Our favorite world-traveling vagabond—Kyle Miller—just completed a lap through Southeast Asia on his way to the southern snow season in New Zealand. Along the way, he checked out Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Bali, alternating between the temples of Angkor Wat, the beaches of Vietnam, and the moped culture of Bali. In classic Kyle Miller form, he did it all on a shoestring budget, exuding his characteristic global optimism and in one pair of Eddie Bauer Full Circuit shoes. We asked Kyle to provide us with a recap, and this is his report on his whirlwind tour through the region. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Kyle Miller
Ever fall asleep in a tent in the middle of the wilderness and dream that you are in a bustling city surrounded by thousands of people driving by on mopeds, while you are fearing for your life? No? Well, this dream can become a reality if you take a vacation in SE Asia.
Now I know what you are thinking: “Why would a professional splitboarder go to SE Asia?” I was invited to go to Vietnam for my brother’s wedding and to have the experience of a lifetime. So I thought to myself, “Well, you are already in Vietnam, so you might as well stop by a few other places en route to New Zealand.” With a few clicks of a button and some bank account fiascos, I was on a whirlwind tour of SE Asia, with the first stop being Southern Vietnam.
Now imagine this: on Wednesday, you are coming off a 4-day trip on Mt. Rainier, where you see a total of 3 people; a few hours after that, you hop on a plane, and 15 hours later you are exiting the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was Friday night and we took a 6-mile taxi ride, where I was horrified by the “laws” of the road, which seemed to be missing. We were surrounded by mopeds—not ten, not hundreds—but thousands of them. I would come to realize that they interact more like a school of fish than what we would call normal traffic. It was scary, but somehow it worked.
Over the next three weeks, we traveled throughout Southern Vietnam to places like Da Lat and Da Nang, experienced the daily monsoon, ate delicious food, and got the random high five from people who would acknowledge us as “Rambo,” all while my brother and his soon-to-be wife ran in circles prepping for the wedding. When the day came, I gave up my fear of riding on a moped and rode though weekend traffic to a convention center, which was holding six separate weddings, and experienced what some would call a concurrent wedding. For an hour and a half, there was glitter, live music, random people doing karaoke, and a million photos taken of “those white people.” Then we were kindly told to “get out,” and everyone dispersed. It was wild and it was fun, but I was ready for something new, something exciting, a place called Cambodia, so with plane ticket in hand, I was off.
Vietnam images by Kyle Miller
When asking friends what places I had to see in Cambodia, Angkor Wat kept coming up in conversations. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious temple complex in the world, with over a hundred temples built between 800 and 1300 A.D., which were then abandoned for over 500 years. I was sold just on that simple fact. I flew into Siem Reap, Cambodia, where a friendly tuk tuk driver was waiting for me (if you are wondering what a tuk tuk is, it’s a motorcycle with a buggy in the back). We were traveling 40 mph on dirt roads to my hostel, where I crashed in anticipation of watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. I woke up to the alarm of my iPod and was once again in a tuk tuk at 4:00 A.M., racing the rising sun and stumbling through temples in the dark, looking for a quiet spot to take in the show.
Soon enough I had a glorious light show, and I walked around the temple a bit before the crowds started coming in. Once that happened, I got back to the tuk tuk and we drove on to the next temple., I would keep repeating this pattern over the next two days to avoid crowds and take in such an amazing landscape. My time in Cambodia was brief, but it was truly a beautiful place with such kind people—a place well worth visiting again. My time was short, though, so after my final sunrise in Angkor Wat, I was off on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand.
Cambodia Images by Kyle Miller
Imagine going from a small shack where people sold gas from two-liter bottles to standing in the biggest, most expensive shopping center in SE Asia…It was quite the transition. I went from tuk tuks on dirt roads to the Skytrain rail system of Bangkok, Thailand, which allowed cheap and easy travel throughout the bustling town, in which you were lucky to find a seat on the overcrowded trains. Whether it was 6 in the morning or 10 at night, this city never slept. Being a tourist with no local knowledge, my plans included temples, night markets, and—best of all—street food. Roaming through the streets, I quickly learned I was a potential target for sales. I enjoyed the occasional haggling over prices, with quick interludes of deep-fried euphoria. Within four days, I found myself ready to escape the city and get back out to the wilderness, so I decided to visit an old friend in Bali, Indonesia.
Thailand images by Kyle Miller
From the moment I got off the plane in Bali, I didn’t know what to expect. The humidity had gone away and the people seemed much more relaxed and calm, kindly asking if a taxi was needed, but not trying to force me into their cars when I responded “no, thank you.”. I was off to see my friend Avalon, who I had met at Crystal Mountain ten years prior when he was working in the restaurant and I was working with the ski school. He kept telling me to visit him and finally I had taken him up on the offer.
Within a few hours of landing, we were on a beautiful beach watching the sun set and moon rise, and my only dilemma was that I needed to buy flip- flops. I was in paradise. I found out about the culture and history of Indonesia, being blown away by the population. Jakarta’s entire metropolitan area has 28 million people and 141 million people on the island of Java, with its primarily Muslim culture. Bali was 90% Hindu and it was ingrained in every store and household. Our mutual friend Chris and his girlfriend Jennifer also came to visit, so once again it was a whirlwind of street food and temples, with the occasional mischievous monkey to entertain us. My final morning in Bali, Chris and I woke up at 3 A.M. and hiked to the summit of Mount Batur, watching the sunrise over the island and surrounding jungles before stopping at numerous temples. I also tried mongoose poop coffee (don’t ask) before I was taken off to the airport. I felt like a week just wasn’t long enough and wished that I had stayed longer, but it was time to head back to winter and, like that, I was off to New Zealand.
Bali images by Kyle Miller
Southeast Asia is a wild experience unlike anything I had ever seen. It was weird going from Norway and Iceland to Vietnam and Thailand. From the food to the temples and all in between, this place was such a fast-paced society that somehow flows like water. For the most part, everyone was kind and happy to see that I had come to experience their cultures. In the end, not only did I learn a lot about these amazing places, but I learned a lot about myself. As I write this, I am sitting in a small two-bedroom place in Fairlie, New Zealand, smack-dab in the middle of the South Island, waiting out a massive storm with hopes of feet of new snow. I think I may have gotten infected with the travel bug.
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