Yeoh Siew Hoon goes on the road alone in search of local secrets.
I believe you extend yourself more when on your own, meeting different people rather than hanging out in a clique.
As I pen this month’s column, I am staring at a photograph of three penguins trundling along in the Antarctic. I love penguins. They look like proper little gentlemen dressed in their black-and-white tailcoats.
My girlfriend, Elizabeth, finally made it to the land of her dreams. It has been on her bucket list for the longest time and now she can tick that one off. She invited me, but three weeks away was unfortunately more time than I could spare.
Elizabeth is a 60-something who can afford both the time and money to go to places she has long dreamt about. As she describes herself, “We have the time, money and the itch to travel.”
And she doesn’t mind travelling alone. In fact, sometimes, that’s her preferred way of travel.
“I believe you extend yourself more when on your own, meeting different people rather than hanging out in a clique. I suspect you also observe more and reflect more, having both the time and space to do so. Such is the serenity of travelling solo.”
Another girlfriend of mine, this one in her mid-forties, took off to Bangkok over the Christmas holidays, also on her own. She wanted a quick getaway and couldn’t find anyone whose schedule matched hers, so she decided to go solo. She had a wonderful time, she told me, because this time, she only did the things she wanted to do and didn’t have to cater to anyone else’s whims.
Antarctica and Bangkok are as different as snow and fire (literally), but there’s definitely a growing trend of people travelling alone. More people staying single for longer, more people living alone – Euromonitor, a research firm, predicts that the world will see a whopping 48 million singletons by 2020, a jump of 20%. This means they will be the fastest-growing household group in most parts of the world.
I, too, found myself on my own in Bangkok in December. I was there for business for one day and decided to extend my stay by two extra days to rediscover the city that has had its fair share of challenges in the past couple of years.
Bangkok always delights. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there; I never get tired of it. What I love about this city is how some things don’t ever change – take those tangled electric cables that hang high above its crowded streets, for example. They look such a mess, but somehow they work and are in such striking contrast to the ultra-modern shopping malls and high-rise buildings that have completely changed the city’s skyline. I also love how the hidden gems of restaurants, cafés, bars and massage places are scattered along little sois (streets), all waiting to be discovered by the curious traveller.
This time, I was taken to The Local for dinner. It is a beautifully restored Thai house with an emphasis on all things local, from décor to artefacts and, more importantly, recipes. I thought I knew Thai food until had a couple of unique and delicious dishes at The Local, such as the miang kham that is delicately put together on lotus petals. Places like these are tapping into one of the most important global travel trends – eating local, buying local and experiencing local.
I also checked out a place called Opposite The Mess Hall. It’s not easy to find, but you can get off the BTS station at Thong Lor and ask for directions. A red beating heart sign hangs outside its door and crossing the threshold reveals a dark and grungy interior. The establishment enjoys a bit of a cult following, so I was told. It serves good tapas and decent bar food but most of all I like the secretive feel of it.
Here’s another travel trend to look out for. In Taipei, I was taken to a secret bar. The front is a café and a wall of paintings hides some doorbells. You ring and wait for the door to open – sadly, we couldn't get in that night because the bar was packed, but I did manage to sneak a peek – it looked no different from any other bar, but the main draw was no doubt a sense of exclusiveness and secrecy.
In Singapore, there’s a similar bar on Hong Kong Street. From the outside, it looks like any deserted office building. The door will only unlock with the secret knock, upon which you will set foot in an extremely crowded bar.
This is the changing face of travel. More solo travellers are venturing out and further on their own, thanks to a “smaller”, more connected world; more local and secret places are waiting to be sought out by the 1.1 billion people who travelled in 2014 (according to the World Tourism Organisation) in search of experiences beyond the ordinary.
Happy discovering in the Year of the Goat.
Showing 1 comment
I am planning solo travel to all the iconic Shangri-La hotels worldwide or on some travels with my husband.. the new hotels of Shangri-La looks most promising.. I just want to travel and absorb a new environment from a familiar habitat :)