Travelfish #413: Drop the speedos and bikinis

Some thoughts on longterm tourism promotion

Hi all,

Last week we published our latest Travelfish long read. By Oliver Slow, the story takes a look at Chinese influence on Mandalay in Burma, from centuries ago through to today. Please do give it a read and let me know what you think.

If you’re new to this newsletter, you can check–in on our previous long reads, looking at Bali, Ko Pha Ngan and a UNESCO site in Malaysia. Our long reads are entirely funded by Travelfish supporters—thank you!

Our latest long read: The Changing Face of Mandalay.

On pay to read Couchfish, I’ve finally escaped the Mekong Delta! I started off with a 4–hour ride that took 12 (back to Ho Chi Minh City). Then I wrote about my very first time in the city, a day exploring a single city block, being a tourist for a day and the first half of a two part series on Cholon.

On free to read Couchfish, I wrote about walking—and why I think it is the best way to travel.

As always, all the pics in this newsletter are from the previous week on Couchfish.

The ride back to Ho Chi Minh City took longer than planned. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Over of David’s Thai Island Times, he has a great piece on hiking a little known trail to a little known part of Thailand’s Ko Chang. Enjoy!

Lastly, last week I mentioned a great new Cambodia newsletter. If you missed it last week, here’s the skinny: Campuccino (I love the name) by Darathtey Din offers a regular wrap on all things Cambodia. It’s a great read for those Cambodia inclined, and, best of all, is free! So sign up and see what you think.

Good travels


PS: Looking for a Christmas present? On a whim I made a 2021 calendar of photos from Sumba, Indonesia for one of our writers who is missing Indonesia.

If you’d like one as a gift, it is available on Lulu for just US$12. Bargain!

Drop the speedos and bikinis

After last week’s somewhat downbeat look at what 2022 travel could/should be, I thought I’d find my half–full glass this week.

The other day a tweet from the official Indonesian Tourism account popped into my feed. It featured a foreign “influencer” floating through some mangroves somewhere in the archipelago. It was typical influencer stuff—a tanned attractive person doing something fun. Obviously getting into Indonesia at the moment for a float is a bit complicated. I do understand though, that tourism boards are doing what they can to keep their country “in mind”.

But, I got to thinking.

As I said last week, those “half dozen Southeast Asian countries in six months” trips are a long way over the horizon. It could well be that the first trips to reemerge will be single country trips.

Big skies in Ben Tre. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Competition for these travellers will be fierce. After all, everywhere in Southeast Asia has mangroves. How can a country convince you they should be your first (and second, third and fourth) trip post Covid19?

I don’t know what the mangrove–fluencer was paid, I have though seen some chunky figures bandied around. How could that money be better spent? Does throwing pretty videos onto social media to “stay in mind”, build a relationship?

Hi Saigon. Photo: Cindy Fan.

What is something that ties people to a destination. Something that will improve their experience? Something that will allow them to learn far more about the country, and the country about them?


At the moment, the vast majority of travellers are stranded in their own country. They could well be in that state for another year—or longer.

What I reckon tourism boards should do is this. Drop the speedos and bikinis—and mangroves. Instead partner with schools and unis, and/or online providers to provide language classes.

Smoking it up in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

As anyone who has studied a language knows, learning one is more than learning new words. There is a whole wheelbarrow full of learning about a society and culture that comes in the package.

Learning a language is a great way to stay connected with a country you love. Many after their first trip, go home and start evening classes and so on, in anticipation of the next trip. The tourism boards should get in on this.

There has been plenty of news recently on Australian universities dropping Indonesian. How is this not a huge opportunity for Indonesian Tourism to step in and say “We’ll fund it”?

Getting fed is never a problem in Vietnam. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Students spend the next year studying the language of their nearest neighbour, and then, when travel does restart, where are they going to head? Indonesia. Or, Vietnam or Thailand, or wherever they studied the language for.

And these will become the foundation of the inbound repeat tourism scene over the next decade.

Best of all? No mosquitoes.

Think big!

Good travels


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Thirteen things worth reading

The Mae Hong Son Loop: An easy northern Thailand road trip

“As we are typically sedentary creatures, we prefer fewer stops and more time at each place to explore, relax and unwind. So you can think of this as the lazy Mae Salong loop, Mae Salong Lite or even Mae Not Salong (stretching?). In any case, we wanted more views like this and less time on the road.”

A Kingdom of sand

“Even if not officially withheld, little is typically publicised about sand mining despite its scale.”

A hero of Aceh

The tale of a ghastly murder in North Sumatra, Indonesia, and how Covid19 gave it a push.

Myanmar monk offers temple sanctuary for threatened snakes

“Relying on donations for the roughly $300 a month needed to feed the snakes, Wilatha only keeps them until he feels they are ready to go back to the wild.”

Laos’ troubled tourism industry

Then came COVID and the new world of closed borders. At first, it seemed a brief hiatus. Then it started to sink in, that this may be the state of things for a while, and then came the layoffs.”

On a Singapore street, two rival biryani restaurants go to war

Bizarre allegations of ‘supernatural activities’” were also thrown into the mix after Zackeer and his staff revealed security camera footage that appeared to capture masked men scattering a white powdery substance outside their premises. ”

Smart patrolling

“Poaching is the main threat in Thailand, where almost all remaining wildlife remains only in PAs. Forests outside PAs, or forests with lower levels of protection, are often virtually empty of wildlife.”

My journey around India in 80 trains

Outside our normal geographic range, but I enjoyed this story on training India.

Last tamed elephant in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province dies

“According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, there were 91 domesticated elephants in Vietnam in 2018, down from 165 in 2000. The 1,500-2,000 wild elephants in the country in 1990 have now dwindled to 124-148.”

Thailand’s protesters are targeting the monarchy’s wealth, so just how rich is it?

“He has estimated that the Thai monarchy’s baseline is at least $US66 billion, while recent reports in Nikkei Asia and the Los Angeles Times tabled conservative estimates beginning from $US60 billion and $US70 billion respectively.”

Penang retreat

“He cycles in Penang’s treacherous traffic, refuses to own a smartphone and boycotts ride-sharing, which he sees as undermining the livelihoods of hard-working taxi drivers.”

How are we going to travel in 2021?

I’ve never seen such a wrench thrown into this lifestyle though as we’ve seen the past six months. ”

Bali street art reflects changes in local society $

“To promote that message, Slinat chose a commercial street in Denpasar for the site of the new mural. ‘While Canggu is where tourists stay,’ he said. ‘I chose to do to it next to a traditional market in Denpasar because it is the middle of Bali where local people can see it every day.’ ”

Something to read


At its heart, the lovely novel Sugarbread is the story of Pin, her mother and grandmother, secrets and inter-generational cultural change.

Photo of the week

Always interesting things to find when walking. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Thank you!

Thanks from reading the Travelfish newsletter. Please feel free to forward it to all and sundry and your feedback, as always, is much appreciated.

Travel light!

Stuart & the Travelfish team