By: Kylie Condon
Best friends Tyler Barbiaux and John O’Brien just went on the trip of a lifetime. Over the last four months the two backpacked their way through over 10 countries and 40 cities in Asia. I recently had the chance to sit down with them and chat about their travels:
KC: Welcome back to the US! So, what inspired you guys to go on this trip in the first place?
TB: I think we were both at a point in our lives where we wanted to experience something new and adventurous.
JO: Yeah, I had been talking about traveling forever and wanted to finally pull the trigger. It was the perfect time to go because I was moving cities so it seemed like a good opportunity before I got locked down somewhere.
KC: Love that. And how did you guys land on Asia?
JO: Our friend was proposing to his girlfriend in Bali and wanted to be surrounded by friends. So we figured we’d start there and then travel to different countries in that area.
TB: Also, most of Asia is very cheap with convenient transportation so it was super easy to backpack around.
KC: Yeah, you guys really went all over! Which city was your favorite?
TB: Pai, which is a mountain town in northern Thailand. It’s super small and hip. Sort of had a Venice Beach vibe. Tokyo was great too!
JO: Siem Reap in Cambodia was amazing. It was full of these huge, stunning temples. Siem Reap also had this crazy Las Vegas-type street lined with pubs and parties so that was fun.
KC: Did you get a chance to explore any gay communities?
TB: We would always research gay bars in each new city. There weren’t too many specifically gay bars in the smaller towns, but the big cities usually had them. Singapore and Tokoyo had some great ones!
JO: While in Thailand, I went to a drag show in Ko Tao. That was really cool and actually very similar to an American drag show. I did also download Grindr to meet friends so I could figure out where locals went.
TB: You got pretty well acquainted with one of them.
JO: No comment.
KC: So it sounds like Asia was pretty gay-friendly… Did you run into any issues?
TB: No, we really didn’t have any issues! With Asian culture, a lot of people are just genuinely nice. That being said, it’s not totally accepted everywhere yet. But Thailand was very gay friendly.
JO: Yeah they had “ladyboys” or “kathoey” who would just walk around without any kind of discrimination. They’re even considered to be a third-gender in Thailand.
KC: That’s awesome. Was there anything that really surprised you while traveling?
JO: Despite being a history major, I really wasn’t aware of some of the genocides and extreme poverty that’s gone on over there. So I learned a lot about the history of these places and now feel much more aware.
TB: Yeah and the aftermath is still evident. Our tour guide in Cambodia lived through the genocide and hearing his stories was very eye opening.
KC: I bet. Do you guys have any other favorite memories from the trip?
TB: It took some adjusting to get used to the food there and I got super sick on a long bus ride in Laos. There wasn’t a bathroom on the bus and I asked the bus driver where I could go and he just like pointed to the street. So I had to shamefully go “relieve” myself on the street in the middle of Laos. That was a low point.
JO: Oh yeah, that was bad. We also went to get a Thai massage together and then the female masseuses asked if we wanted happy endings. But there was such a language barrier that we had no idea what they were asking us. So once they made some hand gestures, we got it and we were like umm no but thank you! Thank goodness we figured out what they were asking us…
KC: Any advice for people looking to take the same kind of trip? Learn how to say “happy endings”?
TB: Yes definitely. And travel while you’re young! It’s so easy and cheap to travel around Asia. We basically planned everything on the fly and adjusted our plans according to recommendations from people we met.
JO: Yeah and if you’re gonna go all the way over there, really stay for a bit to make the trek there worthwhile. But also be smart about budgeting! I definitely spent a little too much at the beginning. Also, don’t be afraid to go on the trip.
TB: Yeah, don’t wait. Just go!
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