Do you remember the moment when you realised you wanted to travel?
Yes. Many years ago I used to visit friends in Brighton, UK. We always used to spend our time in the Marina or on the Pier, but rather than enjoy the candy floss or play on the fruit machines, I was only interested in standing right at the end of the pier and staring out into the distance over the sea! I think I was subconsciously wondering what kind of life was out there, and even then I realised that there was so much more to life than just going on holidays to your local seaside! When I started earning some money, I began my adventures!
What is your favourite country and why?
Singapore. Singapore was the first Asian country in which I ever landed, back in 2011. From the very first moment I left the airport, I loved everything I saw about the country. Some people think it’s boring, and should be used only as a stopover before heading on somewhere else, but I think people like that miss the point. Travel is what you want it to be, and nowadays whenever I return to Singapore I make a real effort to “live like a local”, and this means eating (which is the national pastime!) and enjoying the amazing green scenery with a morning jog, for which the city-state is known!
Are there any experiences from your travels that you treasure more than others?
I don’t think there is one single experience, but every time I return to Singapore I feel as though I am coming back to my second home – only this home is tropical and humid, not wet and miserable like London! In terms of pure one-off experiences, visiting Sigiriya in Sri Lanka was awesome; Cappadocia in Turkey was brilliant; the temples of Bagan in Myanmar were mesmerising; the Roman ruins in Italy were fascinating; and the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan, ranks up there, too. You know sometimes you just “get” something? Well, I “got” Fushimi Inari, and spent a lot of time there pondering life while traipsing through the torii gates. Chichen Itza in Mexico and Iguassu Falls in Brazil were suitably epic, complete with macaws flying above me in the jungle, and what more can be said of the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru? Wow!
You say you’re a bit of a foodie, so is there any particular cuisine you prefer?
I love Indonesian and Malaysian food! Rojak, satay, and rice dishes such as Nasi Lemak and Nasi Goreng are all delicious. The Indonesian delicacy pisang goreng (deep-fried banana fritters) is probably now my favourite snack food in the world! I also found Korean and Taiwanese cuisines very interesting, and it was nice to search the night markets for snacks! Everybody seems to rave about Thai food, but I am not a big fan. I may be a simpleton, but I find it hard to understand what I am eating in Thailand, as most of the dish names are too hard to pronounce/memorise. Some Indian street food is pretty cool, and there’s nowhere better than Mumbai than to sample the delectable vada pav!
Do you ever worry about travelling solo?
As in all walks of life, common sense needs to come into play when you are travelling. Don’t walk around the streets at night (especially not solo female travellers); don’t flash your camera or iPhone around in “poor” places such as India, Bangladesh, and some parts of Thailand; in countries where taxi drivers may not understand any English, such as China and Vietnam, have your hostel write down your destination on paper so the driver can read it; and take a phone with you at all times, even if it’s just a cheap one!
What country would you recommend for a first-time backpacker?
Without even needing to think hard about this answer, I can say three countries: India, Indonesia, and Japan! If you are prepare for the culture shock, then India will charm you – eventually. There is so much to explore there that you would be hard-pressed to do everything! Indonesia is an amazing country, with so many natural wonders, and the country can be backpacked a budget everywhere (apart from Bali, where it’s noticeably more expensive). Japan is also a fascinating country, where you can explore it from Kanto all the way down to Chugoku on the Shinkansen. Unlike India and Indonesia, Japan is clean and usually safe, with a perfect tourist infrastructure. However, it will also cost you more on accommodation and transport, so if you really are on a shoestring budget, then perhaps Japan may be a little too much.
Have you ever hated a place or country that you have visited?
I have never hated any country or city that I have visited, but I have bad memories of a few tourist attractions, such as Pura Besakih in Bali where I was aggressively hounded by touts and bullied into giving them extra money (no point in reporting them to the authorities: they ARE the authority), and the National Monument in Dhaka where I was threatened by a few locals with a “pet” King Cobra they were carrying. Some countries are more interesting than others, but even so, if you know where to look you can avoid the larger cities and head into more rural areas in search of an authentic cultural experience. This is true of Sri Lanka, for example, where Colombo is arguably the least impressive part of the country, yet the further inland you travel, you can find ancient gems like Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, plus amazing nature in the shape of Nuwara Eliya! My basic tip: just get out of the city!
What’s next on your travel itinerary?
I have just actually finished travelling around South America (and San Francisco), and it was amazing to finally experience Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. Stay tuned for those blog posts! Next up for me in 2016 is to explore more of the Mediterranean region (specifically Morocco and Greece) and I also have my ever trip to Jordan booked for April! I am also tentatively planning a trip to Central America later in the year, so I can tackle the Mayan ruins of Honduras and Belize, before returning to India and Sri Lanka – and of course I will always be in Singapore every now and then! Countries that I most want to visit but haven’t been to yet? Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Mongolia, and Chile, but seeing as I’ve just come back from South America, Chile may have to wait a while!
Thanks for reading The Interview! Happy Travels and be safe wherever you’re going!