Finding love while on holiday

Being far from home and away from everyday life sometimes makes it easier to fall in love

I married my tour guide

When Ms Karen Lim first laid eyes on Mr Ngawang Tshering at Paro Airport in Bhutan, she found him attractive. He was tall, good-looking, well-mannered and softspoken – and he would be her personal tour guide.

But she had not been looking for love. Instead, she had gone to Bhutan in search of peace.

Ms Lim, who was formerly an editor at online news portal AsiaOne and declines to reveal her age, says she had been coping with some personal problems through meditation and Buddhist classes.

“I was undergoing a spiritual awakening, where I needed to do or feel something more fulfilling than what I was doing in my daily life.”

She found that fulfilment in Bhutan, experiencing a peace and spirituality that she had not felt in a long time.


  • Tips for travel romances

    1 If you are meeting someone for the first time, let someone else know where you are going and approximately what time you might be back. Solo travellers can inform their hotel reception, Airbnb host or hostel dormitory mates.

    2 Choose a busy public area to meet, especially if it is your first encounter with someone you have talked to only online.

    3 The Ask for Angela campaign, which was launched in 2016 in Britain, allows people who feel unsafe at a bar, club, hotel or restaurant to discreetly seek help by approaching staff members and asking for "Angela".

    The campaign has also begun operating this year in parts of south Australia, such as Sydney. Establishments usually have posters in the restrooms informing patrons about the campaign.

    4 Being on holiday means you are there for a good time, not for a long time. If you have met someone, be upfront about what you want and whether you would like to continue the romance once you are back home.

    The risk of heartbreak is minimised if both parties know what to expect from each other.

Together with Mr Tshering, she spent a carefree week hiking and visiting museums and temples, including the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery set on a cliff.

Together with Mr Tshering, she spent a carefree week hiking and visiting museums and temples, including the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery set on a cliff.They took a photo with the monastery in the background, still guide and guest on paper, but already falling for each other.

When Ms Lim posted that picture on social media, her friends teased her, saying they looked like a couple.

She laughed it off until her last evening in Bhutan – as they were taking a stroll after dinner, they ended up holding hands.

But Ms Lim returned home the next day and that was when the true test began.

Ms Lim, who is an Australian citizen and a permanent resident in Singapore, says: “Leaving Bhutan was heart-wrenching. It felt like my gut was being plucked out of my abdomen.”

Friends and colleagues told her she was different, that she had left her heart and soul in Bhutan.

“Marrying a foreigner happens so very often in my part of the world, but things are so different in Bhutan,” says Ms Lim.

Visiting each other was a challenge as she would have to pay a fee of US$200 to US$250 (S$274 to S$342) a day to visit as a tourist – the cumulative sum would take at least a few months to save up.

But they had committed to making the relationship work.

Four months after her trip in August last year, Mr Tshering came to Singapore for two weeks.

Ms Lim then went to Bhutan and did a two-week volunteer stint as a social media marketing trainer for the Bhutan Media and Communications Institute, before taking up a full-time position as a communications specialist for the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The couple were married in October this year, in a ceremony held in Bhutan’s capital, Thimpu, that was attended by her parents and younger brother, three aunts and 12 friends from Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Bangkok.

Now that they are married, Ms Lim can reside in Bhutan and the couple will shuttle among Australia, Bhutan and Singapore. Mr Tshering still works as a cultural and trekking guide in Bhutan.

Their love story, which Ms Lim documented on her blog, was widely shared online this month. The couple have walked a long road to be together, but it has prepared them for the next chapter in their journey.

Ms Lim says: “We fought to be together despite all the obstacles in our way and will continue to fight side by side – because we both believe that love is not giving up on each other when times get tough.”

Ms Teo Xin Yee extended her stay in Glasgow from two days to a week after she met a student there who asked her on dates. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TEO XIN YEE

Surviving holiday romances

When Ms Teo Xin Yee, 22, went to Scotland last year, she had a week-long itinerary planned, including a short stay in Glasgow to visit a friend, followed by a trip to the Isle of Skye, known for its rugged and picturesque landscapes.

All that changed when she met a fellow undergraduate at a party. He was 19 then, a computing science student at the University of Glasgow and looked like bespectacled ginger-haired singer Ed Sheeran.

"He was cute and I thought his personality was nerdy and sweet," says Ms Teo, who was on an exchange programme at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

They drank, danced and swopped contacts, and he kissed her before the night was over.

She was meant to leave for the Isle of Skye in two days' time, but when he asked that night to meet her a few days later, she decided to stay on.

She spent the week in Glasgow, where they had two more dates. They walked around the city, had breakfast in a pub and visited his university campus at night, where he showed her a beautiful view of the city lights.

It was a romance made only for the present. Ms Teo, who is single, says: "He doesn't have Instagram or Facebook because he doesn't want to put his life on social media. When I heard this, in my head, I knew a future would be difficult.

"Because I knew it would not work out, I had no expectations and could just have fun without thinking about the commitment and responsibility of a relationship."

Being in a new environment, removed from the roles and responsibilities of life back home, can make it easier to give romance a chance.

In 2014, Ms Jennifer Dhanaraj, 29, struck up a friendship with American real estate agent Dominick Joseph on dating app OK Cupid.

Their friendship began over e-mail, with long exchanges about movies, music and their lives, but it was not until she visited him in New York City 11/2 years later that romance blossomed.

She says: "In Singapore, I am always aware that I have to be on my best behaviour. My parents are here, I have a job here. But when I am travelling, there's no one watching me or texting me, 'Where are you?', at 4am. I'm accountable only to myself and it makes me feel more free."

She stayed for a week at his apartment in Brooklyn, accompanying him on property viewings in the day and going to bars with his friends at night. It was her second time in New York City and she had already seen the main tourist attractions in Manhattan. This time, living in the suburbs and frequenting Mr Joseph's favourite haunts, she felt like a real New Yorker.

"We never termed it a relationship, but it was the first time I had fallen for someone," says Ms Dhanaraj. She was delighted when Mr Joseph, now 30, said he was going to visit her a few months later.

But in Singapore, their romance was tested. "I couldn't spend as much time with him as he wanted, partly because I didn't tell my parents that we were dating. I've never introduced anyone to them as my boyfriend," says Ms Dhanaraj, a master's student and part-time research analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who lives with her parents.

It was a source of tension, one that she believes caused the end of their burgeoning romance.

After trips to Bali and Chiang Mai together, she mustered the courage to ask Mr Joseph about a future together, but he wanted to call it quits. Their e-mails dwindled and they no longer communicate.

Although Ms Dhanaraj, who is currently single, was heartbroken then, she now has good memories of their time together.

She says: "Travelling with him in South-east Asia has influenced the way I travel now. It was very impromptu and unplanned, open to meeting new people and having new experiences.

"I think this has led to me creating some pretty great travel memories on my own and I have him to thank for that."

Singaporean Ng Shuyun and Israeli Ron Elazar met in Goa in 2002, spent the next decade travelling to meet each other in various parts of the world, before they got married in 2012. With them is their son, now 17 months old. PHOTO: NG SHUYUN

A round-the-world love story

The beach resort they stayed in was next to a mangrove swamp.

Ten rooms shared two toilets, where waste matter channelled down a tube was eaten by pigs from below. Rooms cost 50 rupees (98 Singapore cents) a night.

In short, it was the last place Ms Ng Shuyun thought she would find romance and meet her future husband.

It was 2002 and she had turned 21. Fresh out of polytechnic, she and a friend spent four months in India where they volunteered, teaching children and working in hospitals run by the Catholic church.

They backpacked through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa. It was in Goa that she met Mr Ron Elazar, an Israeli who was travelling for six months after finishing military service.

He stayed in the room next to hers. They met on Boxing Day and spent the following few days visiting flea markets, hanging out on the beach and enjoying the nightlife that Goa is famous for. It was at one of these parties that Ms Ng realised she had fallen for Mr Elazar.

"We were at a party and he left because he wasn't feeling well. I just couldn't enjoy myself any more and went to look for him. That was when I realised I had feelings for this guy," says Ms Ng, now 37.

As for Mr Elazar, he fell for Ms Ng right away. "I felt that she was very good and kind," he says.

They spent a week in Goa before Mr Elazar joined Ms Ng and her friend to travel to Hampi and Mumbai, together with three other travellers.

Ms Ng was meant to fly home shortly after New Year's Day, but extended her trip by a month to spend more time with Mr Elazar, now 39.

By the end of the trip, they had become a couple and, before they returned home, they made plans to meet in the United States.

Mr Elazar had worked there for a moving company before and was confident it would hire him again.

The couple were not sure how they would make things work, but they were determined to try.

"We come from very different cultures, but we have similar fundamental values. We put family first, we value spending time together and we are both non-religious," says Ms Ng, a freelance graphic designer.

Still, when she left for the US about three months later, she did not tell her parents that she was crossing the ocean to meet a man - only that she had already bought a ticket and intended to find a job there.

"My dad was angry and worried, yet he felt like he couldn't do anything about it. He didn't talk to me the week before I left for the States," she recalls.

But her parents took her to the airport and the family made peace before Ms Ng flew to Los Angeles to meet Mr Elazar.

There, she did freelance graphic design work and answered phones for the moving company where Mr Elazar worked as a mover.

They worked for half a year, saving up until they had enough for their next adventure - this time, a two-month stint in Thailand, before Ms Ng returned to Singapore.

By now, they had been a couple for two years and she decided it was time that her parents knew about the gentle and kind soul who took care of her as they travelled the world together.

She broke the news to them about her next trip - to live with Mr Elazar in India and to explore the northern states they did not visit previously.

"My parents thought I was crazy. They cried at the airport when I left. It was emotional for me too. I felt bad for putting them through so much worry," she says.

While in India, the couple lived off their savings and, after two years, they decided to leave.

Ms Ng finally brought Mr Elazar to Singapore to meet her parents. He stayed with her family and got along well with her parents and younger brother.

"By that time, we had been together for almost four years and my parents were just happy to have me home," she says.

She eventually got a degree in communication design at the Singapore Institute of Management, while Mr Elazar did a degree in computer science in Israel.

After years of jetting around the world, they finally settled in Israel in 2008 as there were many job opportunities there for software developer Mr Elazar.

The couple, who got married in 2012 and have a 17-month-old son, plan to move to Singapore once their Housing Board flat is ready in about four years, so that their son can grow up and study here.

Looking back on their round-the-world romance and long-distance relationship, Ms Ng says it was financially and emotionally tough, but worthwhile.

She says: "Because our time together was limited, I treasured it more. Every time we met again, it was an affirmation of our love. Frankly, I didn't think Ron would be more than a holiday romance, but here we are, 16 years later."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 30, 2018, with the headline 'Finding love while on holiday'. Print Edition | Subscribe