At HHWT, our vision is to encourage peace and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims through travel. So, it certainly warms our hearts when we hear stories of kindness from other travellers, especially when there is so much hate and violence in the world now.
If you might have noticed, we've recently gathered more personal experience stories from the community. Through our conversations with solo travellers, many of them said that through their travels, they've received so much love either from locals or fellow travellers And we know that many of you are also interested to read more personal stories of solo travellers around the globe ?
So we're here to bring you the story of 1 Singaporean female solo traveller, Si Hui. She tells us more about her unforgettable solo moments, the gracious locals she met (both Muslims and non-Muslims) as well as how she overcame her initial fear of travelling alone!
Si Hui at the Mt Ngauruhoe, Tongariro Alpine Hike (New Zealand, 2013)
1. Where have you travelled solo to? What made you want to travel solo in the first place?
New Zealand first, and then Barcelona and Myanmar. I was 20, turning 21 in the same year, so it was sort of like a rite of passage to becoming an adult. I also wanted to try something new and get out of my comfort zone.
2. What was your most memorable experience while solo travelling?
It’s normally the negative experiences which turn into positive ones that stick in my mind. I was travelling from Wellington to Auckland and in the last transit, I had to take a bus to reach my destination.
This was in 2013 and I was pretty young back then, about 20 years old and I was terrified because the bus had broken down and all I saw were drunkards at 3am out on the streets.
It was at this moment that my "heroine" came along - she's half Kiwi, half Iranian. She was about the same age as I was and it was comforting that we both had each other. Turns out, she's actually the daughter of a Middle Eastern restaurant owner and she took me under her wing and treated me to glorious food - lamb kebab, hot chocolate and chips with garlic mayonnaise.
Me and my new friend - Shamila Darvish - at her Dad’s Middle Eastern restaurant (NZ 2013)
It was because of her and her lovely gesture that turned a rather rotten experience into a wonderful one. I made a new friend even though the experience was rather ugly, to begin with. After that, we bid farewell and kept in contact through social media. I’d love to see her again someday, just to repay her kindness ❤️
3. What's the one important thing that you learnt from solo travelling?
That kindness is all around, with people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what they believe in. There is goodness and you'll find it sometimes in the most unlikely situations.
I learnt this when I was in Myanmar in 2015, travelling by myself after my internship. It was my 23rd birthday. I was in the Hpa An district and had spent the night in a monastery at Mt Zwegabin. As Hpa An is famous for its caves with Buddha engravings, I decided to visit one called Sadar, even though I'm not particularly fond of caves.
It was really far away and I needed to cycle there but somehow, I was feeling gung-ho that day. Lo and behold, the journey took me 3 hours, which I didn't expect at all. I pushed even though there was a heat wave - I told myself I couldn't give up halfway because I'm just stubborn like that ?
When I arrived, I told myself, "This better be spectacular". I was really tired but I told myself to give the cave a chance. Maybe this one would change my mind about caves since there were so many good reviews about it.
But I was so wrong. The floor was slippery. I fell on my bum twice. It was dark and lonely.
And I reached out to 2 Burmese boys to help me but they didn't. I just felt so vulnerable.
I blamed myself for choosing the longest route to see a cave which didn't impress me at all, and on my birthday. I felt upset as I washed my muddied clothes and shoes. I was thinking of how I was going to get back to where I started; another 3 hours of cycling in the hot sun? And I had a bus to catch from Hpa An back to Yangon. I was really at my wit's end and I thought I had just destroyed my beautiful solo trip by being stupid.
Just then, a Burmese couple came up to me and gestured to ask where I was sleeping that night. I recognised them as they were the ones in the car trailing behind me as I was cycling towards the cave.
They initiated a conversation with me in very basic English, asking me where I was from, about Singapore, about my family and whether I had eaten. I could tell that they wanted to help me. They kept asking me, "Lam la? Lam la?", which I didn't get, but little did I know that this was a crucial question which I needed to answer. I kept shaking my head saying I don't know.
[P.S. I later found out from my Burmese friends that the couple were asking me, "Do you want to come?"]
After a while, we started walking out of the cave. I was desperate. I knew they were asking me if I wanted help from them but I appeared as if I didn't because I couldn't understand what they were saying. And when their car drove off, it felt as if all hope had left my soul. As I dragged my bike, I ran towards their car and waved to them, hoping they'd see me, but they continued driving.
Then, I saw their car stopped. They gestured if I needed their help to put my bike in their car and I said yes, and I thanked them profusely. You have no idea how grateful I was at that point in time ?
The lovely couple who helped me out - Kyaw Kyaw Oo and Ei Ei Thein
The couple was so nice that they even treated me to lunch! I was so touched by their gesture that I passed them my name card with my address in Singapore and told them to visit me when they can. I had nothing else on me to give them so it was the only way I knew how to thank them.
When I left them, the wife reached out to my face and pecked it as we waved goodbye. I was so thankful to have met them.
I cannot tell you how my solo trips have always taught me the act of kindness - the kindness of strangers to be exact, and I will never forget them, never. I was literally down in the dumps as I was all wet and muddy, and feeling super upset when these 2 kind souls came to save me. I was speechless. Needless to say, this was the best birthday present ever ?
4. Before going solo, did you think it was scary and did that perception change after your trip?
Yeah, I was super scared! My first solo trip was 6 months abroad in New Zealand for exchange studies. I was 20 years old, so of course, I was scared. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make friends, or whether they'd understand me. But I put myself out there to ask for help and to participate in new activities.
[P.S. Looking for a place to go solo but not sure where? This guide will help you out!]
I was also afraid of getting lost on my own (I get lost in Singapore sometimes too!?) Eventually, I faced all my fears head on, and in the end, it really wasn't that scary anymore.
5. What did you think solo travelling was like before going on a solo trip and how was it similar or different?
I thought it would be a very difficult step to make, and it really was a very difficult step to make! There were times when I missed home, missed the familiarity of places and people I knew. Before going on a solo trip, I also thought going solo would help me immerse into a foreign culture better because it'd force me to meet people and do things I'd never done before. That's what happened. And in the process, I also learnt about myself better. I found myself through solo travelling.
6. What was one thing which surprised you about solo travel?
You’ll never truly be lonely. The sights, the sounds and the people you meet will be good enough company. Man can never be alone. We need each other, especially in the darkest of hours.
Back to my story in Hpa An - Before leaving for Yangon, I had naan at this little teashop run by Indian Muslims. The owners of the shop accompanied me and talked to me as I waited for two hours for my bus to arrive.
They were so interested to talk to me and one of them was so excited to pass me gifts. He passed me two laminated photos of Mount Zwegabin and a keychain of Aung San Suu Kyi.
I was nobody to them, just a foreigner visiting their little town, but they were so warm to me. I forgot to tell him that it was my birthday and those gifts were truly "presents" for me because it was a special day ☺️
It's amazing what I learnt on this trip. Till today, I'm still soaking in gratitude and humbled by the entire experience.
7. What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think it was the fear of uncertainty of being in a foreign land and not knowing whether I would find my way around or make new friends. I used to be really REALLY afraid of opening my mouth and asking for help.
Friends Si Hui made during a tour of South Island (NZ, 2013)
I'd usually try to do things myself. In learning to become independent, I realise that it’s not in doing everything myself but also reaching out to others. So that’s how I overcame my fear of the uncertainty - reaching out to locals, and fellow travellers. They are often more happy to help than we’d expect ❤️
8. Do you have any advice or tips for those who want to solo travel?
It’s never easy at the start, so maybe go slow first. Don’t try to do so many things at once. I was so scared of stepping out of my apartment in Myanmar because it was so overwhelming. But I managed to overcome my fear in the end and look at how it turned out! Taking small steps is already an achievement ?
For female travellers, I used to think that we shouldn’t be scared of anything. But I realise I’ve taken the safety in Singapore for granted and there are places like Sri Lanka that are still quite conservative so they don’t normally see women out in the streets at night. Always be more alert and ask for help if you’re not sure or comfortable.
If you're afraid, staying in hostels will help because it's the perfect place to meet fellow travellers. Even if you stay in an Airbnb, your host may even be friends with you!
[P.S. Embark on your first solo trip with this list of 8 amazing places in Asia.]
9. Where do you want to travel solo to next?
The world is huge. I have thought of a few places like maybe Israel or China. But I haven't been bitten by the solo bug yet, so not so soon!
10. Throughout your solo travels, what is one thing you know now that you wished you knew then?
Soak in every moment! Some of the time spent was worrying - about what others might think, what my next step is, where I need to go, why people are looking at me eating alone. But nah, there are greater things to be thinking about at that moment like the sights, sounds and smells of a new place ?
[P.S. Love stories like this? Read more about solo travel experiences here!]
Si Hui's story has taught us that kindness knows no racial or religious boundaries. You can be Muslim or non-Muslim, Asian or Caucasian - but if you put those prejudices and stereotypes aside, we can understand each other better, and a little more love won't hurt too! We hope her story has inspired you in one way or another. In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing more inspirational stories from other solo travellers based on their travel experiences, so do stay tuned!
P.S. If you have a personal travel experience to share, do let us know too ?