Simon first travelled to Asia in 1996 as an impressionable 18 year old. This 6 month odyssey opened up his eyes to a region of the world that has captured his imagination ever since.
The reason for returning time and again is that South-East Asia offers so much diversity and the perfect combination of experiences.
Stunning natural scenery and fascinating ancient history have always inspired. As have unique wildlife encounters like being within arm’s reach of an orang-utan or a tarsier (the world’s smallest primate). Enjoying diving has also given Simon the chance to experience some of the most beautiful beaches and islands in the region where the marine life is world class.
Adventure activities in general are a passion and a couple of fond memories he has are trekking in the remote Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak and sea kayaking in the Philippines. In addition to all of this diversity, Simon feels there are two aspects of travel in South-East Asia that can make a trip so much more:
"All travellers should make time in their trips to appreciate the incredibly hospitable people that they meet and learn about their fascinating cultures. Just by passing by at the right time, it is not uncommon to be invited to participate in a feast of food, colours, sounds and smells at one of the many festivals in the region or a wedding party for example. Throw yourself in the deep end! You will not only be invited into the heart of the proceedings but also into the hearts of the people who share these special occasions with you. To my mind the second aspect that any visitor should try and immerse themselves in during their time in Asia, and a big passion of mine, is trying some of the finest cuisine in the world. So many dishes and often sadly so little time!"
Simon joined the Selective Asia team in 2011 and has spent 11 years working in the tailor-made travel sector specialising in Asian destinations. Previoulsy he worked in the media industry in London before making the hop into tailor-made travel. He enjoys his beachside lifestyle on the south coast with his wife and kids.
Countries of expertise: Borneo, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia & Philippines.
Other Asian destinations visited: India, Nepal, Laos, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia.
Eating local delicacies is my favourite past time. Learning about local cuisine, the ingredients, food markets and the way the locals like to socialise and eat gives me a fascinating insight into the places I visit. Throwing yourself into this is highly recommended. By heading to some of the more local eateries and street food stalls, you will be rewarded with taste sensations and stories that will stay with you for a life time.
A particularly memorable meal was sharing a bottle of rice wine with a group of Iban (an indigenous tribe in Borneo in the past famed for their headhunting). We were sat on a small riverside beach, taking in the sounds of the rainforest. Lengths of bamboo had been cut and stuffed with meat, fish and rice; all flavoured with ingredients foraged from the forest. These were then steamed to perfection over the fire.
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.
Too many to mention of all them. Highlights in Borneo would be the Kinabatangan River for wildlife and islands off the east coast for sensational marine life, Peninsular Malaysia for a fascinating mix of religions and cultures, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam for bustling floating markets and lazy bike rides and the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. I am always amazed by how ahead of their time these civilisations were.
60 second interview
Top Asia travel tip
"Locals start their days early, so “if you can’t beat them, join them”. An early start means that you will experience places at their magical best as they wake up and come alive and whilst they are cooler. By the time sundown arrives, you will have earned yourself a stiff drink and a sit down!"
Who is the person you'd most like to sit next to on a flight?
"Sat in between Sir David Attenborough and Sir Ranulph Fiennes would make for some truly fascinating anecdotes, insights and banter."
What is your favourite aspect of travel?
"Many of my greatest travel memories are the “little things” that happen every day. By taking pleasure in these random encounters, side shows and diversions beyond the obvious highlights, my travels have been an even greater pleasure."
Any useful advice?
"A small waterproof bag is an essential piece of kit, saving your valuables from a sudden downpour, splashes when journeying by boat or even leaking sun cream in your bag!"