What is it like to hitchhike through Southeast Asia??
Remember two of our Workaway ambassadors, Danilo and Charlotte? The adventurous Brazilian-Scottish couple have been backpacking and volunteering with nothing but their hand luggage throughout Southeast Asia for the past 15 months. What makes them real backpackers though, is their secret weapon called hitchhiking! Many people would be put off by the idea of getting into a total random stranger’s car in a foreign country, asking for a free lift.. But as told by Charlotte, hitchhiking is not only one of the best ways to get around… it’s also an ideal way to meet new people! They did it during their adventures in Southeast Asia, and are so excited to tell us all about it:
The sun is high in the sky, and this particular morning the air is thicker than it should be, clinging to my shoulders like an unwelcome shawl. After about ten minutes of waiting at the side of the road, an old truck pulls over. The driver winds down his window, giving us a timid grin. It becomes apparent that writing our sign in Thai was a good move, as English is not this guy’s forte. As Danilo and I both squeeze into the passenger seat, we are given a gracious nod. Our driver adjusts his navy cap in the rear view mirror before taking off down the road. Some form of conversation is attempted but we do not get further than pointing towards him saying, “You from, Mae Hong Son?” The man smiles in response. He fiddles around with the mp3 player and Justin Bieber’s voice instantly fills the truck. The driver turns to us again, his eyebrows raised high as though waiting for our approval. Although Justin is probably not exactly the soundtrack I would have chosen for this particular road trip, I give him a thumbs up and start singing, “and I was like baby, baby, baby, oooh” to show my gratitude.
After ten months on the road in Southeast Asia, we have accumulated a vast amount of unforgettable moments, most of which would never have happened without Workaway. We blame it on Workaway to have us hooked on the unpredictable adventures that unfold when it comes to local encounters. And trust me, adventures do take place all the time when you are on the road, even in between your workaway placements. And one of the simplest ways to make new friends is as easy as standing by the side of the road with your thumb pointed skywards.
OK, other than your thumb of course you’d also need to use your head! Sticking your thumb out on a busy road in Vietnam might not yield much more than people joyfully waving back at you. The reason? Most people drive a motorbike and simply do not have any space left. However, if you visit more car-populated countries like Malaysia or Thailand, then there should be nothing stopping you from hitchhiking across the country.
Like it or not, the obvious fact that you are a foreigner means that locals are generally more than happy to pick you up out of curiosity. Take Thailand, for example: this is the land ruled by Toyota pick-up trucks, so odds are someone out there will have space for you and your rucksack in the trailer. Throughout our trip, so far the longest we have ever waited for a ride is 20 minutes; the shortest 30 seconds.
If you are lucky, you will get to ride in the back of a truck, where you can enjoy the beautiful scenery unfold around you with the wind in your hair. If you are even luckier, you will even get to ride up front with the driver, who has the air-con blowing on full blast. Danilo and I are usually beckoned inside with a wide smile and a “Welcome to Thailand!”.
There are snacks shoved into our hands, mobile numbers exchanged, Facebook friends connected, and of course many selfies taken. Expect to be invited to visit hidden temples. Expect to be taken out for lunch. Expect to meet their family.
And last but not least, do ensure that your travel plans are loose, because you never know when a car ride is going to turn into a weekend adventure in a remote village with your new friends.
Hitchhiking is by far the fastest, most convenient, economical and enjoyable way to travel in some parts of Southeast Asia. I have actually never tried hitching in the West and although I know many who have, the practice seems to have lost the momentum it once had in the 1970s. One of the primary apprehensions shared by both the driver and the passenger in the West is safety. While I would always advocate for safety first, I will say that I have never felt unsafe hitchhiking in this part of the world. If anything, I am blown away by the endless kindness showered upon us by strangers.
When hitchhiking in Asia, you quickly learn transport rule number one: even if the car seems full, there is always room for one more!
Admittedly, I travel with my partner and would perhaps not feel so brave alone… but if you are braver than me or travelling as a pair, my advice to you is simple: GO FOR IT!
Thanks Charlotte (and Danilo!) for sharing your awesome experience with us! For those who are interested in finding out more about Danilo and Charlotte’s adventures, be sure to check out their travel and photography blog.
Have you or would you consider hitchhiking in Asia or other parts of the world, and why? Please let us know in the comments below!