Contrary to popular belief, hitchhiking can be an amazing, humbling experience if it’s done right. I hitch-hiked through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with some people I met along the way and we couldn’t believe how easy it was, more importantly, how amazing it was.
If you are trying to add some spice to your travels, here are some reasons why you should hitch-hike through SE Asia.
#1- You meet the real culture
This was definitely my favorite part. When you find yourself in touristy cities like Siem Reap, Bangkok or Vientiane, it’s difficult to see the true face of the locals because tourists are their main profit, and this money creates a wall between you and them.
However, when you find yourself in small villages where it isn’t so common to see foreigners, you get humbled by just how generous, caring and helpful the people truly are.
We were offered food, places to stay and even money, we couldn’t believe it. Most of the time we would be swarmed by dozens of villagers who could barely speak any English, guiding us to where we needed to be.
It was beautiful to be integrated and I would highly recommend getting out of those touristy zones to experience this.
#2- Unexpected things happen
This is a given in any type of traveling, but it’s especially true in hitch-hiking.
Since we were all so strapped for cash, after long days of hitchin’ it, we would set up camp somewhere in the bushes or pitch a hammock out of sight. But most of the time, locals would see us, call us over and invite us to family parties, dances, and even strange strip-clubs. Hilarious things that would never happen if we took the bus.
One time we were trying to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Pen, it was nearing 6 p.m. and we still had quite the distance to go.
As we were shuffling with our bags down the barren road, off to the side was a large round table with Cambodians drinking, laughing and having a good ol’ time. The moment they saw us, one of the guys hollered us over, and he was the only one who spoke English.
It turned out his family was visiting from Vietnam and he kept saying, “No! No! Too late to hitch-hike now, my friends. Stay here. Drink. We give you place to sleep tonight. Food. You go tomorrow. Welcome to Cambodia!” All within 10 minutes of conversation.
His entire family then lifted their cans in cheers with massive smiles. How could we refuse!
We ended up being treated with a beautiful, buffet-style dinner, a dance party, and the father turned out to be the chief of police! He gave us his number and said in translation, “Whenever you get in trouble, you call me.” Which was unbelievably relieving, considering the police is known for heckling tourists out of money.
Again, never would have happened if we were on the bus, and this is just one occasion out of many.
#3- It makes you stronger
Now I know this doesn’t pertain to just hitch-hiking through SE Asia, but it’s an important one to mention. It gives you skills you can apply later in life.
To be fair, If you’re the type of person who likes to have definite plans, clean beds and reassurance that you’ll get from point A to point B without a ‘hitch’, I wouldn’t recommend hitch-hiking.
However, it is an incredible practice of determination, walking the path less traveled by, succeeding, trusting humanity and triumphing over doubt.
In general, the most we ever waited to get picked up was about 20 minutes.
But if you’re not on the correct road that’s commonly used for the city you’re trying to get to, you’ll end up walking forever, especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, which happened to us and it was so frustrating.
There were times we would be out in the sun for hours due to mapping out our route wrong, we slept in sketchy places and had times of wanting to quit and get a bus.
But after regrouping ourselves, and pushing forward, we never failed to get to where we wanted to be.
Altogether we hitch-hiked over 3000 km for $0 (on transport) all thanks to the kindness of others.
You can apply the doubt, persistence and later success you experience in hitch-hiking to many other areas in your life. I still do.
#4- The views
Unlike sitting on the bus, you really get to have front row seats to witness the most beautiful sunsets or sunrises through the mountains.
We usually got picked up by ‘pick-up’ trucks, they were most likely to stop. So we’d end up sitting on the back, with our feet kicked up, guitars out and our hands surfing through the air as the mountains hugged the surrounding sky.
When you hit the open road with no plans, it left you with a type of freedom that the bus could never give and views that were never compromised by dirty windows.
It’s a feeling everyone should experience.
#5- You save money
This is definitely a huge way to save money in your travels, especially with a tight budget.
This is last on the list because this wasn’t really the main reason why we wanted to hitch-hike through SE Asia, but it’s true nonetheless.
Being low on money made us really creative on our journey, and we made sure to not to get too stressed out by it, so hitchhiking was a huge stress reliever.
Hitch-hike through SE Asia
If you do decide to hitch-hike through SE Asia or anywhere else, make sure you’re careful. We usually accepted most rides because we could feel out when it’s a weird thing going on, and their culture is typically really kind. However, there was one ride we didn’t accept, and that was with the military.
Also, do what you can to give back!
Since we were low on cash, we found different ways to make sure we helped out the community that helped us.
We picked up trash in the villages, helped families fix things up in their homes, planted seeds in the ground because we didn’t have much to offer, but we knew the universe loves its life babies so we wanted to let it know the intention was there. Here’s some life for giving us life.
All in all, if you’re intuitive, adventurous and like to rough it with a good friend or two, you are guaranteed to have a radical time on your trip.