Every time I review this photo, I always feel prey to a sudden surge of emotions. If I ever had a moment of supreme bliss, it would this one: the life-endagering pick-up truck ride down the scenic winding roads of Kyaiktiyo, Myanmar.

It was the perfect closure to not only my Indochina (mainland South East Asia) trip but also my extensively tiring yet fulfilling travels last year.

Filipino Backpacker exploring the rest of South East Asia

Being a brown skinned Filipino, backpacking around South East Asia was a different experience for me. Not minding that I’m a naturally shy socially maladjusted person,  interacting with people I meet on the road was always initially awkward.

Not unless, I was carrying my camera, backpack or started talking, most people would assume that I was a local. Most of the time, I was not the one to start a conversation.

I felt alienated because I couldn’t fully relate to people, both backpackers or locals, I met on the road. Not unless I’ve become more comfortable after a day’s worth of hanging out or if I meet fellow Filipinos on the road.

Filipino backpackers, at least the sort who stay at hostel dorms, are an anomaly as Paul of Walk Fly Pinoy puts it #canrelate.

Most backpacker in South East Asia, depending on the location, are either Caucasians (Europeans/Americans), or chinky eyed Japanese/Koreans. I’ve only met a handful of Filipinos (some half-Filipinos) while staying at dorms. If I did, I’d be rejoicing at the rare opportunity.

In hostel dorms, I sometimes feel the most foreign because I couldn’t blend effortlessly with other backpackers or communicate well with locals, most of whom don’t speak English well, and I can’t speak their local tongues either.


I learned so much on my journey. About different cultures, different people, and about myself.

Before I went on my trip, I wasn’t worried too much about the usual “what ifs”: What if I lost my passport, my wallet, what if I couldn’t find a vacant place to spend the night, what if I get robbed, etc..

I was more concerned with the social aspect of backpacking. The thought of having to interact with different people when staying at dorms made me anxious. I wanted to stay in dorms because it was cheaper and I’d rather spend my money more on traveling longer and further.

Most people would’ve loved the part about hanging out with new people everyday. My initial “what ifs” were: What if people will not bother talking to me because I’m not the socially outgoing type. What if I’d spend most of my time alone because I couldn’t relate to what other people like. What if people I meet are all about parties, dancing at clubs playing awful electronic music, and getting wild on sleazefests. Unlike me, who tends to drink at one corner of the club and like to hangout at more mellow places.

I’ve had those experiences near the beginning of my trip. Being different used to make me feel very insecure. I asked myself why I can’t be more outgoing like everybody else.

Then, there would be people who would come up to me and start a conversation. My insecurity and anxiety started to go away as I had more time to understand that I had many things in common with people that I have met.

I learned to accept that I am a naturally reserved person and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. People, or at least most people, will be more open to you if you also open yourself to them or show them that you genuinely show interest in getting to know other people.

Picture perfect

I took this photo on my way down from Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock, a huge “gravity defying” boulder balancing over the mountain top. It is one of Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

It was cloudy all afternoon. It even rained on our way up. I wasn’t hoping to get amazing sunset photos of the misty mountain like the ones I see in pictures.

At the last minute, the clouds cleared up just as the sun started to blaze with the perfect golden glow. I was stunned. It was more beautiful that I expected.

That moment was perfect and I felt extremely fortunate that I got to see it. Timely that it was at the end of my journey.

I was told that 6pm was the last trip of the public commute down to Kinpun, a town at the foot of the mountain where I planned to spend the night. The only cheap way up or down Kyaiktiyo is by riding on top of a big truck laid out with long planks for seating. The truck didn’t leave until it was literally overflowing with devotees and tourists.

I stayed at the mountain top until a few minutes before 6pm so I could see and take pictures of the view for as long as I could.

There was still one truck waiting at parking area. It was exclusively filled by local Burmese porters dressed in blue polo shirt uniforms and traditional Longyi (sarong-like skirt) bottoms.

These porters are a common sight at Kyaiktiyo. Over their shoulders, you’d see big baskets filled with luggage of local devotees and foreign tourists checking in at more expensive hotels at the mountain top. For a couple of US$, anyone who wants to feel like the King of Siam can hire four of these porters to carry them on a raised chair up the road.

I was so lucky I was able to catch up with the last truck in the nick of time.

The friendly porters signaled me to ride aboard and generously cleared up a seat. They were a happy, noisy, rowdy lot and I was seated in the middle of the chaos.

If I had worn a blue polo shirt, I would blend in and nobody’s the wiser. I could totally pass off as a local. I was loving the moment because it reminded me of how I felt throughout my trip around South East Asia. Except this time, I was totally immersed in the local / untouristy experience.

I still felt like a fish out of water because I couldn’t understand an ounce or Burmese but since everybody was giving off happy and friendly vibes, I was enjoying every second ofit.

The driver sped through the extremely windy road right after I boarded the truck. Because I wasn’t seated at the edges where there were railings, I had to hold on to my seatmates, random strangers, for dear life.

On our way down, the sky retained its magical colors, slowly changing hues from golden orange to mystifying purples and deep blues.

I attempted to take the best photo that I could so I can remember that moment forever. Most photos came out too blurry because truck was moving too fast and there wasn’t much light left. To capture a still shot, I had to bump up the camera ISO to 2000.

I was smiling the entire time. It was the perfect ending to my South East Asia backpacking journey, much like the perfect movie ending where the main character rides off into the sunset just before the closing credits.

I wished I could talk Burmese so I could tell the locals how happy I was.

 [ insert closing credits here ]