Home » Plus-size travel in Southeast Asia: Why it’s not as scary as you think

Plus-size travel in Southeast Asia: Why it’s not as scary as you think

written by Hannah Logan February 2, 2018
plus size travel Southeast Asia Sapa Vietnam

The sky fades to a dusty blue as the sun begins to drop into the sea. I watch from my perch on our dive boat as it slices through the waves, heading back towards our beach lodge on an island in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park.

With just enough light left to see, we arrive and pull in as close to land as the tide will allow us. I join the rest of those on board, collecting the day’s gear to bring to shore.

“Hannah, don’t forget your sarong.”

I turn to face my companion, who is holding out my hot pink floral sarong which I had left tied to the wooden rail on the main deck.

“Oh.” I reach out to grab it in surprise. Not surprise that I had nearly left it behind – after all, I was going out on the same dive boat tomorrow. But because I wasn’t wearing it at all. I had somehow spent the entire day just in my swim suit, with no cover-up at all.

As a plus-size woman, swimsuits are my nemesis. I hate how my body looks in the tight, revealing fabric and always make sure to have a sundress, sarong, or even shorts and a t-shirt to wear on top.

Always.

Until today.

Somehow, between the manta rays and corals, the dolphins and the warm sunshine, I had forgotten to throw on my sarong after diving and actually spent my entire time on the boat just in my one-piece.

plus size travel Southeast Asia Indonesia beach

Beaming on a beautiful Indonesian beach

Mindful of the fast-fading light, I throw my sarong over my shoulders and hop overboard to lug my dive kit to shore. My dive buddies are busy discussing what’s for dinner tonight, but I’m lost in thought – still shocked at the notion that somehow I had been comfortable enough to walk around all day in just a swimsuit on a dive boat full of strangers in Indonesia. How did that happen when I constantly make sure I’m covered up in front of close friends and family back home in Canada?

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For me, Southeast Asia was the scariest plunge to take as a curvy girl. Of all the horrible body-shaming travel stories I’d read (because, let’s be honest, many plus-size travel stories focus on negative experiences), the majority of them seemed to be based in this part of the world. I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated and it took me a couple of years to finally pluck up the courage to book my first plane ticket. However, by the end I didn’t want to leave and less than two months after coming home, I booked another flight back.

Over the course of two years, I ended up spending nearly seven months travelling through Southeast Asia. I learned to scuba dive in Thailand and I trekked through lush Laotian landscapes. I explored the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia and went island hopping in the Philippines. I made friends with other travellers, with locals, and with numerous stray dogs. I had my palm read by a Balinese magic man, lit paper lanterns with Thai families for Yi Peng, and chatted about the most important Canadian thing – Justin Bieber – with some Burmese schoolgirls.

plus size travel Southeast Asia Bagan Myanmar

Gazing in awe at Bagan, Myanmar

I absolutely loved my time exploring Southeast Asia and my adventures there hold some of my best memories. Which is funny when I consider how intimidated I was to go there in the first place.

I’m not going to lie and say that my Southeast Asia travels were perfect, but I can honestly say that the articles I read in advance were incredibly misleading – my curves ended up getting way more good attention than bad. In Vietnam, the local seamstresses gushed about their jealousy of my body and begged me to allow them to add a plunging neckline to my custom dress. I was stopped in the streets by men and woman alike commenting on my looks. And, by the end of my travels, I’d heard the word ‘beautiful’ far more than ‘fat’.

READ MORE: 9 UNDER-THE-RADAR DESTINATIONS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA WORTH A VISIT

Somewhere along my second trip I even managed to find the courage to wear a bikini to the beaches in Bali, an item of clothing that I hadn’t worn since I was six years old. Southeast Asia wasn’t easy at times, but I did walk away from the experience with a more positive outlook on my own body image.

plus size travel Southeast Asia Cambodia temple

Exploring temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia

While the compliments and attention were definite confidence boosters, at the end of the day, that’s not why I travel. I travel to experience different customs and cultures, to see the beauty of Mother Nature around the world, to learn and explore. And, quite honestly, the fact that I don’t have a coveted thigh gap really has nothing to do with that. My thick thighs haven’t stopped me from hiking the rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam. My wide hips didn’t hinder my ability to dive the World War II shipwrecks in the Philippines. My jiggly arms didn’t prevent me from climbing the ancient temples of Bagan, Myanmar.

My body may not be tight, toned, and magazine-worthy, but that’s not what is important. I have a love for travel, a want to see the world, and drive to experience as much as I can. All I need is a body that will allow me to achieve these goals, and while mine may not be perfect in the eyes of others, it is perfect enough to allow me to follow my travel dreams.

Feeling inspired to visit embark on your own adventure in Asia? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours there.

(All images c/o Hannah Logan at eatsleepbreathetravel.com.)

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29 comments

Sarah December 15, 2018 - 11:35 am

Heck. Yes.

Another curvaceous Canadian here, who did a solo trip to SE Asia a few years back. I put off so much in my 20s, in the name of, “I’ll do it when I’ve lost all the weight.” To finally gain the courage to just get up and go was astonishing. To have the time of my life, not worrying about how covered up I was, whether I was “gross” or “disgusting” or “fat”.. it was liberating! My fat didn’t stop me from anything. I swam and climbed rice terraces, hiked a volcano and taught guides to hula hoop at sunrise on the top, snorkeled in wrecks, rode as a passenger on motorbikes through small villages.. it was amazing. I can’t wait to go again!

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Catherine Williams December 11, 2018 - 12:14 pm

You go girl … I’m a plus size 67 year old, just back from my 2nd Camino in Spain. Though people here may have doubted I could walk 500 miles (age and weight) – the friends I made on the trail were open and welcoming. Camino Portuguese in 2019

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Karen December 9, 2018 - 1:46 pm

This is great to hear! I will echo another comment to enjoy this while you are young. I was very active when younger, but now that I am almost 60, I need a knee replacement and miss being active so much.

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Andrea October 12, 2018 - 10:47 pm

Judgmental people aside, I am curious about the more practical aspects of plus-size travel in this part of the world. Did you have any issues with seat sizes on various modes of transportation, such as trains or buses, for example? Thanks!

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Sara Swan September 22, 2018 - 1:06 am

Beautifully written! I love that you are honoring your passions and body alike. Cheers from one traveler to another; see the world and let the world see YOU! Namaste!

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Bluette August 25, 2018 - 10:46 pm

I spent rime traveling Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. For most of the trip I didn’t get any commentary on my weight but noticed that most clothes didn’t come anywhere near my size (which at the time was only a size 10). The only comment on my weight was in Thailand. I went to the floating market and fell in love with a pair of loose fitting harem style pants with an elastic waist band. I held the waist band in front of my waist and decided to give them a try before buying. That elastic waist band stretched only enough to make it up my thighs but not over my black girl booty. The sales rep literally screamed at me to take them off. She then held the same pants in from of my waist and laughed at me for thinking I could fit in them. That was the only negative interaction but it left a lasting impression. Traveling is fine as long as you don’t try to find clothes in your size. It’s just like buying clothes online to discover they were in Asian sizing.

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JW Bath August 24, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Great Article! I too have traveled far and wide and am rarely treated as poorly around the world as I have been in the airports if the US… being a giant isn’t easy but it is important. Because it’s me!

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Lisa August 14, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Wonderful article. Thank you for insight into that part of the world.

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Kat August 9, 2018 - 11:24 pm

I lost my insecurities in college and remind myself that I’m beautiful to me regardless of what other people think. I’ve traveled to both Europe and Asia only slightly aware that my size may be an issue to the locals but I’ve found that people in america are more judgmental (both in looks and in verbal expressions) and I’ve been told I’m beautiful in other countries far more often than I am told here in the US. My dad has one of those figures men tend to get as they age and he’s spent months in Asia and the most he gets are belly pats and “Why you have dat?” From the locals who have cute little smiles on their faces. No bad intentions behind it. Never let your size stop you from traveling and seeing what the world has to offer. I can’t wait to take my next trip to Asia! Maybe I’ll do Bali this time.

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Valli July 28, 2018 - 1:29 pm

Just got back from Siem Reap with a plus size gal. I’m a bit fluffy too. Only heard on negative comment regarding weight. I told a Ranger at Angkor Wat that my friend was a retired park ranger. He looked shocked and said, “she’s too big!”

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Amy July 26, 2018 - 1:02 am

I live, worked and traveled in Southeast Asia in the ‘90s. It was a great place to come of age and come to understand that the only opinion about my body that matters is my own. So glad this was your experience and thanks for sharing. The world’s an amazing place to miss just because one feels awkward.

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Jennifer July 23, 2018 - 1:37 pm

I went to the phillipines with my brother. Together we weigh 600lbs. Plane ride sucked but I’ve never been treated better or felt more attractive. Awesome people. I never felt body shame there. Island hopped and wore my bathing suit with pride.

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Janet July 20, 2018 - 12:08 pm

You Rock!! How inspiring ❤️

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June July 20, 2018 - 11:32 am

Wow. Thank you. I have put off traveling because of my size. You have given me encouragement to make those first reseevations.

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Serina July 26, 2018 - 5:17 am

Never put anything off because of your size! As a plus size woman myself, I have Learned to have faith in my abilities, push myself further on every adventure and worse case, learn to laugh at myself when all didn’t go quite as I planned! We only get one life, live, love, laugh, travel! What ever makes you happy

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Toni Parks July 15, 2018 - 10:09 am

Hannah, you inspire me once again. My own negative experiences have been in East Asia with regards to weight. Like you, I never had a problem in Southeast Asia. I just love it there!

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Jeremy July 12, 2018 - 5:41 pm

Be yourself. Don’t let the world judge you, and make you feel less than who you really are!
Be happy, and don’t let their negativity get to you! They shall not win!

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Pamela May 31, 2018 - 3:21 am

I have not yet made it to Southeast Asia but would love to some day. But I live full time on a sailboat. I’ve been surprised to find that the fewer clothes I wear, the more comfortable I feel with my body. Now I look forward to bathing suit season and feeling more comfortable than I do wearing tons of layers.

I hope you enjoy your strong and wonderful body in many beautiful places.

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Valerie May 30, 2018 - 11:18 pm

Loved your story and I think youre beautiful !

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Millie Heym May 30, 2018 - 8:27 am

I love the comments about custom sewn clothing in Asia! Wow, would I love that! I have to mention the age issue, though. Do this while you are young! My plus size body can no longer do the walking required when traveling. My legs and feet ache too much, and sitting is uncomfortable too.

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Jay May 26, 2018 - 6:09 pm

This was really inspiring and someone who isn’t rail thin I can relate to this. At the end of the day we have to do what makes us happy 🙂 Happy you took the plunge I’m sure rly traveling Southeast Asia and I think everyone should travel here at least once. I think that the female travel sphere is dominated too often by the picture perfect buddies and it makes other women feel like they can’t go somewhere cus they don’t look like that in a bikini. So happy to see the female travel sphere becoming more inclusive of all of the amamzing body types out there!!!

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Kelley Riley May 26, 2018 - 7:11 am

Am so glad you had a good experience. I absolutely loved Southeast Asia as well but had more than my share of older women poking me and saying “you very fat, giggle, giggle”or an equivalent enough times to remember how glad I am that Canadians are more polite than that and don’t mention it. Sarongs rule for me too at the beach or pool. For those wondering, I didn’t see any plus size clothing at any of the markets in Southeast Asia and I went to most in whatever town or city I was in. Bring everything you need clothes wise; leave most of your shoes at home, you can get fantastic deals on shoes (all types) everywhere. Ditto bags and hats …..

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Jack May 20, 2018 - 10:12 pm

I am male and ware a XXL in Canada
I too was surprised how woman or men would want to touch my stomach, even want pictures with me. There seems to be zero stigma to being heavy here.
I thought I would shed weight while in Vietnam ( for 3 weeks) or Thailand (for 3 months with another month left),but it has not happened, the food here is awesome.
I will add, it is near impossible to find North American size clothing here. There XX is like a large, at least that’s what I find.
This is my first trip to this ‘neck of the woods’ and have totally fallen for it.

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Christy April 15, 2018 - 9:24 am

Hi! I loved this article, it was so encouraging and definitely gave me more courage, so thank you. I was wondering if Southeast Asian countries sell plus size clothing in their market stalls, like the Chatuchak Market in Thailand. I am a size large/x-large in shirt sizes and about the same in shorts. I was wondering because I’d like to know if I can pack less clothes and just buy some there. Thanks!

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Eden M February 17, 2018 - 4:05 am

Does every article involving a large bodied person have to include an almost mandatory paragraph about self loathing and surprise that their body doesn’t suck? Or that no one pointed and laughed because you didn’t cover your loathesome self? It just reiterated the writer’s discomfort in their own skin.

I’m a large person, both the fattest and often tallest woman on my trips. Generally no one cares because I don’t care. I am far more concerned with the weight limit safety of equipment and seats (and sorry about that surf-rotted hammock on Koh Rok in Andaman Sea) than I am about folks marveling at the size of my uncovered body.

Just go travel and get past your conceptions about yourself and the world. Just make sure you know what those zip lines will safely hold and check your safety harnesses and restraints so you don’t die.

P.s.: just got back from Borneo, and wore a bikini the same day I got attacked by a macaque, flipping myself and a plate of noodles all over the place before landing on the floor. Ass up, covered in noodles and sand, with a bloody lip, in a bikini, in SE Asia.

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Sid February 12, 2018 - 3:08 pm

I spent a chunk of time in Thailand during college. I was shocked that the locals propositioned me for a bride over the athletic blonde in our group. Me, the chunky girl! It was a fantastic trip.

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Heather February 8, 2018 - 10:18 pm

I love this article! I’m also a plus size woman who loves to travel and it’s very intimidating when you get “the look” from people. However, I refuse to let that stop me from seeing the world! You’re words are very inspiring

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Marisol February 9, 2018 - 8:56 am

Yes I want to travel With you !!

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Kim February 8, 2018 - 5:30 am

You go girl! I’m a size 24 and did a semester abroad in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia. Never had any real issues. The Sri Lankans were the most curious about my body type but never rude about it. India excels at custom sewn clothing which was heaven. I found myself in need of a replacement bra while in Thailand and got a kick out of the sales girls in Phuket who marveled that my 42Ds were the real thing. Travel makes us all better 🙂

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