Hotel Essencia, Mexico

Travel highlights of 2011.

I’m only just doing my travel highlights of 2011, because my travels from 2011 stretched into 2012 and I’ve just got home. It was another great year of travelling adventures – although there is always never enough travelling. Highlights included visiting the colourful (and tourist free) mountain markets of north-west Vietnam, getting hopelessly lost in the backroads of central Bali, seeing the delight in my daughter’s eyes as we walked into Main Street Disneyland and swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. So, in no particular order, here are my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2011:

Ma Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang, Vietnam
The north-west province of Ha Giang is as north-west as you can get in Vietnam. Only a dumpling toss away from China this is Vietnam’s wild frontier with secluded mountain villages and one of the most spectacular mountain-pass drives in the world. The gorge road between the delightful towns of Dong Van to Meo Vac snakes its way precariously on the edge of towering cliffs of bright green. It was good that the scenery was so stunning because you didn’t notice the sheer drop next to the narrow road without safety barriers. Read more

Brian Thacker in jail

I’m going to prison.

Well, that’s what it looks like from my new passport photo (although the tribal tattoo on my forehead came out nicely). What am I talking about – it’s looks as if I’m getting a police mug shot for every passport that I’ve ever had. And it’s the same for most people (although my girlfriend Beth manages to look cute and not on her way to prison in her passport photo). I just got a new passport because I ran out of space in my old one even though I had another six years left on it (which I really can’t complain about because it just means I’ve done quite a bit of travel – and to countries that love huge stamps that take up an entire page). Here are my other passport photos over the years and a few other ones that make me look like David Beckham… Read more

Tell them to get lost launch

Book launch and Key Party.

Okay, I may have looked a little like a pimp, but that’s how the cool dudes dressed in 1974. And that’s how I dressed for the  book launch of Tell Them to Get Lost on Thursday night. I did get a few stares walking to Readings Bookshop in St Kilda, because St Kilda is also hooker central and I looked like a pimp (or a cliched 1970s pimp at least). The launch was fab and a good crowd of cool dudes and groovy chicks turned up to watch my very 1970s slide show followed by a key party. The only things missing were devilled sausages, Harvey Wallbangers and a few tabs of LSD. Here’s some photos from the night (I left out a few because I didn’t think think the orgy photos were appropriate for my younger audience)… Read more

1970s food

Party food for the book launch.

It’s the book launch of Tell Them to Get Lost tomorrow night, so I thought I’d give you a taste of the food we might eat if we were in 1974. Although you probably wouldn’t want to eat it, because those hip cats in 1974 ate some weird shit. I found some recipe cards from 1974 and looking at the things on offer was enough to turn me off my dinner. Even some of the names would make you reach for a bucket. I mean who would eat something called ‘Fluffy Mackerel Pudding’ or ‘Chilled Celery Log’. Here are some of my favourite recipe cards…

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1970s air hostess

Air travel (and mini skirts).

It’s only one month until the launch of Tell Them to Get Lost, so I’ve decided to take a quick flight back to the 70s. When the Wheelers flew to South East Asia to research South east Asia on a Shoestring in 1974 they flew TAA and wore bell-bottom jeans and floral shirts. The non-hippies in the 1970s, however, would often dress up in their Sunday best for a flight – men wore suits with ties and women would don their best dresses (even kids wore suits!). Air travel was still a novelty back then and in 1974, only 207 million well-dressed folks took to the skies. That might sound like a lot, but compare that to today when more than 2.5 billion passengers jump on a plane each year. Back then, there was no point in shopping around for the best deal, either, because governments regulated airfares and all the prices were the same. If a return ticket between Sydney and Singapore was $327 on one airline, it was $327 on all the airlines. Read more

Birthday in Zermatt

Happy birthday to me.

I’m spending my birthday today in wintry Melbourne going ice-skating with my daughter Jasmine followed by dinner at a Teppanyaki restaurant (Jasmine just loves it when the chef throws food at her). I actually figured out yesterday that I’ve only had six birthdays in Melbourne in the past 20 years with ten of them being overseas (I also figured that because I wasn’t in the country then I didn’t technically have a birthday as such so I’m actually ten years younger!). I have had some great birthdays overseas, though. And just because it’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want I thought I’d share a few stories and pics from my OS birthdays with you. Read more

Cat Ba, Vietnam

The Laundry Boat Express.

After I finished my tour of duty in Vietnam with SNV I had a few days off before heading home. I went to a cooking class, had a massage (and no, not one with a happy ending!) and went on a 3-day cruise of Halong Bay. The cooking class (with Hidden Hanoi) was fantastic. There were only three of us in the class and we cooked up Vietnamese spring rolls, BBQ’d pork balls, fish sauce soup with green papaya and fresh bun noodle. We spent almost three hours cutting, dicing, slicing and cooking then I ate my body weight in food. It was the best spring rolls I’ve ever had – even if I do say so myself.

I booked my ‘cruise’ online and I really didn’t have much idea what the cruise or Halong Bay would be like. Busy, is what it is. My ‘transfer’ bus was packed, the monolithic souvenir store selling monolithic marble statues we stopped at halfway there was packed with tour buses and Halong Bay harbour was packed solid with tourists waiting to get on their boats. And there were plenty of them. They were all queueing up to load passengers and crates of beer. Read more

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Off the beaten track in Vietnam.

I’ve just got home from another wonderful trip through the wilds of Northern Vietnam. Like my visit last November I was doing some volunteer work for SNV, a Dutch NGO based in Hanoi. From Hanoi we travelled by car up into the Northern Highlands through areas that don’t get too many tourists. Last time I helped design four logos, write a few taglines and whip up a couple of brochures and a website, and this time we were just as busy. We did logo design and straplines for the remaining four provinces, plus whipped up a lazy three brochures in two days back in an ad agency in Hanoi. On this jaunt up north we visited the province of Cao Bang – pronounced “Cow Bung’ (I suggested ‘Cowabunga, dude!’ for the strapline) then the towering mountains of Ha Giang on the Chinese border and the steeped rice terraces of Yen Bai. Read more

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Travel highlights of 2010.

It wasn’t a big travelling year for me compared to last year, but the few overseas and local trips that I took were full of great highlights. From staying at five-star resorts (with our own private butler) to skiing untracked powder (in Australia no less) to dining with locals in the mountains of Vietnam (oh, except the smoked pig’s intestines part) to snorkelling with a dole of turtles (that’s the correct collective noun I believe!). So, without further ado here is my Top Ten Travel Highlights from 2010 (in no particular order):

The Balé Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali
Fluffy slippers, private pool, cookie jars, breakfast in your own private garden and an on-call 24-hour butler. There’s nothing like a bit of indulgent opulence to make you feel indulgently opulent. I ‘won’ a bunch of nights at any one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (it was part of my prize for ASTW Travel Book of the Year) and we also stayed at the The Viceroy in Ubud (which was just as terrible). Read more

Sapa, Vietnam

Vietnam: The romance of parrots.

I just got back from a wonderful trip to northeast Vietnam where I was doing some volunteer work for an NGO. I didn’t help build a school (and if I did it would fall over in a week), but I was helping bring more tourists into the relatively untouched Northern Highlands. The NOGO is SNV, which is a non-profit organisation that was established in the Netherlands in 1965. They have been on the ground in developing countries for over 40 years, and now operate in 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Balkans. SNV has 900 advisors in the field who come from a variety of cultural and technical backgrounds. So what do they do? I’ll let them explain:

Our aim is to alleviate poverty by enabling those on the lowest incomes to be part of social and economic networks and so increase their income and employment opportunities. More than half of our work focuses on economic and private sector development. Alongside this, we contribute to improving people’s access to basic services like water and sanitation, energy and education. We achieve both by strengthening local organisations. Read more