Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘southeast asia

Bangkok & Chiang Mai

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Last month I went to Thailand, for the second time this year.

I was in Bangkok for about a week in total, and several days in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and about an hour away, by plane, north of Bangkok.

Jungle and hills surround it and it doesn’t feel like a city at all, more like an overgrown village with a temporary leasehold over the jungle.

Quite a few of my friends told me about their love for Chiang Mai. It’s a very chill, laid-back place with lots of cafes and guesthouses. But for me it was too chill. I prefer the raw energy of Bangkok which feels alive and visceral — intense — like life has been crammed into every inch.

In Chiang Mai I happened to meet up with Brent Crane, a fellow freelancer, who was on a journey traveling overland from Cambodia, where he’d spent a year at the Phnom Penh Post, to Nepal. Brent’s a prolific freelancer (and a guest contributor to the site) and by the time I’d met him in Chiang Mai he’d already sold features to The New Republic and Men’s Journal, making more than enough to cover his travel expenses.

I was taking it easy; reading and writing more of my novel. In Chiang Mai I didn’t do much of the things you’re supposed to do (elephant riding, trekking, jungle zip-lining, etc). I didn’t really have the appetite to do them so I didn’t.

If you’re there though try Counting Sheeps (sic) hostel. It’s comfortable, centrally located, and very good. Say hi to Goieurh too, who taught me how to play checkers. And you really should check out the Sunday evening market in the old town.

In Bangkok, I made a new friend who I came across playing Pokemon Go. It was on the steps next to Paragon, a shopping mall in downtown.

I also spent a couple of nights in Sofitel Bangkok, a five-star hotel. Having written for travel publications such as Wanderlust, CNN Travel, and NineMSN, I got a deal.

The suite they gave me was grand and lovely. It was the biggest hotel room I have ever stayed in. I was chauffeured to and from the airport in a Mercedes, which had WiFi and hot towels. I had my own personal butler and access to the VIP lounge, where there was served wine, canapes, fruit, cakes, cheese, prawn cocktails, and other beverages. There was a cool swimming pool, and breakfast buffet with a rack of honeycomb. The bathroom had Hermes toiletries.

It was the best I’ve ever been treated — a truly luxurious and memorable experience at the Sofitel Bangkok. Did I mention dinner on their rooftop restaurant L’Appart? It was elegant French fare — delicious scallops — and I had great company.

Having twice stayed in five-star hotels this year, the experience is rather agreeable I have to say and checking online the expense for these hotels in Asia isn’t as extravagant as you may think so it’s worth spoiling yourself sometimes. The experience really does linger long in the memory.

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February 20th — in Thailand

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I’ve been to Thailand before. It’s a fun place.

It’s 5.17am and I’m in my hotel room, just off the road, in some seedy town on the island of Phuket.

I’ve been here a few days and I’m still jetlagged, operating English hours under the hot, Thai sun.

I’m here for a week, making the most of cheap flights and southeast Asian weather, before returning to the grim cold of Beijing.

Today I woke up, went to buy a ticket to go to Krabi (I need to catch the boat in a couple of hours), had some food and then went back to my hotel.

I then slept until early evening, whereupon I took myself to the beach and swam, bobbing up and down until the sun sank into the ocean. I jumped up at that moment, the moment it disappeared, as if I could jump higher than the horizon.

I went back to the hotel and showered, and had dinner and then walked the length of the beach and back. (I did the drinking and the partying yesterday). Then I binge watched the show Californication. I took a break to write the rest of chapter one of a novel I’ve started writing. And continued my binge until I felt the urge to write again, which is where the past meets the present in this blog post.

I’m here alone, traveling solo. Several people have asked me about how it’s been, traveling alone — from the guy at the check-in at Heathrow airport, to the travel operator I bought my ticket to Krabi from, it seems like it’s almost a predicament rather than a position of possibility.

But I like traveling alone. You can do whatever you want. And right now, it’s unalloyed freedom. Balance is important and this week in the sun and the sea and the palm trees and the delicious pad thai and the sense of feeling you get from detaching from “reality” (which is often a reality spent staring at a screen and endless, pointless updates) is a week worth its weight in gold.

It’s a week that will sunny up the weeks to come, and help the creativity flow. I’m a writer and so I chose a week of sun. It seemed like a good idea.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Let’s talk about these “digital nomads”

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Recently, I’ve seen a few articles describing a new trend. They’re about so-called digital nomads. They are people who travel the world, jetting from one place to another, doing work that requires simply a good WiFi connection. They might be web designers, graphics artists, app developers, or freelance writers.

What they do is location independent, not needing to punch into an office. Some do like shared office spaces, in Bali for instance. Many are freelancers. And all they need is a computer and the Internet to communicate and to transfer the work. They don’t make huge amounts of money because it’s freedom they prioritize. Southeast Asia is a hub for these nomads because this region is cheap, well-connected when you want to move on, from Vietnam to Thailand say, but still possessing coffee and WiFi.

I’ve never tried this kind of lifestyle. I work from Beijing, from where I contribute China-related journalism to various publications around the world. Sometimes they are articles that aren’t contingent on the fact I’m based in China. This is an example — I could have written that from anywhere in the world. Journalism isn’t a hugely well paid gig, especially when you’re freelance. I’ve mentioned numerous times how living in China helps as things are cheaper here, but, the truth is, Beijing, and the many enjoyments it offers, makes it only slightly better in that regard.

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Freelance Journalism: Adventure & Travel (Getting to Know Asia)

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I'd like to do more of this. But without the cameras. A notebook will do.

I’d like to do more of this. But without the cameras. A notebook will do.

Hello. By the time you read this I should have already arrived in Beijing, after flying from England which is where I have spent the past 27 days. Time to get back to the Big Beige.

January is a busy month for me, with a couple of commissions, and most urgently the planning of a trip to Myanmar. I’ve talked about it in previous posts but finally it should be on the cards. I have a story related to it that I’ve been developing for a while now. But the biggest reason I want to go there is simply to look around and make it less unwelcoming: to get to know it.

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was once a British colony and is the second largest country, after Indonesia, in southeast Asia. That fact alone, its bigness, is beguiling.

It is a Buddhist country, nominally now a democracy after decades of military imposed rule, filled with unspoilt landscapes, and yet riven with hate crimes and ethnic conflict, as well as drug barons, mines and smugglers. A perfect recipe then for a journalist.

This year I intend to go out more from my Beijing hub. I want to have bases spread throughout Asia. Once you’re familiar, once you’ve mapped out and made a place previously unknown known, it’s so much easier to grasp the geography of traveling.

It’s part of why I like this idea of freelance foreign correspondence: the adventure. I’d gotten complacent, too comfortable and sequestered in Beijing. It was seeing a fellow freelance having so much fun that spurred me. He has been journeying around China and Myanmar traveling and writing and getting published. Goddamit! I want some of that! Some of that momentum and adrenaline and the wild experiences. Brent Crane, I salute you!

I hope to ask him to write a guest piece about how he did it, how he traveled and wrote at the same time. Did he first travel somewhere and then look around for stories or did his successful pitches determine his itinerary? Hopefully he will oblige and teach us, because I haven’t actually done it yet and it would be good to know.