Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Some of the points in this story really don't strike me as good advice for travellers looking to visit Burma in a responsible fashion.

Taking tours

Group tours (both local and inbound) are required to pay a per pax fee to the government. So one of the easiest ways to avoid feeding money to the government is to not take a tour full stop.

While I agree that if you are going to take a tour, in theory you are better off to use a local operator, but it is a mistake to assume that local operator doesn't equate to a crony-run business. One of the trekking agents listed in this story is avoided by some because of his perceived links to the junta back in the day.

Also many of the listed tour operators in this story (A&K, Asian Trails, Diethelm and Exotissimo for eg) are most definitely not local operators -- and will all invariably be more expensive than a true local operator, with a portion of your fees most likely being shipped offshore.

To say you need to "take a couple of flights" to cover much ground in Burma in 28 days is completely ridiculous. Many are covering Yangon, Bagan, Inle & Mandalay in half that time and all four are well connected with comfortable, air-con buses and decent roads. Ok Ngapali is an exception and the majority who do go there, fly there - but many are blowing it off because the accommodation is a complete ripoff.

Lastly, you do not need to use a travel agent to organise a car and driver. Any hotel can assist with that and it will probably cost less -- or just get the bus.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Excellent pics. I have a near identical one of that mountain pass - we must have stood in almost the exact same location & it hasn't changed in 20 years!

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Thanks Jodi for posting it here & Kash too for his kind comment. Cheers!

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Well, once you're taking $300 a day from a trip organiser, you're writing PR - not travel. Groundwater notes 70% of his own trips are comped to some degree - what I thought more interesting was that two columns in newsprint was enough to cover costs of living in Oz.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Whatever you do, don't call yourself an expat ;-) Agree the bohemian/beat thing is preposterous. Get a grip.

It's indicative of the bubble that some of these "digital nomads" float around in that the story doesn't contain a single quote from a Thai. Nimmanhaemin has long been a centre for the alternative in Chiang Mai -- primarily by Thais though, with a strong created and design set based out of there, both in studios and outlets. It got going in the mid- to late-90s. It's foreign roots, attracted to some degree by the existing Thai scene, were actually seeded by the Thai/Western NGO community particularly the Burma-focused lot-- rather than MacBook wielding white guys (thought it was odd that the writer called out men as being the lonely ones) mentioned above. 

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

strong creative - not created. sorry.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Love it. Great piece.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I like how this highlights not just the importance of writing about discomfort (which, in its many forms is such a common theme of travelling) but also how many readers do have an almost perverse interest in reading about the discomfort and wriggling of others.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Ahhh I screwed this up - comment is related to this story: I tried to delete the discussion but the delete button doesn't seem to work ;-)

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I found this an intensely annoying article, not because I didn't agree with the core of what she was saying, but because she introduced race into it.

Race is irrelevant.

There are well intentioned people from all races involved in short term volunteering, particularly with kids in orphanages, who, well just shouldn't be anywhere near them. 

Sadly volunteering is often as much (if not more) about feeding the volunteers ego as it is "helping" the community and Cambodia (for eg) is awash with ill-considered or simply fraudulent organisations that prey on foreigner's need "to do something".

I applaud the author for giving this issue a little more limelight, but in making it about white people, she's yet again, made it more about her than about the actual problem - you;d have thought she'd have learned by now ;-)

A good starting point regarding short volunteering that involves contact with kids is here: 

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Yeah a great piece. I enjoyed how he notes this type of reaction is akin to when you're in a restaurant but don't like the food. People and countries are not there to serve you. 


I see this a lot in amateur writing about Bali - yes the place has flaws -- like anywhere, but it's also an undoubtably magical place. You just have to make the effort to find the magic. 

You have to earn it.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I liked this piece a lot. It's like the dish in a way. Simply yet beautifully presented -- and delicious.

I was in Maxwell Food Court a week or so ago and mentioned I was there on social media. A few people mentioned immediately that I just had to try this same stall -- not being familiar with Tian Tian's earned fame via the TV show, I ignored the advice and had some prata. Have to swing by again next week ;-)

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Tourists adding "I woz here" graffiti to the cell walls in Tuol Sleng remains an ongoing problem for the people who look after it. 

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Ahhh I guess I should have put this in Indonesia not PNG, but, well it was West Papua/New Guinea then anyways ;-)

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

How long for Ha Long?

There's been some effort towards regulating Ha Long Bay in the past, but more focussed towards avoiding the worst of the ripoffs (for which the area remains notorious) with the occasional hat tip towards improving pax safety (lets paint the boats white) rather than improving the conditions within the park itself. A couple of years ago when authorities stopped capts from visiting a fishing village known for ripoffs there was a massive outcry from residents who live in the park and who saw their lifestyles immediately affected by the ban. I'm not sure what happened in the end on that one.

If authorities were to impose say minimum safety standards (esp re overloading) many of the uber budget operators operating out of Hanoi would be forced out of the game, but then many travellers would be complaining that Ha Long is only for the more affluent travellers.

One easy change to make would be to ban all tours that commence in Hanoi. Meaning to visit Ha Long you'd need to first make your way to Bai Chay/Ha Long City independently and arrange the tour from there. This would cut out the people doing Vietnam at high speed as they wouldn't have the time for the diversion, would help the local economies (rather than bottom-feeding travel agents in Hanoi) and (at least theoretically) give travellers a better standard of trip for the same money.

Chance of this happening? Zero.

I think more likely, the current situation will continue to stumble on until there's another boatload or two of deaths with the respondent international press outcry and then perhaps they'll open up a few more anchorages -- Ha Long is a vast place and there is little reason that I'm aware of, why boats couldn't be dispersed further -- other than the cost of gas of course.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Having just finished a trip that was pretty much the polar opposite of this school of though, this post really really really resonated ;-)

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Good list. I like this in the comments in a reply to a question asking why they all cover "the same stuff":

"Because most 'travel journalists' would prefer an exotic junket or a paid trip to explore somewhere they wouldn't go if they had to pay for it... The location then provides the story and the sexiness of the article; traipsing around for example a small city in Poland to find and research its highlights is hard work and not glamorous enough to fit in many journalists view of themselves or travel writing."

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

There's been a rash of these kind of pieces of late -- some lamenting the sorry state of travel blogging, others, like this one, the more traditional trade -- must be something in the water.

In this case the publication is both advertising supported and subscription based. The price of the latter appears to have been halved between the 1st and 3rd issue (unless the 1st ed commands a special price I guess - it's not clear). When I went to buy a copy, the $12 cover price transformed into GBP19.13 which is kinda steep rise to whack in shipping to Indonesia.

The advertising, well the example is given of Puma where real residents were photographed wearing Puma shoes -- it would be interesting to see how that was portrayed in the magazine. Was it clearly marked as an advert? When editors start talking about advertising saying it should "enhance, not disrupt, the reading experience" alarm bells of disclosure/sponsored content etc start ringing. 

I couldn't find anything on their site explaining editorial policies regarding comps and freebies (something that is very important to me personally) so between a hefty price tag, talk of working with advertisers to integrate their stuff seamlessly and no clearly announced editorial/ethical standpoints, while the talk may be good, I'm not sure about the walk. 

They face the same challenges everyone does in this field - and while the writing may be fabulous (impossible to tell from the website) - I'm not sure that their route is a sustainable one.

Still I enjoyed the piece in general - would be great to see more solutions suggested rather than just tearing down others.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Currently imaging Andy wandering around looking for travel blogging's big flat round fish... ;-)

Agree that the challenges faced by mainstream & blogs are similar. Though I feel on the blogging side, where a good number of the authors are complete amateurs (as was everyone once), the expectation that they deserve to earn a living from their missives off the bat is, well, quite odd/bizarre. The more professional group though, as you say, face the same challenges.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Matthew, but Chiang Mai has so many great backpacker bars...Bars sure but it is pretty rare to see westerners working in guesthouses unless they've got a stake in the business -- the only exception I can think of offhand are the backpackers who hand out flyers for hostels in Singapore at the bus stations etc -- they generally get free beds for that.
They're not really working for free -- as the author points out, its generally a room and board deal. In some countries - Thailand in particular it is illegal.But I do agree with the author's sentiment -- the backpackers are undercutting locals and the business owner is scabbing out by not paying minimum wage etc etc. it's pretty easy to avoid businesses doing this kind of thing.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I really enjoyed this piece, but what really made me jump with joy was the quote by Sean Keener of BNA who noted that a survey they conducted indicated that 90% of respondents don't trust sponsored content -- and so they shouldn't. Likewise Pam Mandel's point that on the desirability of transparency as an overall approach. 

But I do think, also, that stories like this illustrate how insidious the tentacles of over planning have become. A growing number of readers are no longer satisfied with being pointed in the right direction, but rather want to be led, hand in hand to the right, correctly appointed room just for them. And, given there is plenty of dosh to be made by leading them in the wrong direction, that is a great shame.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Yes, excellent film. Really struck home for me as I'm just back from a couple of islands with twenty years between visits -- it's fair to say I've aged better than the islands, which truly is not a good result for them.

In particular enjoyed the words by Pico Iyer and also Rolf Potts, though have to say I sadly do not share Iyer's optimism for the impact of future generations. At least in Southeast Asia the growth out of China in particular will only accelerate the "concreting over paradise" phenomenon -- it will decimate the traditional tourism here.

Around the 1:11 mark a guide at the community project talks about how you can only eat the monkey once, and that really leapt out at me. His words highlight how, while you can work to educate/inform travellers/tourists all you want, at the end of the day it the people on the ground (be they locals or imports) who decide to eat the monkey. That's where the work really needs to focus, and, as illustrated in the film, can reap dividends. Empower local communities to determine their own future and that of their future generations. 

Small steps.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Before anything else, great stuff. I'd wish I'd seen it in my 20s when I was busy doing all the stuff I shouldn't have.

A bit cheeky, but two questions:

1) With the benefit of hindsight, how could have Haad Rin on Ko Pha Ngan developed? I can't think of a single beach in Southeast Asia that has managed itself/been well managed well once it became more popular. Beaches are often particularly fragile areas, so there's certainly scope for improvement in approach, but I just can't see how a community focussed approach could have worked there. Be interested to hear your thoughts.

2) When will the film be available for the greater public online? Having just watched it I'm psyched to write about it on, but where/when/how will people be able to see it?


Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Yeah, ummm, ahhh no. More or less what Matthew said.

Yes travel can be transformative. No it isn't for everyone. Some people should just stay at home. In some cases because that is what they want to do, but in other cases because they're just better off staying at home -- both for them and foreign cultures. Travel often works just as well to reinforce prejudices as to break them down.

You want to travel, go get a job, save up and do it. Earn it.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I like this piece a lot. I've a friend in Singapore and the first time we met up there, he met me in the lobby and he just asked "walk?" I said sure but it wasn't till about 45 minutes later I realised we were not actually walking somewhere, but rather just walking. And talking. A lot. Over an entire range of topics. It was really liberating and memorable experience. I've tried it here, with long beach walks, but found the shifting scenes in Singapore more conducive to a ranging conversation over wide range of topics. Plus there was no sand there ;-)

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

I read this when it first came out and it struck me as a very odd profile. Kind of interesting, but naive and strange as well. Friends still with Lonely Planet saw it similarly. Obviously playing cards close to the chest for now.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Yeah bit of a missed opportunity for a non-fluff approach to a concerning topic. I'm not convinced of the "Don't go" mantra though -- well for Angkor Wat anyway (the only one on the list I've been to). As mentioned in the Gringo Trails stuff, it often comes down to better visitor management -- Angkor Historical Park is a massive, massive site and there is plenty of things they could be doing to modify visitor patterns, but little is happening.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Really enjoyed this piece which is an unusual take on the differences between two great cities and the people that live in them. Worth a read both for the author's writing but also the particularly innovative graphics used to display the differences between the north and south of the country. The communication one is especially good.

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

As a travel information provider, be it journalist, blogger, dude at the laundromat, at what point do you advise people not to go?

Is it when crime escalates off the scale? (say certain small parts of Mexico)

Is it when there is a coup? (Thailand, Egypt)

Is it when their travel insurance is no longer valid? (Egypt, Syria)

Is it when the place just ain't worth seeing anymore? (anywhere in Gringotrails ;-) )

Is it when you're liable to be being sued?

Which then leads to, is there anywhere people really shouldn't go? And if not why are you telling them not to go there?

Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald @travelfish

Thanks Sonja, from a travellers' perspective, yes I agree, though I was thinking more from a writer's perspective -- when -- and why (if ever) -- should a writer tell their readers not to go somewhere?