This week’s NileGuide 5 interview features writer Jeremy Kressmann. Best-known for his contributions at travel site Gadling, Jeremy spent the last five months winding his way through Southeast Asia. Another favorite theme of his writing is forgotten spaces, a recurring topic of his year-long Undiscovered New York series. Jeremy’s work has also appeared at Frommer’s and music publication ‘Sup Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @kressie42.
1. What’s the most underrated destination you’ve been to?
I have to agree with Leif Pettersen – it’s Myanmar (aka Burma). I wasn’t planning to go there on my recent Southeast Asia trip, but I did some pre-trip reading on it and I simply could not get it out of my mind. My visit was everything I could have hoped for. All the issues about the Myanmar travel boycott, the scary media reports and the repressive government have some truth. But like so many complicated issues, there’s a lot to be said in favor of visiting, particularly independent travelers who want to be informed about what’s going on. It’s also a stunningly beautiful place. I saw a fantastic festival with hot air balloons in a town called Taunggyi and loved my time exploring the ruins of Bagan. The transportation there is horrendous, which is either a headache or an adventure depending on how you look at it.
2. How do you kill time when you’re stuck on a bus or plane?
I like to buy a really “dense” magazine like The New Yorker or The Atlantic and read the thing from cover to cover. You so rarely have long stretches of uninterrupted time to really focus on one thing that I try to take advantage. Weird as it might sound, I would pick an airplane over a library if I needed somewhere to concentrate. Failing a good magazine I’ll usually listen to my iPod.
3. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced traveling?
I stopped by a leper colony during my recent trip to Vietnam in the town of Quy Nhon. Why? Partly because I simply wanted to say I had been to a leper colony. But as it turns out, it was also a really cool place. There was a beautiful white sand beach there and the hospital where they treat the patients had really nice facilities. My visit also led to a follow-up on the Wikipedia page for Leprosy, where I learned it’s apparently not contagious. Who knew!? A leper colony as a tourist attraction!
4. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
I like to spend the first few hours aimlessly walking around. Partly to make a mental note of places I want to return later, but also so I can enjoy the “sensory experience” of a new place. What does it smell like? What do I hear? What are the colors I see? It’s these kind of details I try to remember and then revisit to when I return home.
5. If you could give one tip or piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
Don’t fall into “destination cliches.” We’re exposed to so much travel media, both online and on TV and in print, it can feel like we’ve visited a place before we get there. Words like “authentic” get tossed around a lot to describe worthwhile travel experiences, but I challenge someone to tell me what is “authentic” these days. Try to show up to your destination as a blank slate and don’t put labels on what should be interesting to see or do. Going into a foreign mall or watching television can give you just as much insight into a culture as a trip to the cathedral or the museum.
[Photo: Jeremy Kressmann/Flickr]