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Eat, Pray, Love: How to Find Yourself in Indochina

Travelling the world in search of inner peace is no new phenomenon. For as long as we’ve known how to cross oceans we’ve been packing our bags and trekking overseas to sample new cuisines, explore different cultures and make new connections.

The buzzing, complex and tropical region of Indochina has welcomed many travellers in search of self-discovery – as well as waving “bon voyage” (or “thiaw hai sanook”, in Thai) to some of its own countrymen. The region’s appeal is easy to understand – where else offers the perfect balance of delectable food that’s good for the soul as well as the stomach; spiritual places of worship that are as welcoming as they are visually stunning and cities that will capture your heart as soon as you step off the plane?

So, get out of your comfort zone and start planning a culinary, spiritual and thoroughly life-affirming trip to the countries of Indochina. With our guide on where to get your fill of great food, transformative wellbeing and emotional fulfilment you’ll be dining out on your experiences for many years to come.

EAT

In Singapore, food is taken seriously. Very seriously, in fact – it’s more of a national passion than a bodily necessity, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the city’s many “hawker” centres.

Born from street-side hawkers (who moved indoors to benefit from running water and better hygiene) these centres are a mecca of food stalls and can be found everywhere from inside malls to outside housing complexes, so you won’t be lost for choice. Each offers a mouth-watering variety of foods, dishes and flavours, often converging on a couple of Singaporean culinary influences; Chinese, Malay, Thai and Middle Eastern, for example.

So don’t expect to order a standard Thai green curry here – hawker centres are still predominantly run by the older generations, meaning there are old-school recipes on the menu that are as delicious as they are unexpected. We’re talking fresh curried fish heads in a sour, umami sauce kind-of-authentic – so throw caution to the wind and trust in the generations-old wisdom of seasoned Singaporean chefs – recipes don’t stick around for generations for no reason, you know.

Inexpensive, bustling, fragrant and lively, hawker centres perfectly capture the soul of eating out in Singapore – it’s all about enjoying good food in a buzzing communal atmosphere. Bustling and boisterous, a hawker centre can’t be beaten for experiencing new flavours like one of the locals – but there’s one thing you need to remember before you visit…

Bring a packet of tissues.

In a hawker centre there are no reservations and no guaranteed seats. And if you see a packet of tissues on a chair – don’t move them! In Singapore this is the accepted custom for reserving your seat. So before you even think about jumping into a queue and ordering food, find a spot (don’t be afraid to park up next to a local, we’re a friendly bunch) and leave your pack of tissues on the seat before heading up to order your food.

The seating arrangements may be casual, but unless a stall specifies ‘Self Service’ most hawker stalls will provide table service – so be sure to jot down your table number before you order. And don’t worry about cleaning your plates away afterwards, there will be staff on hand to take care of your table once you’ve left.

PRAY

There’s no shortage of places of worship in Indochina; from a reclining golden Buddha with feet embellished with jewels, to an island bound temple accessible only by an intricate scarlet bridge. But true spiritual awakening doesn’t necessarily come from religion – it comes from within.

If you’re looking for a non-denominational way to heal your body, spirit and mind, a yoga retreat in Bali has the potential to renew your perspective and reaffirm your connection with your body and your surroundings. The transformative powers of yoga have been observed for millennia – so throw yourself in whole-heartedly. Western cynicism won’t win you any points over here, and yoga might just change your life!

Known as the ‘Island of the Gods’, Bali is a dizzying spread of lush coconut trees, paddy fields and acres of soft golden beaches. A yoga retreat here may have you waking up at dawn to meditate as the gentle rush of nature surrounds you. The sheer serenity of these getaways – eco-friendly buildings set in the heart of nature – means that even if your natarajasana pose looks more like a wobbly coat stand than a blossoming lotus you can still feel the benefit of utter tranquillity.

To make the most of your experience, do a bit of research before you arrive – would you rather an intensive yoga experience in the forest, with authentic music and communal relaxation areas? A high-end spa in a lush expanse of green paddy fields, where you can choose which yoga classes to take? There’s a retreat to satisfy every need – so take some time to consider which will best benefit you.

LOVE

With so many people to meet and so many new experiences on offer, there’s always a chance you’ll find your soulmate while exploring the hidden corners of Indochina. But whether Cupid’s arrow pierces you or not, there’s one love you’re guaranteed to spend to spend the rest of your life pining for – the city of Bangkok.

Source: Youtuber Mark Wiens

Round every corner is another experience to unwrap – authentic street food, serene yet extravagant temples, electric nightlife, laid-back locals, like-minded travellers and ice-cold beers – Bangkok is a love affair which lasts.

You’ll want to wake up early to fully enjoy your time in the city – so skip breakfast and make your first visit the Taling Chan floating market, where you can buy food and souvenirs from the “floating” vendors.

Thai crispy pancakes, skewers of barbecued meat and tasty tempura are just some of the finger-licking food on offer. Your packet of tissues might come in handy here as well – it’s a great place to eat as you walk!

While the best way to the heart may be through the stomach, a beautiful view always helps. Thankfully, Bangkok has no shortage of those, and if the natural environment hasn’t already won you over – one of Bangkok’s temples might.

Each has its own individual character and idiosyncrasies to discover, but a trip to the iconic Wat Arun (‘The Temple of the Dawn’) is essential. Situated on the bank of Chao Phraya River, this temple offers an incredible panorama view across Bangkok – perfect for watching the sunset. Don’t squander yourself on just one though – Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew (within the Grand Palace) offer spectacular sights as well.

And what lifelong passion is complete without an electrifying nightlife? Khao San Road was described in the novel ‘The Beach’ as the ‘centre of the backpacking universe’ and the energy of the place is infectious. This street is alive all night, so take a midnight stroll to encounter vendors selling fried insects, travellers from across the globe and numerous spots to sit down and enjoy a cool, refreshing Singha beer.

So forget the self help book and consider booking a trip to Indochina instead – because if you’re looking to find yourself, living life to full is the best place to start.