On her 19th birthday, having only stepped on a flight once before (girl's holiday to a Greek Island), Gemma flew into South India on a six month volunteer programme teaching English. Nothing like throwing yourself in the deep end!
From that six month trip she was hooked with travel and, following a backpacking journey through South East Asia and Australasia post-university, it seemed a natural progression for Gemma to look towards a job in the travel industry. Getting paid to travel and spend her days talking about her experiences was a no-brainer!
Over the years Gemma has travelled extensively throughout Asia, Australasia and the Indian Subcontinent, and dabbled with forays into the Middle East and Africa. But Asia is really where her heart lies. ‘When I step off the plane, breathe in the distinctive aroma of clove cigarettes & Asian food, and hear the friendly banter of the tuk-tuk drivers, it immediately brings a smile to my face’.
Her industry career has taken her from round-the-world specialists to the luxury end of the market and she has been lucky to have stayed in some of the most luxurious properties in the Far East. A world away from the Koh San Road hostel days! 'During my travels I’ve been blown away by ultra-private pool villas, gourmet dining experiences and rooms with jaw-dropping views, but I still also appreciate those boutique gems where the staff are genuinely welcoming and you feel a true sense of place.'
Gemma joined the Selective Asia team following a chance conversation in Nick's local butchers! Rest assured no free meat changed hands but let’s just say that Nick now enjoys VIP, queue-jumping status!
Countries of expertise: Borneo, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam & Indonesia
Other Asian destinations visited:
Nepal, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tibet, China, Japan, West Papua, Maldives
Aside from travelling, eating has to be my second passion in life! When I'm in Asia I love wandering around food markets and eating in local eateries. You can't beat the food stalls that you find in the night markets. Some of the dishes may not be immediately recognisable, but choose a stall that's popular with the locals and you know you're onto a good thing. I've experienced the tastiest satay and the most flavoursome gado-gado at night markets..
As a foodie, picking just one memorable meal is pretty impossible! But after stepping off a flight from the UK, that first taste of Nasi Goreng/Fish Amok/Pad Thai is pretty unbeatable. On the flip side I can easily say that my WORST eating experience has to be snacking on tarantula in Cambodia (chewy legs, squidgy abdomen if you're interested!)
River trips in South-East Asia are a relaxed way of heading out to explore for a day or to link up one destination to another. Boat journeys often take in stunning scenery in remote locations and getting to know your fellow passengers and local villagers on the way can be great fun.
I recently spent six days on a Burma Boating cruise around the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar and was completely blown away by the whole experience: the peace and beauty of the region, the friendliness of the people we met and, thanks to the lack of technological distractions, a focus on the simple things in life.
60 second interview
What essential item is always on your packing list?
"I always travel with a large cotton scarf. Not only a lovely accessory it can be used to cover up at temples, keep me warm on those not-to-be-missed sunrise occasions and double up as a pillow on long journeys."
Who would you most like to sit beside on a plane?
"I would have to say Bill Bryson. His travel books entertained me and fuelled my interest in travel. I bet he has plenty of amusing travel tales to keep me occupied on a long haul flight, and besides which, he seems like a friendly guy."
What is your favourite aspect of travel?
"I love the spiritualism and unquestioned devotion of the local communities. Despite having very little, especially in comparison with our western lives, they still give thanks and make offerings for what they do have. It's a lesson to us all and I always return home with a determination to be more mindful and not to sweat the small stuff."
"Always learn some words in the language of the country you're visiting. Hello, please and thank you will get you a smile and shows a bit of respect."