I’ve spent the past four months meandering around Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was a mix of constantly chaotic cities, serene countryside escapes, amazing food and tons of BJJ training. The next four months of my year-long adventure will be spent in Europe (starting in Belgrade, Serbia) but, before I get wrapped up in my future exploits, I want to reflect a little on the first leg of my trip.
Here’s a quick rundown of the cities I spent most of my time, my overall impressions of them and where I trained:
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia (29 January – 4 March)
(This one is a little longer since I started blogging after I already left this country.)
The most diverse city in Asia by far. On my daily walk to work I passed multiple Indian, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Western and Malay restaurants. Not to mention Jalan Alor! It’s a whole street, just a few blocks away from my hotel, completely packed with street food vendors serving the most exotic and delicious meals. About half the time I didn’t know what I was ordering; I just pointed to something on the menu and most of the time it was amazing.
With all the feasting I was doing, I knew I would have to work hard to stay in fighting shape. That wasn’t a problem at Monarchy MMA. This was my first time training internationally and I didn’t know what to expect at all. All the guys, especially the instructor Bruno, were super cool but I was not ready to intensely train in 80°F (27°C) heat with what felt like 80% humidity. The first night at Monarchy felt like my first time ever rolling. I wanted to hide my purple belt as white belts (literally) mopped the floor with my energy-depleted body. It was an extremely humbling week.
I spent that month working on my cardio and acclimating to the Southeast Asian climate. By the end of February, I was finally able to hold my own and I earned the ability to proudly wear my purple belt again.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (4 March – 1 April)
This city had the Southeast Asian chaos I was anticipating. Crossing the street meant walking calming through a stream of oncoming scooters and cars that would move just barely not enough to hit you. Backpacker street was an instance party filled with expats buying NO2 balloons directly from bars. Instead of calling a cab, you hopped on the back of someone’s scooter. The city was crazy fun and I managed to squeeze a side trip in to Hanoi and Halong Bay.
Unfortunately, I was only able to train once at Saigon Jiu Jitsu. After just a few days in the country, I contracted a bad cough that persisted for four weeks. Two days before leaving I finally broke down and saw a doctor, who diagnosed me with “walking pneumonia.” After a handful of pills and a few days rest I was finally done coughing!
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (1 April – 29 April)
Cambodia was the most difficult and most rewarding country to visit in Asia, at least for me. The first few days were amazing. The bar scene was wild, the food was tasty and cheap, the people were insanely welcoming and the temples scattered everywhere were beautiful. However, the country is still overcoming side effects from its lamentable recent history. Being surrounded by intense poverty and poor infrastructure for a month starting to emotionally drain me.
I trained at H/Art Academy, the cities only BJJ dedicated gym. This was probably my favorite gym and group of people to train with in Southeast Asia. Plus, they have the freshest gym shirts I have ever seen! It took me awhile to get back into my groove after just getting over pneumonia, but toward the end of the month I was having amazing rolls and even learned some cool tricks.
Bangkok, Thailand (29 April – 27 May)
I loved just about every part of Thailand. Spicy, delicious street food literally everywhere, awesomely sketchy bars and clubs, inspiring cultural pride and tons of new friends. Thailand is the country I am most likely to come back and explore more as soon as I can. My two other blog posts will give you a better picture of my time there: Thailand Week 1: Going Hard and Adventure Week in Thailand.
This was also the first country I truly embraced the BJJ Globetrotters community. It blew my mind with how welcoming other BJJ enthusiast were. I was constantly going to meals or grabbing drinks with people I met on the mat. I also felt like this was the best rolling I had since starting my journey. Things were finally starting to make sense and flow again. I trained at three gyms while I was there: EMAC, Bangkok Fight Lab and Chiang Mai Fight Fit.
I’ve created more memories just in the past four months than I had for years before. I’m sad that I’m no longer in Southeast Asia, but now it’s time to explore my new home – Belgrade Serbia.