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Just because you’re on the couch doesn’t mean you can’t travel

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Week 1: 10 baht. I take you anywhere
Week 1: 10 baht. I take you anywhere

It was late November 1993 and I’d flown in from Kathmandu the previous evening. I’d swapped low-lit, dusty streets for a neon capital where everyone owned a motorbike. I was already in love with Bangkok.

Week 2: “You’re a lucky man”
Week 2: “You’re a lucky man”

Fresh from the tuk tuk scam that I wrote about last Friday, I wandered up and down Khao San Road aimlessly. Just past the old Nat Guesthouse, an Indian guy stepped out of a laneway, made hard eye contact with me and said:

Diversion 1: Ko Taen, Thailand
Diversion 1: Ko Taen, Thailand

Ko Samui has been on the mass tourism dance card for decades. It was the first Thai island I ever visited. I lazed away on what was then low-key Lamai Beach. Back then, a beachfront shack with a shared bathroom at Amity Bungalows cost 60 baht. Really. This was, by the way, just after the dinosaurs left the face of the earth (so yeah, 1993).

Week 3: Always get out of the boat. Part
Week 3: Always get out of the boat. Part

So says Captain Willard at a pivotal moment in Apocalypse Now. He and a crew member had got off their boat to look for mangoes and were almost attacked by a tiger for their efforts.

Diversion 2: Kien Svay, Cambodia
Diversion 2: Kien Svay, Cambodia

I wake up in Phnom Penh at a bit of a loose end. I’ve been busy ticking off the main sights for days and today I want something different. Still work, but more play ... what could be better than Kien Svay? Hey that rhymes!

Week 4: Always get out of the boat. Part II
Week 4: Always get out of the boat. Part II

With a couple of exceptions, the further east in Indonesia you go, the better it gets. One of the places out east that is closest to my heart is a blip of an island off the west coast of Alor called Kepa.

Diversion 3: Pu Luong, Vietnam
Diversion 3: Pu Luong, Vietnam

I’m in Mai Chau, a few hours west of Hanoi when I post a photo of lush rice fields in the valley on my Instagram account. The rain has eased, but the mist is still entangled with the peaks ringing the valley. It is lovely.

Week 5: Your arm, I need it!
Week 5: Your arm, I need it!

The “traveller fixer”. Many second–tier traveller towns in Cambodia used to have them. Mr Leng in Banlung and Mr T in Stung Treng were near legends on the traveller trail back in the day. Guys who could arrange anything—for a fee.

Diversion 4: Munduk, Indonesia
Diversion 4: Munduk, Indonesia

When you live in Indonesia’s most heaviest touristed destination, where is a decent diversion? If I’m happy to jump on a plane, Flores or Sumbawa are no brainers, but if I just want a weekend getaway bereft of crowds, where do I go? I go to Munduk (map link). And this is how I do it.

Week 6: A close call on the road to Phongsali
Week 6: A close call on the road to Phongsali

Phongsali is Laos’ northernmost province. Wedged between China’s soft belly and Vietnam’s northwest peaks. It is also where I escaped a robbery/murder attempt some years ago.

Diversion 5: Sa Dec, Vietnam
Diversion 5: Sa Dec, Vietnam

When people want to dip their finger into the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho or Can Tho are the first two off the rank. I say go further. Try Sa Dec.

Week 7: On learning to dive
Week 7: On learning to dive

People say they remember where they were when they heard that Lady Di died, or the 9/11 attacks. Me? Yes, I have those, but I also remember when I first watched Jaws. I didn’t get in the ocean for about a year after that.

Diversion 6: Ko Sukorn, Thailand
Diversion 6: Ko Sukorn, Thailand

We’ve been lazing on Ko Libong for a few days when the kids ask, “Where’s next?” We’ve already been to see the dugongs, walked up and down the beach a bit and visited a nearby fishing village. They’re idle and looking for new distractions.

Week 8: Of eating brains and a Burmese boat trip
Week 8: Of eating brains and a Burmese boat trip

The official boat departure time from Monywa in Burma’s Sagaing Region was 4am (yes, ayem), so we got there at 3. A and I had spent the previous night exploring Monywa’s nightlife scene. As there was none (that we could find), 3am didn’t seem like a push.

Diversion 7: Forget time at Lupa Masa, Malaysia
Diversion 7: Forget time at Lupa Masa, Malaysia

When you’re on the ascent of Mount Kinabalu, it can seem like time stands still. That whole one step forward, two steps back thing. Your guide says there is just ten minutes to go, but you’re sure your watch says that was 18 minutes ago. Or 48 minutes ago. Time takes on a whole new meaning—and not in a good way.

Week 9: That day the bus would have been a better choice
Week 9: That day the bus would have been a better choice

Tim and I walk out of our guesthouse in Bac Kan, northern Vietnam. It is 7:30 am, early 1995, and we’ve spent the previous few weeks hitching Vietnam’s northwest. We’ve now turned to the far north and while parts of the northwest were challenging, the far north is moreso. We don’t really talk to each other much anymore.

Diversion 8: Sangkhlaburi
Diversion 8: Sangkhlaburi

If you’re killing time in Bangkok, Ko Samet to the east or Kanchanaburi to the west are the logical options. I say go west, break it with a night or two in Kanchanaburi, but then keep going—to Sangkhlaburi. Spitting distance from the Burmese border, it’s an ideal diversion from the Thai capital.

Week 10: The Boxing Day Tsunami and Covid19
Week 10: The Boxing Day Tsunami and Covid19

What am I doing writing about the Boxing Day Tsunami? In June? Good question. Having lived through one cataclysmic event you hope you won’t experience another, yet here we are. The events of December 26, 2004 have been on my mind for a while now—I don’t think they ever really left—and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I can see a parallel between it and Covid19.

Diversion 9: Lombok’s Eastern Gilis
Diversion 9: Lombok’s Eastern Gilis

Less diversion and more stopover, Labuan Pandan sits on the east coast of Lombok, a little north of the ferry to Sumbawa. A blink and you’ll miss it village, it boasts scenic black sand beaches and excellent offshore islanding. Perfect for small budget families.

Week 11: Never trust a French arms dealer
Week 11: Never trust a French arms dealer

Lembata resembles a flying dog in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands. The island is home to a “traditional” whaling village on the south coast and Ile Api volcano on the north. It also has glorious beaches and that laid back vibe that makes Indonesia so great to travel in.

Week 12: The fabulist
Week 12: The fabulist

You know the story. You’re sitting around in some traveller cafe and you get chatting to another traveller who has met so and so who was working for so and so as a travel writer. The tales are often not complimentary. This story is a little different.

Diversion 10: Hue’s old city
Diversion 10: Hue’s old city

Most first–time visitors to Hue set up camp south of the Perfume River, crossing it only for the occasional bout of sightseeing. I suggest doing the opposite, making the Old City your diversion—don’t be surprised if you don’t cross the river at all.

Diversion 11: Kompong Thom, Cambodia
Diversion 11: Kompong Thom, Cambodia

Last year I was in Phnom Penh and needed to be in Siem Reap in a few days, but I had some loose time up my sleeve. So where to break the trip? I like my ruins, but didn’t want loads of people, and so Kompong Thom was the ideal choice.

Week 14: Would you like my daughter? I’ll be back in a week.
Week 14: Would you like my daughter? I’ll be back in a week.

When keen travellers have their first child, travelling changes somewhat. I’m a firm believer that having kids on this roller coaster of life delivers higher highs and lower lows. The same goes for travel.

Week 15: The unluckiest traveller on earth
Week 15: The unluckiest traveller on earth

I first met Ariel* in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a low key beachfront town on Thailand’s south coast. Robbed recently, he had lost everything and was helping out in a grimy guesthouse for food and board.

Week 16: You don’t bat for the other side
Week 16: You don’t bat for the other side

Fred*, an Australian media celebrity, and his wife were in Thailand to Do Good. They’d raised a significant amount of money down under and were here to disperse it to the “poor people of Thailand”. A mutual acquaintance in Bangkok had hired me as their guide.

Diversion 12: You should have been here yesterday. Really?
Diversion 12: You should have been here yesterday. Really?

I like to surf. I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it. Actually, it is not so much the surfing as the sitting out the back, behind the break.

Week 17: I need a gun
Week 17: I need a gun

It is 2 am when Jones* shows up—he’s only two hours late. To Pete*, Matthew* and I, waiting at the less than salubrious nightclub at Bangkok’s Grace Hotel, those two hours feel like an eternity. Jones is drunk and short on apologies—both typical of him.

Diversion 13: West Sumbawa, Indonesia
Diversion 13: West Sumbawa, Indonesia

You’ve been baking on the beaches of Lombok’s Gili Islands for the last week or so and your next notch to mark off, is Komodo. There’s a problem though. Your guidebook says Sumbawa is kind of crap. So, you’re edging towards a backpacker boat to Flores instead.

Week 18: The artefact smuggler
Week 18: The artefact smuggler

At the time the road from Luang Nam Tha to Huay Xai in Laos was a scar in the earth. A long bauxite trail running southwest through towns and hamlets, you’d never read about. Vieng Phou Kha and Ban Donchai some how stick in my mind, but there were plenty of others.

Diversion 14: Two islands, two beaches
Diversion 14: Two islands, two beaches

Towards the end of last year, before the madness hit, I was in Cambodia for a spell on two Khmer islands. Personally, it was an extremely rough trip, but two beaches on two islands made the whole trip almost worthwhile.

Week 19: Death Island
Week 19: Death Island

The first time I went to Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand was in the early 1990s. It wasn’t a very successful visit. I didn’t dive at the time and was just looking for a quiet island. It turned out to be quieter than I planned.

Diversion 15: Do Don Khon
Diversion 15: Do Don Khon

Seems weird to have four thousand islands to choose from but pick from one of four. Ok, I am being unfair. Many of the other 3,996 are but low tide rocks with a tuft of grass. Still, it seems like a bunch of wasted real estate. So which of the four should you go for? I say Don Khon, the southern most of Laos’ inhabited 4,000 islands.

Week 20: Rinjani
Week 20: Rinjani

As with diving, I took to climbing volcanoes later in life. My first attempt, climbing Agung on Bali was a failure. Rinjani, on Lombok, almost killed me.

Diversion 16: Châu Đốc
Diversion 16: Châu Đốc

Sometimes a good diversion is a side–trip or a weekender, other times it is a way to break up a longer trip. Châu Đốc, just shy of the Vietnamese Cambodian border falls into the latter category.

Week 21: Travellers behaving badly
Week 21: Travellers behaving badly

We’ve all been there. A spectacular feat of traveller idiocy on Facebook or Twitter watched through half–closed fingers. Thinking no no no ... nooooooo what are you thinking?!

Week 22: Why do people travel?
Week 22: Why do people travel?

I met Kate * in Battambang, a city in Western Cambodia. She was, I guess, in her late forties, and had lived her life in Vancouver, Canada. We got talking at a breakfast cafe and shot the breeze about Battambang and what we liked and disliked. I asked her if she was travelling alone, and she said no she wasn’t alone—she was travelling with her daughter.

Week 23: A weird hotel
Week 23: A weird hotel

When you inspect hotels for a living, there are two grand truths. First, you’ll have the privilege to visit some amazing properties. Second, you’ll have the opportunity to see places that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

Week 25: Good people make a perfect place all the better
Week 25: Good people make a perfect place all the better

Every now and then in my travels I stumble upon a spot that is so perfect—for me—that I think I never want to leave. Then I meet the people behind it, people who manage to make the perfect even moreso, and I know I never want to leave.

Week 26: The way to a traveller’s heart is through their stomach
Week 26: The way to a traveller’s heart is through their stomach

It doesn’t matter if you’re travelling, or at home, everyone eats. If you’re at home, think about the meals you have had over the last few days. What does what you ate and drank say about you, your culture and the country you are living in?

Week 27: On colour
Week 27: On colour

Decades ago, I was in Thailand on one of my six month trips and two close Australian friends had joined me for a stretch. They’d never been to Southeast Asia and the whole joint kind of blew them away.

Week 28: Spiderman
Week 28: Spiderman

Malaysia’s Perhentian islands sit off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. They’ve long been popular for offering some of the cheapest diving in Southeast Asia. There are two islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian). The latter has a free–wheeling vibe, distinct from the conservative states onshore. And so it was I found myself there ramping up my dives under the guise of Travelfish research.

Week 29: The unending smallness of Java
Week 29: The unending smallness of Java

I’ve always been always baffled by the few international tourists Indonesia’s Java attracts. Of course there are few (if any), at the moment, thanks to Covid19, but even pre–plague there were few. While it is popular with Indonesians, foreigners are few and far between. Why?

Week 30: Six degrees of separation
Week 30: Six degrees of separation

Says Wikipedia: “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people on average are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other”.

Week 31: Single serving friends
Week 31: Single serving friends

I wrote a few days ago about a “single serving friend” and a reader got in touch asking what I meant. They wrote “I can’t decide if you’re being snarky or affectionate, can you tell me what you mean?”

Week 32: On learning to not dive
Week 32: On learning to not dive

I wrote ages ago about when I learned to dive on the Togean Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia. It had taken me years to work up the courage to learn, and that first breath underwater had me sold. Barely two years later, I stopped for good.

Week 33: The Mekong
Week 33: The Mekong

What is it about rivers? The first time I set eyes on the Mekong was in Nong Khai, a provincial capital in Northeast Thailand. It was 1994 and the first bridge over the Mekong had just opened. From my riverside garden at Mutmee Guesthouse, I could look upriver and see it in the distance.

Week 34: On walking
Week 34: On walking

The other day on paid–for Couchfish I wrote, talking about Ho Chi Minh City, that it was a “great walking city”. Many did not agree. Later, I tweeted “What is the most interesting/unexpected thing you found walking in a foreign city?”

A hole in the earth
A hole in the earth

A few years ago, I was on a night ferry from Bali to Lombok. Depending on the weather conditions, the trip takes around four and a half hours. For much of the first half, Bali fades from view. For most of the second half, Lombok approaches. In both segments, as with the landmasses, a phone signal first fades, then rises.

All about Indonesian food
All about Indonesian food

This week, something new—a podcast! I chat with Indonesian food guru Arie Parikesit about how Indonesia offers a continent’s worth of eating. Please click on the play symbol above to listen!

Navigating Nakhon Nowhere
Navigating Nakhon Nowhere

A spoiler up front. Don’t panic, Nakhon Nowhere, in name anyway, doesn’t exist. Rather it is a play on a common prefix in Thailand for towns and provinces. In this case I mean an off–beat, less–visited spot. It doesn’t matter where you are in Southeast Asia, Nakhon Nowheres lie everywhere in plain sight.

Tell me your secrets
Tell me your secrets

Lingchi. It’s a form of execution where a knife methodically removes portions of the body over time, usually leading to death.

Things that float
Things that float

A couple of years ago I was in Eastern Indonesia and I caught a ferry from Baranusa on Pantar to Lewoleba on Lembata. The trip is roughly 100 km and it took around ten hours or so. It was slow travel.

The Pirates
The Pirates

This week I have an interview with my friend Caroline Mills. She’s an ex–Travelfish writer and now runs a small resort an hour south of Hoi An in Vietnam.

You’re doing it wrong
You’re doing it wrong

For years, no decades, I’ve hated Surat Thani. If you’re not familiar with the city, it is a southern Thai provincial capital often used as a gateway to the Gulf islands. I had a particularly unpleasant time there one trip years ago, which only served to cement my loathing of the place. It turns out though, I was doing it wrong.

A good trip, with kids. Part 1
A good trip, with kids. Part 1

I’ve been so wound up following the sad events in Burma that I’ve forgotten what I was going to write about today. So, I’m going to write about something fun—I need something upbeat goddam it! So, I’m going to write about a trip I did with my kids a little over a year ago. Yes, pre–Covid19—remember then?! I’m going to break it out over a series, a new one every Tuesday—there is plenty to write!

The final stages of decay
The final stages of decay

A few times a week, I try to get down to the beach to write. I love the ocean, and the sound of the surf helps me drown out everything else in my head. Our closest beach, Batu Belig, in South Bali, is five minutes away on a scooter.

A good trip, with kids. Part 2
A good trip, with kids. Part 2

People travel for all sorts of different reasons. Some love the beaches, others the jungles, others still the cities. Grab three island lovers, and you’ll probably get three different islands. With this in mind, before I started writing this piece, I asked the kids what they loved the most about Ko Kradan.

A good trip with kids. Part 3
A good trip with kids. Part 3

Across our few days on Ko Kradan, we spent our fair share of time watching the sinking sun’s rays garnish Ko Muk’s peaks. The island is famous for being home to the Emerald Cave, but has also long been the backpacker island of choice in the area. Both my wallet and I are keen to get there and a morning longtail is in order.

Local talent
Local talent

Travel writing, at least in the travel guide niche is a bit akin to being something between a soldier and an archivist.

A good trip with kids. Part 4
A good trip with kids. Part 4

As I wrote last week, Ko Muk, in southwest Thailand, is best known for the “Emerald Cave”. If you turned your imagination towards a hidden pirate’s lair, you’d struggle to come up with a better image. Hidden away on the west coast of the island, approachable only by boat, the cave has hidden treasure written all over it. It is to the cave we’re heading today—but first we need a boat.

On backpackers
On backpackers

As you may be aware, over the last year and a bit, tourism—in just about all of its flavours—has collapsed. The heady days of overtourism put on hold (one hopes for good), chit chat has turned to what the scene will look like at the other end of the tunnel.

“Oh shit this is real—there is a coup”
“Oh shit this is real—there is a coup”

On the morning of February 1, 2021, Southeast Asia woke to the news that Burma was in the thralls of yet another coup.

A good trip with kids. Part 5
A good trip with kids. Part 5

As I wrote the other week, Ko Muk’s main village backs onto a working beach lined with a gaggle of beach bars. The beach is no great chop, but the bars are a comfortable spot to while away the late afternoon and catch the sunset’s shadow. In the distance to the south, lies the rising hills of Ko Libong.

Coffee with a war criminal
Coffee with a war criminal

I’ve written before on how when I was living in Phnom Penh I needed to return to Bangkok once a month for a work meeting. I’d overland it via a hodge podge of share taxis, passing through Battambang and Pailin. From Pailin I’d cross into Thailand near Chanthaburi. I did the trip every month for a year or so—until the paper in Bangkok finally let me go.

A good trip with kids. Part 6
A good trip with kids. Part 6

As I mentioned last week, most of the resorts on Ko Libong are clustered around one beach on the island. Each has its own restaurant, but a walk along the beach took me to a ramshackle beach cafe/bar—Rimlay Restaurant.

A good trip with kids. Part 7
A good trip with kids. Part 7

Don’t fret, the end is within sight on this multi–part Thai island sojourn—just a few to go! Today we leave Ko Libong for the longtail trip south to Ko Sukorn. As I’ve written about Sukorn previously, today I’m going to write about where we broke the journey at—Ko Lao Liang.

A tilting point
A tilting point

Last week a few guidebook writers tweeted, lamenting their already researched books, were not going to press. Why? Covid.

A good trip with kids. Part 8
A good trip with kids. Part 8

The end is in sight my island–hopping friends! As I wrote last week, our next stop after Ko Lao Liang was Ko Sukorn, but as I’ve written about Sukorn here, I’m jumping south. To Ko Bulon Lae.

A beautiful day
A beautiful day

Alright so we’re trying something different this Friday on Couchfish. I’ve got in touch with with Nicky Sullivan, who wrote for quite a few years for Travelfish. She’s now in northern France at the moment and she’s going to be talking about a heart warming moment.

A good trip with kids. Part 9
A good trip with kids. Part 9

As I mentioned last week, Ko Bulon Lae in far southwest Thailand has long been a popular budget spot. This is particularly the case with travelling families, and this visit is no exception to the rule.

A good trip with kids. Part 10
A good trip with kids. Part 10

While all of our island hopping so far has been short hops from island to island, our last is a long jaunt north, to Ko Ngai. It is a last minute addition as I’m not keen on hitting Ko Lipe, and it will give us a convenient out back to Trang for the train to Bangkok.

On Thai Island Times
On Thai Island Times

So today I have a special podcast—a near hour–long chat with David Luekens—the founder of the best email newsletter on Thailand’s coast and islands, Thai Island Times. We talk about Covid in Thailand, sustainable tourism, David’s newsletter, and, of course, his pick of the crop.

Did this really happen?
Did this really happen?

In early February 1992, when I left Australia on what became a two year overseas trip, my first stop was Hawaii. My companion and I spent a couple of days being silly on Oahu, then took a short flight over to Maui. We were both keen windsurfers at the time, and Maui was one of the top spots for the sport.

“I was in a plane crash last night.”
“I was in a plane crash last night.”

It took me about fifteen years of living in Southeast Asia to cross the equator on the ground. Sure I’d flown over it numerous occasions heading to and from Sydney, Australia, but on the ground? Never. It wasn’t until I was returning from an uber–relaxing stint on the Togean Islands that I managed it.

Things that go bump in the night
Things that go bump in the night

At the height of my bad fashion sense, I bought a fake lapis necklace off a street vendor on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. I write “bad fashion sense” but at the time everyone wore fisherman pants, fake Birkenstocks and Hmong–print vests. Right? Oh.

Write me at Poste Restante
Write me at Poste Restante

Technology is all about making life easier right? I must confess today has not been a day made easier by technology. Fact. It started at 2 am with an email (thank you dear sender!) and my day has been careening downhill ever since.

A chat on the beach
A chat on the beach

There’s a beach bar a five minute bike ride from where I live and I head there most afternoons to write—I’m there now actually. I like it because it is right by the crashing ocean, but also because, even pre Covid, it was almost always empty. Save the staff of course, but half the time they’re not there either—I leave the money under a book on the bar when I leave.

The light and the dark
The light and the dark

A few years ago I helped out a group who were in Bali looking for something “different”. I bring on board a high caste local friend who is better versed and connected than I’ll ever be, and we explore.

The Covid travel writing sausage factory
The Covid travel writing sausage factory

The other day, referring to Thailand’s Ban Krut, I wrote “On a travel writer’s watch, somewhere like Ban Krut earns about four hours.” It earned me an incredulous email from a reader asking how could one hope to gain the nuance of a place in four hours.

Slowly slowly
Slowly slowly

I’m standing with Richard in knee–high grass looking across the water towards Adonara. There’s a long stretch of sandy beach and a beautiful shade tree set just back from the high water mark. His block runs a long way back up a gentle rise from the sea and he’s explaining what he wants to build.

The Phuket Sandpit...
The Phuket Sandpit...

Let me preface this by saying, while I’ve always thought the Phuket Sandbox was a flawed and premature concept, I did want to see it succeed. Through fault not entirely of its own though, Phuket’s sandpit is doomed.

A love letter to Amed
A love letter to Amed

It is four in the morning. We left the wooden bungalow doors open overnight, forgoing the chilly air–con in favour of the sea breeze. Outside it is still pitch, but the fishermen are already up and about, pushing their jukung into the sea. The jukung’s keels rumble over the rocks, waking me.

Fuzzy math
Fuzzy math

One side effect of Covid19 is it has brought out the inner statistician in pundits–a–plenty—yours truly included. This can be a good thing—numbers matter. They can provide often missing context and help educate readers. It helps though, if the numbers are correct.

Our own private island
Our own private island

On the northwest corner of Indonesia’s Sumbawa, a peninsula juts into the Alas Strait like a stray chicken leg. Along the leg’s east side, a narrow road runs up to Pelabuhan Pota Tano. From here car ferries shuttle back and forward, night and day, to Lombok.

See you in 2023
See you in 2023

Doom–scrolling through the Friday morning news isn’t a great way to finish the month—and what a shocker it has been. I thought 2021 was going to be better than 2020, not worse! To be honest, I’m not getting my hopes up about 2022 either—I’m on the 2023 train, and here’s why.

A fun loop
A fun loop

The north of Thailand has plenty to offer on the touring front, be it by scooter, car, or even bus. Often the first trip people try, and with good reason, is the Mae Hong Son loop. Starting and ending in the northern centre of Chiang Mai, you can cover it in as little as two days, or as long as two months. Here’s how you do it.

“Passports” please
“Passports” please

So if my dire forecasts of last week come to pass, at least we have time to sort other things out. This week, I look at vaccine “passports”.

Eight meals
Eight meals

With all this staying at home and wondering when one will be able to jump on a plane again, I often find my mind straying. To the destinations yes, but moreso to the food. Here’s eight meals from eight countries I’d be making a beeline for.

Long stay good time
Long stay good time

The other day I gave a short talk to a travel organisation on lessons from Phuket’s Sandbox experiment. At one stage, I said short stay tourism will be the last segment to come back on stream. Today I’m going to expand on why this is an opportunity—not a cost, but it needs a change in governmental thinking.

A haunting tale
A haunting tale

Those who follow me on Twitter will know I now have a dog. A Bali dog, around four months old. Friends found her litter on a building site, they cleaned up the pups and housed them with friends. So it is that Skye Govinda came into our household.

Knick-knacks
Knick-knacks

First used way back when in 1682, the Oxford Dictionary of English defines knick-knack as “A small worthless object.” The dictionary is one hundred percent wrong on this. Knick-knacks are invaluable.

Everything was fine until it wasn’t
Everything was fine until it wasn’t

We were playing cards on a train from Tangier to Rabat in Morocco when the two local guys sat down. In no time they struck up a conversation with the five of us. Slipping between French and English, they joked and we all laughed.

I love you big time baby
I love you big time baby

When you’re travelling at the budget end of the stick, it isn’t unusual to hear what is going on in the next room. You’ve seen The Beach right?

Why don’t you speak my language?
Why don’t you speak my language?

Years ago, I was at the Jolly Frog Guesthouse in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi. The guesthouse was a backpacker haven. It had a lawn garden and rooms running around the edge with a few more down floating on the river. The lawn had hammocks strung and deckchairs scattered. The restaurant was cheapish and the beer cold. Many a stay was extended.

121 days
121 days

As it is about time to say goodbye to Thailand, I thought today I’d take a look at where we’ve been. Given this is a summary piece, I’m making this one free-to-read, as I have with any of the Couchfish posts I’ve linked to below. Enjoy!

Keeping up with the Joneses
Keeping up with the Joneses

Back when travel was still a thing, I had a sideline in travel consulting. People would pay me to help them plan out their holiday. They’d come to me with a date and a wish list and I’d help them fashion it into a trip that would hopefully be better than it would otherwise have been.

Hey TAT, tell me what you really think!
Hey TAT, tell me what you really think!

Dear reader, I’d like you to cast your mind back a few years—so 1993 to be exact. By chance, that year was the first time I visited Thailand, but that isn’t why I’m highlighting it. In that year the Environmental Conservation Section of the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) sent a memo to the government. The title was “An Outline of Problems and Remedies of Tourism Impact on the Environment”. It makes for a rather interesting read.

The wrong baby steps
The wrong baby steps

If you’ve ever seen a baby learning to walk, the phrase “baby steps” will need no explanation. The baby starts off crawling, then, with wobbling not in short supply, takes their first steps. Then, more often than not, falls flat on their face. They do get up though, and try again, and again. Eventually, they walk, then run, then dance. Well, some never quite manage the last bit. And so it is with travel in the age of Covid19.

Turning community into kindling
Turning community into kindling

So I found out yesterday that Lonely Planet has nuked their Thorn Tree forum. Wiped it off the face of the internet. Once easily the largest and most popular message board for independent travellers, it is a sad day. They locked the forum in April 2020 in the early days of Covid19, but most assumed it would re-open—alongside travel.

A Cambodian interlude
A Cambodian interlude

I’ve written before about how a silver lining to Covid19 is for destinations to rethink how they “do” tourism. When you think back to 2019’s travel headlines, there isn’t much better a candidate than Cambodia

Asking the right questions
Asking the right questions

The other day I came across a Travel & Leisure story titled “Top 10 Southeast Asia Resort Hotels”. If you’d like to read it, click here, then close both pop-ups, the autoplay video and the full-screen interstitial, and you should be set.

You can’t treat gangrene with a bandaid
You can’t treat gangrene with a bandaid

In September Google announced they wanted to build a sustainable future for travel. Don’t we all? Well, many of us anyway.

High-value blah blah blah
High-value blah blah blah

Is there a better time to introduce a tourism tax than as you’re staggering out of a once-in-a-lifetime Covid-induced hiatus? Those at the Tourism Authority of Thailand brains-trust think the answer is no.

A leaky robot
A leaky robot

A while ago I was in Phnom Penh and revisited Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge-period torture centre. I’ve visited a half a dozen times over the years, and if you’ve been there, chances are it is not something you’ll forget.

A Thai jigsaw
A Thai jigsaw

So with all this talk of Thailand sort of reopening come November, if you could go for a month, where would you go? I asked myself this question this morning, thinking it would be an easy post to write—turns out it wasn’t.

Take the train not the plane
Take the train not the plane

Planning fingers are itching. Countries are starting to sort of reopen, each in their own, very individual manner. Google Maps is getting opened, wish lists peeled open. Before you go any further, I have some advice: Take the train—not the plane. Here’s why.

Suntory time
Suntory time

When I was in my twenties I kicked around Spain for a bit, but I never made it to Barcelona. I know little of the city, other than pre-Covid19 it was often trotted out as one of the over-tourism all-stars.