Edward Hewitt had everything going for him as a 27-year-old when he decided to embark on the journey of a lifetime. He gave up a stable, high-salary job at British Petroleum (BP), and a life of relative comfort, to realise a life-long dream to travel from the city of Bangkok back to his home town of Birmingham, UK, using the most basic local modes of transport to reach his destination _ whether they be boats, motorcycles or buses.
Travelling in Cambodia with the locals.
Hewitt says he wanted to use Bangkok as the starting point for his sojourn because it was here that he fell in love with travel as an 18-year-old. A seven-month stint as a teacher at the Shrews-bury International School left not just a positive, but also a lasting impression about Thailand on the then impressionable teenager. His wanderlust got to the point that he began to map the routes he would take if he ever got the chance to travel to the UK from Bangkok.
The amiable traveller has planned his multi-country trek around experiencing and observing local ways of life, and sustainable measures communities use to curb environmental issues. In Thailand, he rates one particular encounter fondly, saying: "Being taken for a private khlong tour of the Prachakom Huai Khwang District to observe some of the effects of water pollution and speak to the communities was especially memorable.
"This was all made possible by the kind help of Pongporn Sudbanthad, the chairman of the local district council. He organised for me to take a boat trip with the community leaders and gain access to the local people to talk to them. Obviously, he was able to translate, too. It's really inspiring to see such a passionate man trying so hard to improve the situation for his local community."
A morning trip to Klong Toey market also turned out to be a memorable encounter for the Englishman. He had read about the popular open-air market as the place to see "real" Bangkok and it certainly proved to be quite an eye-opening experience.
"I know it may not be for all tourists, but for me it's fascinating to see a place which is so full of life. It's certainly an assault on the senses _ the smells, sights, and sounds are something to behold!"
Hewitt was rather awestruck getting on the back of a motorbike taxi in the Big Mango. "It's brilliant isn't it?" he grinned. Coming from the UK, he described the jaunt as a rollercoaster ride in itself.
"I'd pay loads of money just for that experience back home," he said in all seriousness. "It's less than 1 [50 baht]! I used to play a computer game called Crazy Cars 3 when I was little _ the objective was to drive at high speed dodging oncoming traffic. It's a bit like being in that game."
The chief objective for the journey is to have an amazing adventure, one he is determined to enjoy. However, another big aim is to raise money for Guy's Trust, initiated after Guy Joseph was killed in a paragliding accident just over a year ago, he said.
Hewitt was the same age as the deceased, and they have a number of friends in common. After meeting Joseph's parents last year, Hewitt was surprised and pleased to discover they both shared a strong passion for living life to the full, travelling and meeting people.
Guy's Trust was formed to create opportunities for youngsters around the world. The charity's achievements so far include building a school for disadvantaged children in Nepal and funding internships to support manta ray conservation in Indonesia. People can make donations through the "charity" section of Edward's website www.bangkok2birmingham.com.
A priority for the trip is to raise awareness of sustainability challenges in countries he visits. As sustainability has so far defined Hewitt's career, he's determined to use his travels to educate and inspire people to take action for a more sustainable future. He has kept his fingers crossed that his enthusiasm will help inspire projects that bring about positive change.
The trip is a chance for Hewitt to get under the skin of local cultures.
"I want to travel 'the local way' _ with local people, rather than apart from them," he said. "I'll be travelling using only local transport and trying to stay with local people as much as possible. I hope it will be a great way to learn about the cultures of the places I'm passing through, and can ensure that I don't just look at a country from a superficial touristy perspective, but actually interact with its people.
"I'm very much a people person and by travelling and staying with local people I'll be able to understand much more about them, and myself."
Last, but by no means least, he hopes to inspire people to contribute to Project Dromomania, an online collaboration he designed to inspire extraordinary travel, raise awareness of important issues and showcase special projects from across the world.
"I founded Dromomaniacs, a word which means those with the insatiable urge to travel, in the hopes that it would bring together well-travelled people who have had fascinating personal insights into the world which they would like to share with others.
"The key for me is to prioritise the quality over the quantity. So I want people to share only their best ever photos, videos and blogs, and pin them onto a specially designed world map. By cooperating together I believe we can create something unique. For more info and some of the early material, have a look at www.dromomaniacs.com. The welcome video is a short intro."
One of the rules Hewitt laid down for his trip is that he is only allowed to take hand luggage with him. This is as much for practical purposes as for anything else.
He has managed to squeeze everything into a really handy bag _ a few T-shirts, pairs of shorts, a battered old computer, a smartphone, a Kindle (as he doesn't want to lug around books), his passport, a great water bottle from Water To Go which filters virtually everything, and a neat little travel pack (with things like portable chargers and a micro towel) from Intelligent Pelican, which has so far sustained him well.
Hewitt explains why he found it necessary to leave his comfort zone back in UK and follow his dreams: "I'm 27. I think it's a pivotal time in one's life. You've finished uni a few years ago, are well on the way to establishing a career and are thinking about settling down and having kids. That's all great, but not for me yet. I want that eventually, but want to live a bit more before I reach that point. Now is a perfect opportunity whilst I have no other commitments. I don't want to reach the end of my life and say, 'I wish I'd had the courage to do what I dreamed of'. So I've decided to do what I dreamed of all those years ago, and see where it takes me."
It seems Thailand was amongst the countries he was particularly looking forward to visiting. While seeing new places is great, he said, there's actually a real romance to seeing places you are particularly fond of, yet haven't seen for a long time. He equates the feeling to meeting a long lost friend.
Thailand, particularly Bangkok, was the dear friend he met nine years ago, and now they are catching up.
Other than that, Hewitt says it's difficult to pick one country or region above the rest as all have their own appeal. When coaxed into highlighting one region he was excited about seeing, he said: "I would go for the Silk Road through Central Asia. I'll be passing through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They hold a real mystery and intrigue for me. I find that exciting. I like the fact that not many people have heard of them!"
About the author
- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert