Welcome to our 6th article in the GibLad #LlanitosAbroad series and thanks again for reading. We thought we’d mix it up a bit for the sake of diversity and this week spoke to a younger Llanito, Johan Vinent about his travels for the past 7 months of back packing through South East Asia, alone.
Though many people have had trips to Thaliand and the surrounding area, it’s usually done in groups or for trips to a Muy Thai camp or for diving courses. Johan did it solo and we felt there was quite a spiritual element to his travels; from never having left Europe or gone too far from home, to taking the plunge to venture further a field not knowing what to expect. If this doesn’t encourage you to pack your bags and get going, I don’t know what will.
If it’s like in my situation where you’re travelling alone, you really get to challenge yourself in many aspects of life, book your flight y a por toda
GL: Why did you leave Gib?
Well that’s a hard question to answer, I had been researching into travelling abroad as in backpacking for quite a while but did not know where to go. I was kind of tired of wasting my money in places like Ibiza, Paris, Madrid etc so after months of research I decided to come to South East Asia, seeing it is cheap here in comparison to the money I had saved up. At first everyone thought i was crazy leaving Gibraltar on my own for 3 months (which has turned to nearly 7) as I had never actually left Europe on holiday excluding Africa, I said why not and took the plunge to venture to the other side of the world.
GL: What do you miss?
Obviously more than anything my family and friends, but also Gibraltar in general; just little things like my mums cooking of course, el levante, los suntop, good kebabs, ramsons etc just the little things we take for granted when at home but come to mind once your away.
Also the tight community at home when you just leave your house or walk down the street and recognise fellow Gibraltarians and saying ‘hi’ to them on a daily basis. When you are out on the road travelling everyone you see is a new face for you, you will have certain people you will meet again just out of pure luck, I have had Gibraltar shouted at me various times on the street and in bars by people who I have met and have managed to inspire them by explaining them about Gibraltar, I think they will always remember the tiny little rock south of Spain because of me 🙂
GL: Where have you been since you left?
I started in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, as most backpackers doing South East Asia do, since they have the biggest airport and cheapest one to fly into. My original plan was to skip the south islands and go directly north but my plan quickly changed when I made some friends and all decided to go south. After some island hoping and the famous full moon party in Koh Phangan (which in fact we live in a small world as I met a girl from Gibraltar at the party) I reached the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi where Leonardo di Caprio filmed the movie The Beach. I totally fell in love and as soon as I knew it I was working for a boat party company selling tickets. I nearly overstayed my visa so I had to return to mainland to extend it, after that I travelled north to Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai. Was having a blast of a time until the king passed away and the mourning begun in Thailand, an alcohol ban was introduced and no music was played for weeks, I have never seen people respect someone as the Thai people did with there king. Sadly I decided to hope on a 2 day slow boat to the neighbouring country Laos.
After spending two long days on a very slow boat down the river with a load of backpackers chugging down cheap whiskey and rum from Thailand only stopping to sleep in a little village named Pak Beng. After that journey we arrived in Luang Prabang, my first thoughts of Laos was that it was very outdated compared to the likes of Thailand, by outdated I mean no tarmac roads no traffic lights no English signs etc.
At the beginning it was a bit scary but then everything fell into place and I was in the capital Vientienne faster than I thought. Laos is very beautiful in the aspect of nature with rivers and waterfalls everywhere (Kuang Si waterfall the prettiest I have ever seen) but if you’re not in one of the big cities, of which there are only two or three, everything seems to be the same.
OK they aren’t but I mean there are thousands of valleys filled with rice fields right? Once you have seen a couple they all start to look the same, that’s what I’m trying to say. After the big capital I headed north where I stopped in a village named Phonsavan which is famous for the plain of jars, this is basically big sandstone jars laying all around the countryside with unclear origins. Some of the monks from the area believe the jars where like tombstones 😕 I also got invited to a local’s wedding here and I went dressed with elephant pants and a t-shirt, I was the laughing stock for the night but I enjoyed it 🙂 From here I jumped on a sleeper bus I that crossed the border into Vietnam and dropped me off in the second biggest city Hanoi.
“Now this is what I was expecting Asia to be like, my first couple of hours in Hanoi were actually breath taking!”
Hard to say after two months in Asia but this was something out of the movies. Millions of motorbikes zooming everywhere you couldn’t even cross the road in safety. Chickens in cages trying to escape, rats roaming the side walk with not a care in the world, puppies for sale as meat in the market!! Guys trying to fix your sandels with glue and a cloth, markets with full aquariums of fresh fish for sale. Seriously Hanoi had it ALL! Even dominoes pizza and KFC, this place was a mixture of 1900s living and present day living; it was just a mix of everything. I don’t know if it was the month I spent in chilled out Laos that brought me this shock or actual Vietnam was the bomb!
Anyway after settling down in Hanoi I decided to buy a Honda win 110cc motorbike (which I named Matilda) to drive the whole of Vietnam with. I attached all my luggage on the back of the bike and headed north to Halong Bay where the recent movie Kong has been filmed at. After that I drove down south beside the Laos border up in the mountains with beautiful green scenery all way stopping in various small towns to sleep. Some of the towns were really outdated no one spoke any English at all, all you could get served for food was rice and chicken bones! I got asked to marry a 15 year old girl from one of the restaurants, all done by google translate haha. After the wet mountain ride down the Ho Chi Ming highway I headed east towards the coast stopping in Hue, Hoi An etc. My bike (Matilda) kept breaking down with little different problems every couple of hundred kilometres but there were repair shops everywhere, I guess that’s all part of the road trip.
I then headed to the mountains again into Dalat and finished in the capital Ho Chi Ming City. Luckily I had no accidents on the way but some of the driving was the scariest I have ever done! Vietnamese people drive like lunatics, no lights on the street, cars bikes come out of nowhere, children & people run out in the middle of road and so on….. Getting into the capital was also quite a mission as the traffic was worse than Hanoi, there are 7.4 million motorbikes in the capital, just imagine driving on a street with 10 bikes parallel to you simply insane. It took me exactly 1 month with some of the stops consisting of a couple of days, 2,500 kilometres done and dusted so it was time to sell Matilda to another backpacker and jump on a bus to Phnom Penh capital of Cambodia.
After a long bus ride from Hanoi I crossed the border into Cambodia, my first impressions where that it seemed to look very modern because just at the border crossing there were more than 10 casinos. Gambling is illegal in most of Asia and in Cambodia it isn’t so they build casinos by the border crossing so that people can cross the border to gamble and head back. My first destination was Phnom Penh the capital, everything was very dirty. By dirty I mean heaps of trash everywhere, I hadn’t encountered such a disgusting place yet in all my travels. I visited the famous S21 prison where the Khmer Rouge regime took prisoners to be tortured, the Khmer Rouge regime were in power in Cambodia for 4 years from 1975-1979 charged by the leader Pol Pot. He had a delusional mind & wanted a pure country as he only wanted hard workers, he killed nearly half of the population of smart people from doctors to lawyers etc. They would torture the local people to get information on their own country. I also visited the killing fields where more or less 3-4 million people were brought to be killed, it was quite a sad day to learn all of this happened just 40 odd years ago!
After that I travelled to Siem Riep where Angkor Wat is located, this is the largest religious monument in the world. It was amazing to see the sun rise from behind the temple, the only down side is, the same as me there where a million people wanting to see the sunrise so it was annoying to be able to take any descent photos without humans in it. I then headed south to Sihanoukville, Otres beach and Koh Rong island where I enjoyed warm clear waters and white sand beaches. I got to spend Christmas on a bungalow built in the sand by the water in a remote part of Koh Rong island. I then spent new years eve in Kampot in the most amazing hostels I have stayed at named Arcadia Backpackers, the hostel was situated just by the river and had a little waterpark for the hostel guests. I then returned back to the capital to obtain my business visa for Thailand as I decided to work again to Koh Phi Phi.
Once again reached Bangkok by bus where I stayed for about 1 week, waiting for my working permit to get done. As soon as it was ready I made my way down south to Koh Phi Phi island, when I arrived I was warmly welcomed by work colleagues and prior friends. I partied for a few days before I started to work, my first ticket sales office was located by the beach so you can just imagine how it was. Unfortunately after only one month working I
noticed I was spending more money than I was earning so I decided to leave paradise and continue my travels with the funds I had left.
My initial thought of working for 3 months turned out to be only 1 but I had the time of my life with the Phi Phi family. 🙂 It was a sad moment boarding the ferry back to the mainland but I think I made a good decision in general. The boat dropped me of in Koh Lanta, a beach paradise but not many backpackers around as the island tends to attract couples and older men and woman.
Here is where I had my first ever muay thai training. After my stay there I went to another lonely island called Koh Jum before arriving in Krabi town where I stayed a couple of days before heading to Ton Sai beach which is located beside the famous Railey beach. This area is only accessible by boat as there are no actual roads. Many professional rock climbers come here as it is the best site in Thailand to practice climbing and up sailing. I stayed a couple of nights in a bungalow in the jungle for only 3 pounds
a night but it had no electricity and only a hose with cold water. After a couple of nights stay a longtail boat drove me for an hour to get to Krabi town again where i got a plane to northern Chiang Mai. My second visit to Chiang Mai but this time I had more time as my visa was a business one which allows you 3 months stay. I checked out a couple of muay thai gym and joined Lanna muay thai gym for a weeks training. The sessions were very intense from 630-930am and then 430-730pm.
When my training was over I drove in a minibus to Pai which is located very north beside the Myanmar border, I had previously been on low season and I liked it way more as there was much more of a hippie vibe compared to this time, it was just full of farang (foreigner in Thai). Stayed a couple of days in really cold weather before I decided to hitch hike down to Chiang Mai, in all my travels I had never done it but after speaking to many backpackers who do it constantly I said why not. Like the locals say “never try never know”. I was literally just 5 minutes with my thumb out before a local family stopped with a pick up truck and told me to jump in the back. They didn’t speak much English so it was an advantage I had a sign written in Thai to explain where I wanted to go. Honestly wish I would have tried
it before because it was really easy and fun. I then got onto a bus in Chiang Mai which drove me for 11 hours down south to Bangkok. Now I’m here in Bangkok just making time for my flight home.
GL: What has been hardest to adjust to?
Sleep!! You may be thinking how strange, but after leaving my comfortable bed at home and having to sleep in dorm rooms with from 4-24 people in the same room. I’ve stayed in more than 60 different hostels and believe me some people are absolutely amazing when it comes to sleeping in the same room. I’ve seen and heard so much stuff, some of which I won’t mention because it’s unbelievable. After nearly 7 months in dorms its still difficult to sleep, every dorm room brings a different challenge from freezing air con to people snoring and a hundred other things.
GL: What are the most notable cultural differences?
Well the cultural difference can be easily seen all over Asia, you can be in what looks to be a third world country at its worst and then just 1-2 kilometres away you are in a state of the art complex like a shopping centre. It just depends where you are but when you venture into the jungle or mountains, this is where the big differences are seen. Just by the local living quarters and how they have nothing and are happier than us when we have everything!
GL: What is the best thing about being a GibLad/Llanito abroad?
The best thing for me being a Llanito abroad, is for example chatting with a group of travellers and the obvious question of “where are you from” pops up. Some will answer Germany, France, America etc and others will reply ah yeah what part or stuff like that. But when the question reaches me and I say Gibraltar, only few people know where it is others just look around in despair or ask me ‘where the hell is that’! And then I have to answer a British overseas territory in the south of Spain, then they tend to say an island and then I have to explain its a peninsular and so on. This for me is the best thing as it encourages you to have conversations with other travellers.
GL: What has been your proudest achievement since your move?
The proudest moment for me was getting on the plane in Malaga by myself. I didn’t really realise what I was doing until I had to endure a 13-14 hour flight by myself, then I realised what I had got myself into. It was awkward landing in Bangkok alone and having to decide where to go, but as soon as I checked into my first ever hostel and made friends the travelling fright was over.
GL: What are you goals for the year?
After this trip I have noticed how fortunate we are in the western part of the world, so I will try and help the less fortunate or others in need, I would also like to save up again and travel south america as soon as possible.
GL: Do you see yourself staying there, or eventually coming back?
Actually I am currently writing this on my last couple of days as a backpacker, I booked my flight home last week and will be home on mothers day to hopefully surprise my mother and family.
GL: What would you say to any GibLads/Llanitos who are thinking of making a move abroad to travel or chase a dream or experience something new?
I don’t really know about moving abroad but if you’re thinking of travelling or chasing your dream, go for it and don’t look back. Seriously, I think everyone who wants to do it should have the chance like I have to do so, maybe not as long but at least try it you never know. You may fall in love just like I have! If it’s like in my situation where you’re travelling alone, you really get to challenge yourself in many aspects of life, book your flight y a por toda 🙂
Are you a Llanito abroad or travelling or do you know someone that we should hear about? To get GibLad to feature you or your friend and get involved e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org!