Petrina Thong, 29, made headlines when she hitchhiked halfway across the world with just some small change in her pocket. The young Malaysian woman made her appearance at our Hot Shots event at her first talk ever, and captivated the audience with her off-the-beaten-track travel tales.
Here, she tells #TeamCLEO all about her journey. She goes into detail of roughing it, not showering for days, and dumpster diving. Prepare to be inspired and #mindblown…
“I have a bad sense of direction, hardly any savings and zero busking skills. But I could not ignore the urge to travel and it seemed rather exciting to hitchhike and wander around without any money. I told myself to survive in Europe for three to six months before returning home from Istanbul, Turkey.
I had US$200 on me and just enough cash in my bank for a flight back home. Having never done this before, I was nervous for sure — yet exhilarated at the same time. I kept hearing warnings of ‘Please don’t get yourself killed!’ and ‘Please don’t be so stupid!’.
At first, I hitchhiked with a friend or other fellow travellers. But problems arose when we didn’t get along or when they made advances on me. I decided then that I’d much rather be on my own!
The longer I travelled, the more I learnt how to be thick-skinned and disregard the stares. I dug through trash for food, pounced on leftover meals at eateries or asked markets for old produce or fruit that have outlived their shelf life.
Basically I lived in the concrete jungle as a hobo would, I even slept at petrol stations, next to highways, parks and car parks, using only cardboard pieces as a mattress. Sometimes I would knock on a stranger’s door to ask if they would let me sleep in their garden.
My money ran out after three months because when I got tired of waiting for hours for a car to pick me up, I’d hop on a bus or when my dumpster diving was unsuccessful, I’d go into a grocery store.
Being on my own as a female, I faced an obscene number of drivers who thought that it was OK to request for sex. In those situations, I’d ask them to stop the car. Some were respectful enough to stop their advances, but if they refused, I’d open the car door and motion as though I’d jump out. That usually makes them stop. Pretending as though I’m about to throw up also puts them to a halt, creating an opportunity to dash out.
The obligation to be polite lessened towards the end. Many men mistook my smiles as an invitation or took advantage of my niceness. It was repulsive and infuriating. Once my sirens go off and my instincts tell me this man is trouble, I’d tell him off or simply walk away.
Once my six months was up and it was time to leave, I felt that flying home was too much of a cop-out, like a shortcut! So I decided that, from Europe, I would hitchhike the circuitous route of Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Thailand in order to return to Malaysia.
Was this even possible? It would also be much tougher due to the high crime rates and dangers in certain countries.
The forums for backpackers weren’t very encouraging. Many had tried but few succeeded, especially when attempting to get a Pakistan visa. In the end, I spent the money for my flight on visas instead.
Asians are, as I discovered, extremely hospitable. Many warmly took me into their homes and I easily found refuge in temples. I was frequently offered food, so the struggle for sustenance almost vanished — and I even gained weight!
My family was probably most worried when I was crossing the border of Iran and Pakistan nearing to Afghanistan. I was surrounded by soldiers from the army and policemen with rifles for 48 hours to escort me out of this Balochistan terrorist zone as there have been cases of travellers getting kidnapped and beaten up or worse. But once you are out of that region, you’ll find that Pakistan and its people are really very welcoming.
On 1 July 2016, I finally crossed the border from Thailand into Malaysia and felt the hugest wave of relief when I made it home.
Many times throughout the year, I had questioned why I couldn’t just do normal vacations like most people. It wasn’t always easy, but the amount of unimaginable experiences are simply irreplaceable. I met Good Samaritans everywhere and created connections in the most unexpected places.”
Catch the full story in our November issue!