in Asia…I mean, who wouldn’t! Whether it’s shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, dining out at food stalls, or doing some general shopping, the markets in Asia are always full of life!
Markets are such a way to interact with the local community, so we really enjoy visiting them to do our shopping…or just to go and wander around when we are bored. They can be quite entertaining, and they just add to the atmosphere of life here. It’s something that we will really miss back home, because it’s so hard to find a good market. And the funny thing is, those local farmers markets in the States tend to be SO expensive anyway!
Everyday is Different in Asia!
While life can get monotonous anywhere, we’ve found that our lives in Asia seem to have something different everyday. And we’ve come to appreciate (and expect) that variety. You never really know what you are going to see or experience. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much. But regardless, we’ve never been bored in Asia, and we really home that we don’t get bored back in the States.
Generosity in the Truest Form!
While traveling anywhere in the world, but particularly in Asia, we are always reminded that the people with the least are often the most generous. Such a vast number of people in Asia live in less-than-fortunate circumstances, yet we are amazed at how generous they are.
Whether it is giving us food, drinks, and just helping in any way. People who hardly have anything are eager to share with us. Sure, in many places throughout Asia hospitality is a part of their culture. But from our experience, it definitely goes beyond that.
Overall, we’ve met some of the most generous people ever during our time in Asia. To the point where we are taken aback sometimes. We often shake our heads in disbelief as people have gone out of their way to help us on many occasions, expecting nothing in return. And it’s not only because we are visitors (although that sometimes is a part of it), but often it’s because they truly want to.
It’s been an amazing experience to see such open giving and generosity without expectations. Americans could learn a great deal.
Close Proximity of So Many Different Countries / Cultures / etc.
As travelers who appreciate experiencing different cultures and history, we are deeply going to miss the close proximity of countries in Asia – especially southeast Asia. For example, being in Bangkok now, we could easily take an overnight train and be in Laos, or a short weekend flight to Macau.
In just hours we could be in a predominantly Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim country. Or we could be in a pace like Kuala Lumpur – where our hostel was just down the street from a Hindu temple…which was across the street from a Chinese temple, which was around the corner from a giant mosque!
Having such easy access to all these places, with different cultures, languages and food makes for such a variety of life that we just can’t get back at home in the States.
While there are slight variations in the culture around the US (like west to southeast), it’s just not the same. Mostly, it is quite homogenous wherever you go in the States. And the only way to experience something truly different is to go to Canada (which really isn’t much different, except for being more awesome in just about every way) or Mexico or the Caribbean.
Cheap Flights & Public Transportation
Extending from the last item, we will also REALLY miss the inexpensive flights here in southeast Asia, and the other forms of affordable and convenient public transportation. It’s no secret that the US has a TERRIBLE public transportation system overall, but flights are also crazy expensive too!
In Asia, we can get anywhere we want on public transport. Some of it is more comfortable than others, but it’s possible. From buses, boats, metros, monorails, tuk-tuks, and trains, we can get around within cities and between cities (or even countries) so easily.
With Air Asia and other budget airlines, we have flown between Bangkok and Macau for only $25 and between Kuala Lumpur and Phuket for $20.
We’ve also taken overnight trains for a couple dollars and in China, we have taken high-speed trains across the country that are more affordable (and even more comfortable) than flying between Atlanta and Orlando back home!
We haven’t had a car in years, and it’s been a wonderful feeling! So it’s going to be really hard to go without that affordable transportation when we return to the States. Especially when we go about visiting friends and family, because we aren’t planning to have our car again.
Meeting so Many Different People!
Another aspect of this adventure in Asia that we are going to miss is the ability to easily meet so many different people. As a traveler in Asia, it’s inevitable that you will meet other people from all over the world. You strike up conversations and learn about different people’s lives and perspectives on the world. You bond over coffee or beers and share hilarious stories or advice about different places.
But it’s not only travelers. On the whole, we’ve found the environment in Asia to be more conducive to meeting people in general.
The locals meet up at markets and on public transport. Strangers sit together to share a meal on those plastic chairs at makeshift restaurants on the sidewalk. In general, there really is a much more community-type of atmosphere in Asia, and it seems people mix and mingle so much more here. In the States, we find people to be very private and reserved. Americans tend to enjoy smaller groups and privacy, and there are many who just aren’t as welcoming or open to mingling or meeting strangers. It’s just a very different atmosphere overall.
We will miss this because it’s allowed us to meet so many interesting people so easily. Not only expats or other travelers, but locals from a wide variety of social classes and religions!
Our Next Adventure Awaits!
There are SO many things that we are going to miss about Asia that it really tugs at our heart to think about leaving. Surely, we won’t be gone forever. I’m most certain we will be back here sooner than we think, but you just never know.
And while there have definitely been aspects about living in Asia that we won’t miss (like the lack of dishwashers…come on!), overall we will miss this place tremendously.
For now, we are looking forward to returning back to the States and being with our friends and family over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. It’s been a long time, and we will be making the rounds from Denver, Orlando, Atlanta, and Asheville, North Carolina. We will thoroughly enjoy visiting with everyone, catching up, and indulging in some of the things we miss (like good Mexican food).
We are also looking forward to a nice long house/pet-sit up in Connecticut for the first few months of the new year – which will give us a chance to catch up on writing about our time in Asia as well as giving us quality time to work on some business ventures we’ve launched.
While it will be nice to have the comforts of home again and to not have to worry about where we are going next (which is actually a burden of being nomadic that we don’t care for), I’m sure we will miss these things about Asia very much. Asia has been our home for quite some time. And I think this place will always have a place in our hearts, so that when we do return one day, it will feel like we are coming home again.