As some will be aware (or not!) this site turns ten in a couple of days (July 12 to be exact). To celebrate I'm answering questions about Travelfish over on Outbounding. You can see the discussion about Travelfish here.
The questions so far are a little dry and related to running the site, so if you've any questions AT ALL, please feel free to ask away -- I'm especially qualified on the topic of best beer and softest sand in Southeast Asia
OK, so I didn't like the other forum so much...
Have you ever been to Pom Phisai and did you like it?
What is your opinion on backpackers seem to socialize almost exclusively only with each other? I have found this phenomenon strange (as I am sure you've noticed here) and it seems to be part of the reason they come to SEA - to socialize with each other. Do you think this is language driven, or is something else driving this tendency?
#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Do you mean the central chunk of Nong Khai? Beung Khan way (kinda opposite Paksan in Laos) yes I've biked through there many many moons ago and stayed at a now defunct guesthouse near Beung Khan. I liked the area a lot -- great riding, low traffic and good riverside scenery in spots.
Re backpackers socialising with other backpackers, I don't find it all that strange, certainly not unique to this part of the world -- I saw the same in Europe and India when I travelled through there. Sure language is the obvious challenge - If you grew up in Sydney or San Diego I'd guess if you did a language (if at all) it was a romance language -- not Thai.
That said I do see plenty of travellers socialising with locals -- each to their own -- I don't see it as being a big deal, and certainly not a new thing.
I actually meant the town itself. I drove through it but didn't stop (no time) but it seemed like a great twon with a nice vibe. I was riding that same stretch two months ago and two towns that struck me were Pom Phisai and Tha Uthen.
We had a guy here who was 25, English teacher (from England). Big strong guy, athletic, pleasant but he absolutely refused to socialize with any locals and he had zero interest in learning the language. When he travelled here, he went exclusively to places that catered to westerners (spent large amounts of time on Khao San Road) and in every picture I saw of him (he posted them) there wasn't one Thai person in any of them. He was interested in women, but only western women. All of the guys he hung out with were westerners as well. And he lived here. I found that rather bizarre - but perhaps he's an extreme example.
#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Your hang-up with this phenomenen is very, very strange.
I travel quite a bit and don't feel I'm missing a whole lot by going to a place and not speaking with the locals. Sure it's nice to have some interaction (if language permits) with the hotel staff, waiters etc but aside from that you can experience a region's architecture, food and drink, history etc without the need to speak to locals.
I actually think locals would find it strange if they were approached by foreigners looking to strike up a conversation, or more. If it happens naturally then fine, if not then I feel absolutely no need to force the issue.
#5 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
Culture is about people. No people, no culture.
"I actually think locals would find it strange if they were approached by foreigners looking to strike up a conversation,"
Not at all. They really want to do that. Most are too shy to try. But they want to.
The entire idea of coming to a foreign country to experience the culture and then avoid the indigenous persons is bizarre. Think about if for a minute. Just stand back and think about it.
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
People go on holiday for different reasons. I think it is odd to go to Cambodia and play chess. But you don't. And good for you, by the way. We've had this discussion many times before. People are free to spend their holiday how they want (the endless discussion about Vang Vieng comes to mind with you defending young travellers right to their own choices) and with whomever they want. People look for things they have in common with others, whether it is chess or dancing or paryting. Some folks like to meet new and exciting folks. Others don't. So be it.
I also think language plays a major role here, particularly if the activity requires it. Some activities, like chess and dancing and other stuff, have a common but not spoken language. But most interactions require a common spoken language if they are to go beyond simple hellos.
Anyway, we were recently in Yogyakarta and were lucky enough to chat with hundreds of school kids from all over the country. They were there either on holiday at the two major UNESCO World Heritage Sites there, or on school assignment to practice their spoken English with foreign visitors. It was really fun to chat with these kids, and to learn all about their lives in rural Java and Sumatra and other places. But the reason we could do it was because the kids spoke good English. My "Selamat Pagi" and "Terima Kasih" just weren't making it otherwise.
Culture is about people, but I can also still experience culture from a distance. I can watch a ballet or puppet show without speaking to the performers. I can hear the call to prayer in Yogyakarta (which I love, by the way) without entering the Mosque. I can view Candi Borobudur and read all about it in my own language without interacting with anyone else if I choose, and still experience that culture.
Having said all that, the only thing I would disagree with is that foreign tourists are avoiding locals. They may not be approaching the situation the same as you, but that doesn't mean they are avoiding locals either. Plus, remember, you live there and you aren't shy.
But we can agree to disagree on this one too Phi John and still get along swell. Cheers.
Congratulations on your 10th birthday Somtam!
But why are you celebrating it by answering questions on another site? Seems a very low key way of marking the event compared to your 5th birthday party.
"No people, no culture."
Totally, 100% incorrect. People are a part of culture but no more.
Attending a cooking class in Vietnam, a mosque in Indonesia, a tango show in Argentina or eating green beans and rice for breakfast in China - they are all forms of experiencing one's culture.
#9 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
Back to the OP, I guess my biggest question is how did a site like Travelfish set itself apart not only from other websites, but from printed guidebooks? Along those lines, it seems like in the last 10 years we've seen a large shift from printed travel guides to online applications. On this last trip to Gili Air, for example, even the most isolated restaurants on the far side of the island had free wi-fi, and I don't think I spotted a printed guidebook the entire trip? As far as I can tell, Travelfish was out in front of that printed guide to digital application transition.
In any case, as SBE says, congratulations and Happy Birthday! I figure I've got at least 10 more good years of southeast Asia travel left, so we'll look forward to seeing you at 20. Cheers.
So what is the best beer and where is the softest sand?
Based on my experiences I will go for Beer Lao and the Perhentians respectively.
#11 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
I sure enjoyed sharing those Bintangs with you the other day, although I wish we'd had more time to relax and enjoy the moment. Hopefully next trip. Yes? But I'd agree with china that Beer Lao is the best beer in Southeast Asia, particularly when you consider value for money. I think you'd easily get two Beers Lao for the price of one Bintang, even at Yogyakarta's bargain prices.
And yes, where is the softest sand? Regards.
Sorry for the late replies - I have a dead laptop so the Travelfish gears have ground to a halt while the tech savants perform rites.
@SBE Thanks -- we're doing the Q&A on Outbounding as they got in touch about me doing a different Q&A and I suggested that instead - was a spur of the moment thing. No other great plans for the day (other than the beach and perhaps a Bintang or three) but will be running a story on Monday talking about some interesting travels we've been lucky enough to do over the last decade.
@Exacto - great to FINALLY meet in person a coupla weeks ago and sorry I had to dash so quickly -- I trust the rest of your trip was good. Thanks for your kind words regarding the site -- we've still got lots planned, but for the rest of the year are really concentrating on getting our existing coverage on a more solid footing and easier to find -- parts of the site are a real mess at the moment and we're trying to pull it together. 20th it is!
@chinarocks Beerlao for sure, softest sand, I'm a big fan of Batu Mejan in west Bali, Gili Meno also has powder for sand, but Perhentians definitely in the top 5.
"Totally, 100% incorrect. People are a part of culture but no more.
Attending a cooking class in Vietnam, a mosque in Indonesia, a tango show in Argentina or eating green beans and rice for breakfast in China - they are all forms of experiencing one's culture."
Food has to be cooked by people. Tango is danced by people. The green beans and rice in China prepared by people. In my view this focusses on the periphery. We assign culture to people. Culture is created by people. Isn't this obvious? I'm going to go to Ireland and instead of going to an Irish Pub with Irish people in it I go to an American steakhouse full of non-Irish tourists and kiss the Blarney stone and then hop off to my next destination.
I just don't get it. It strikes me as utterly bizarre. Maybe because I'm an extrovert, or maybe because everywhere I've gone meeting and socializing with indigenous people was the way I approached life. Maybe I'm the outlier here. But I'll never understand it.
#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
BTW - best beer: I got to give a vote for Cambodia Beer. I really liked it.
Best Sand - not my area of expertise.
#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Somtam - a bit belated, but congrats to you, Sam and TF on your 10th birthday. It has come around quick... I remember winning a prize or two on your 5th, which doesn't seem that long ago. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. TF is my all-time favourite source of SEA info (and I continue to spread the word to people that I meet) - and when not travelling, the best way to kill time at work over a morning coffee. Fortunately, I haven't had to do the latter for awhile now...
Exacto - am looking forward to hearing about your time in Indo!