3 Breathtaking Countries That Changed My Perspective

On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, and moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.
After two-and-a-half weeks in Myanmar, we had only skimmed the surface of Southeast Asia. We began a tour through the neighboring countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They proved to be so much more than what we'd heard — pretty beaches, cheap accommodations, and great food.
Thailand dazzles with its azure waters, deserted-island paradises, golden temples, and buzzing cities. Everything was colorful, exotic, and alive. Cambodia transports you to a jungle kingdom with endless temples — one of the most impressive collections in the world. The Cambodian people have faced immense hardship, but everyone we met was optimistic, fun-loving, and warm. Vietnam is a country with an abundance of natural beauty, from limestone islands to paddy fields to sprawling, mountainous terrain. Its cities have a mix of French, Japanese, and Chinese influences, and are both ancient and progressive. After 40 years of horrific war, this country is moving full steam ahead with confidence and its eyes fixed on the future.
What moved me the most was seeing the history of these recent wars through the eyes of the locals. To get a true understanding of how our own country's involvement in their affairs has shaped the people and its landscapes — from the lasting effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese to the bombs we dropped on Cambodia. In Vietnam, we had one of our most memorable experiences by getting off the tourist path, ditching over crowded attractions like Ha Long Bay, and catching a glimpse of the authentic way people lived in very rural parts of the country, like the Ha Giang province.
It all amounts to perspective, perspective, perspective. Seeing beautiful things is nice. Taking photos of yourself in beautiful places is a nice. But the destinations and experiences that resonated with me the most, throughout all of our travels, were the ones that gave me perspective on another country’s history, culture, lifestyle, religions, hardships, and successes. It breeds understanding, empathy, openness, acceptance, and curiosity. That’s travel at its finest.

More from Travel

R29 Original Series