The 2019 travel review

December 21, 2019

Blogging was once an amazing thing and people cared. It’s 2019 and people don’t.

On some levels I regret giving up blogging regularly here – blogging took me from MP staffer to b5media, to TechCrunch and beyond to today, the end of 2019.

This is cut and paste from Facebook but it’s a decent one – 2019 has been a decent year for me. A happy new year for all. I could complain about my life now – it has for years never been boring and of course I fear failure again. But that said, I’ve somehow managed to be in the happiest relationship I’ve been in my life for over three years and likewise proudly gay in that relationship. Reeee gay – it’s 2019, who cares.

March – Chengdu, Leshan and some other places in Sichuan Province. It’s kind of like Thai food – far better in-country and I’d go back again tomorrow the food was that good. Lovely countryside, interesting city and naturally we got to see pandas in the place they’re from.

Lijiang – always beautiful and while we couldn’t get up to Jade Snow Mountain due to maintenance works Matchima Luangrahaeng was still cold. It was my second time in Lijiang and I will return, it’s that pretty. Then onto Kunming via Chinese High Speed Rail which is staggeringly good and I have been Japan and traveled by Shinkansen so I can compare. Kunming was ok but not a big Chinese city – only 8 million 

July – Jinghong Xishuangbanna, the historic northern extent of the Lanna (northern Thai) empire. No one ever goes there and sadly I found out why. Some of it properly pretty and there are some very nice Thai wats (temples) there but it’s an unrated Chinese tier-town for a reason. I wanted to love it so much but I couldn’t. Being nearly refused entry at the airport because they’d never seen a white person before wasn’t helpful 

August – Phrae and Nan. I’d driven through Phrae often but never stayed the night and Nan was the last province I hadn’t visited in the north of Thailand. It was ok – the night market in Nan was underwhelming but people say you go for the National Parks near the Laos border. I didn’t get that far.

October – Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. The real surprise for me of the year as I’d been to both in 2015 before and hated Hanoi previously is that this year I loved Hanoi. It’s crazy, dirty and chaotic but it’s dead cheap and super interesting to explore. Spent a night on a boat on Ha Long Bay this time (last time was a day trip) and I can’t recommend that trip enough – it’s that’s good.

December: went to Hot District and Ob Luang National Park for the first time – different. Some nice views. Doi Inthanon on the way back for the third time, still cold and more tourists than ever 

Somewhere in between times I also spent a night in Lampang and went to their weekend night market – in terms of interest better than the markets in Chiang Mai and that’s the third year straight I’ve spent a night there just to go to Lampang market.

Obviously, money permitting I’d like to travel further in 2020 but all-in-all, a good travel year. One takeaway – there are places in mainland China that are really fantastic that people should visit given the opportunity. If one day the geopolitics finally calms down, mainland China has the potential to be massively popular.


I just realized that I haven’t properly posted here since August last year.

On occasion, I have the odd brain wave about turning my personal blog into travel/ digital nomad blog, but they come and go. Let’s be honest, in the main personal blogging is dead unless you’re trying to sell something, and if you’re not all the smart guys now post to Medium; I do like Medium but the same reason I wouldn’t host my personal blog on is the same reason I wouldn’t host it on Medium either: I like the control, even if I don’t post very often.

But I digress.

My last update was August last year after my 2 month long grand tour of Asia and it was an amazing time and a year later I do miss not doing something similar, with different destinations, again.

I’ve had some life drama over the last 2 months: I severely sprained my ankle, was in a cast and on crutches. My better half took up a new job where she was bullied and treated appallingly badly and quit after 2 weeks (if it was Australia we would have been in court by now, it doesn’t work that way in Thailand) and then she was in a car crash. The stress of all that gave me my worst case of tonsillitis (and migraines and an ear infection…3 from 3 🙂 ) in 20+ years and as I write this I’ve only really been physically better in the last 2 days.

But here’s the thing. For all the drama in life, I’m grateful for what I have.

I have some good to amazingly great friends in Chiang Mai and other places in Thiland now who from fate, or luck, I am beyond fortunate to have made.

Life is good, and I live in a place I love, not just because Northern Thailand is insanely cheap versus Australia (it helps soooo much 🙂 ), or that I hate cold weather and it’s rarely cold here, but because it’s just a legitimately lovely, nice place to live and when I decided to reset my life when I moved here the plan actually ended up working out.

Life is never boring, and there are always challenges, but I’m grateful for what I have now, and grateful at the age of 40 that not only did I live this long (never thought I would 🙂 ) but heading through middle age (it hurts me to say that 🙂 ) if all goes to plan I’m set for life even before 50.

Chon Chang, which in Thai is a toast to elephants (Chang is elephant…weirdly it’s also my Thai nickname 🙂 ) that they may win the war.

If life is a war I think that after far too much bullshit for years I might actually finally be winning it 🙂


I’ve been told before I should start travel blogging, and there might be some logic in that but likewise well…I haven’t, but here’s a summary of 2 months in Asia.

Upfront experiences may not be typical for everyone; the trip was done on a strict budget using discount airlines (Asian discount airlines are AMAZINGLY CHEAP) although I did have some leeway during the time, and fortunately I was still working on the road and getting paid. Traveling alone also is different to traveling as a couple or in a group; there were definitely places I visited that would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t been doing it alone.

It’s amazing how much you can save when all your bills for a month (phone, utilities, accommodation, internet) all cost for a month in Chiang Mai what it would cost less than one week in Melbourne, and that’s the rent alone, if you added the other bills you’d be lucky to pay for 2 days in Melbourne.

But I digress…the Grand Tour of Asia

2015-07-03 19.22.11Japan

Perhaps I had far too high expectations of Japan as it’s a country I’ve adored since I was young, even to the point of spending three years learning Japanese in high school, because of all the places I visited during the trip it was the biggest disappointment. I didn’t hate it, I could see myself going back again, but I’d do it differently this time.

Probably my favourite part of the trip was catching the Shinkansen, which I used to travel to Hiroshima from Tokyo, then back up to Osaka. I can’t recommend the JR Rail pass enough, it doesn’t just cover the Shinkansen it covers all JR Rail trains, and while you pay for the subway trains, just about everything else is covered by it.


It’s a mind fuck in terms of how big the place is, and various parts of it didn’t disappoint. Akihabara and the people dressed as Anime characters, the bright lights, the atmosphere in places. Trains that are amazing.

I saw various other things, visit markets, palace grounds, and other things, but maybe I had a bad run there for two reasons: it rained all but the last day I was there and it was cold (never went past the middle of summer) and where I booked on Airbnb was very handy for transport, but it was a quieter part of town (very central, as in walking distance to Ginza, three stops to Akihabara, one stop to Tokyo’s main station) and it just made me feel a bit isolated even if there were various convenience stores and the odd eating place spitting distance away.

On the trains Tokyo is so big it just looks like the same scenery going on forever as well…probably a place I would have enjoyed more if I wasn’t by myself.

Of note, and this applies for all of Japan, English with the locals is extraordinary poor. The counter to that is that well, it’s their country, they shouldn’t have to speak English, and that’s fine, but English has become the linga franca globally when it comes to tourism and Japan is hosting the Olympics in 2020; they’re going to struggle with it because about the only thing you’d find in English is train signs.

2015-07-11 15.14.45Hiroshima

My highlight of the places I visited in Japan.

Perhaps it’s because it’s not so big (1.9m people for memory)  it’s more manageable, but unlike the big cities of Japan it also had a soul and a feeling about it as well that you could feel being there.

The history around where the atomic bomb dropped is something I will never forget, and it’s done extremely well.

Tram system in town dead easy and cheap to use, and compared to other places in Japan accommodation was really cheap as well.

My only regret with Hiroshima is that I was only there 3 nights, I’d wish I’d spent a week or two.

Osaka/ Kyoto

Osaka is theonly place I have no interest in ever visiting again in Japan.

It’s a smaller version of Tokyo with next to no soul. Bland mid-high rises as far as the eye can see, shitty subway where none of the stations match up when you change trains, and the “tourist” attractions did nothing for me.

I only did a day trip to Kyoto and the little I saw was pretty and I should have spent a week there instead of Osaka.

2015-07-22 18.35.41Taiwan

I spent the week in Taipei and it remains the biggest surprise of the trip. I don’t know if it’s because I knew little about the country other than they made tech stuff, and I wasn’t even going to go originally but I saw some posts about it on Facebook and the flight from Japan was $70 so I thought bugger it.

For anyone who has been to Asia I’d describe it as Bangkok 20-30 years into the future, for others it’s a modern, up and coming city. Nice relaxed vibe to it yet everything you could ever want.

Cheap….so cheap for everything, basically Thailand prices. Brilliant subway system that was like $1 a trip, interesting things to see, English was reasonably well spoken, and the weather and people nice.

One thing I would note is that they don’t get a lot of Western tourists, and it was rare to even see another white person in Taiwan. Indeed customs at the airport questioned me as to why I was visiting because I doubt they see many Australian passports come through.

I’d happily visit again tomorrow, although it would appear to get fairly cold there during winter. Two regrets: I didn’t stay there long enough, and I would have liked to (given the extra time) explore the Island some more.

If you’re looking for somewhere different to visit in Asia where not many people have gone before I can’t recommend Taiwan enough.

2015-08-06 18.20.21Hong Kong

I had been to Hong Kong before, be it on two long stopovers (one overnight) so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Caught up with some good people while I was there, and later found out I missed some other people I know as well; amazing how many Aussie expats base themselves in Hong Kong.

Putting aside that I made the mistake of booking into a “hotel” (the word is used reservedly) in Hong Kong’s only slum Chung King Mansions (rectified after I walked out of the booking two days in) the whole place is vibrant, interesting, busy (but not as mad as Japan), rich…I could go on. If you’ve never been there before I’d highly recommend it.

My only possible gripe is the cost: accommodation was significantly higher than even Tokyo (which is considered expensive, I didn’t find it was particularly) and everything else isn’t on the cheap side, although like anywhere on the planet, it was cheaper than Australia.

I could see myself living there, but I don’t think as a humble tech journalist I could afford to, or if I did it would be a struggle watching budgets etc..

No question as to whether I’d return


A day trip on the ferry, visited some casinos.

Pleasent enough place but there were parts you could have fired a cannon along a street and not hit anyone. The rumours that the city is in trouble post Chinese corruption crackdown are true, very, very quiet. Wouldn’t mind going back though for a longer stay.

2015-08-09 13.52.24Vietnam


Third world developing shit hole comes close. This is a town where garbage disposal consists of throwing rubbish onto the street, there are no traffic lights so crossing the road is the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced (you kind of get use to it, but it’s still nuts) and you’ve got to make sure people aren’t trying to rip you off.

That said, OMG the food.

Fresh, delightfully cooked meals for peanuts. I was ordering fresh Barramundi (Asian Sea Bass, it’s the same fish) never been frozen, presented on a plate with some vegetables and a sauce, for $4. In Australia fresh barra (not the frozen crap you get most places) would start at $50 a plate if you’re lucky, and head towards $100.

Suffice as to say I ate at the same place and ordered the same dish 3 nights while I was there 🙂

Other food as well, Pho, Bahn Min, you name it: next to nothing in cost.

The only possible way I could recommend Hanoi though is that you’d go for the food ONLY if you could handle the fact that the place is terrible.

20150816_131605Ha Long Bay

A day trip well worth it. Gorgeous place, decent enough boat tour in around the rocks in the bay, and I’ll forgive the scum bags at my hotel for charging me US$45 for a tour that costs US$25.

Possibly the only reason I could see that you’d ever want to travel to northern Vietnam.

HCMC (Saigon)

I’m actually writing this from Saigon on my last full day in Vietnam after 2 weeks in the city, and I’m still not 100% how I feel about it.

Compared to Hanoi it’s literlaly like being in a different country. Streets are fairly clean, footpaths, beautiful colonial architecture, traffic lights (but you have to be careful for bikes who ignore them), great eating although with the note that it’s no where as cheap as Hanoi but still cheap in the scheme of things.

There’s a lot to like about the place, let alone me discovering my favourite Australian bar in Asia, and I think I could live here, certainly there would be no problems cost wise in doing so, but the reason I’m not 100% is that there’s a couple of little things: street touts, noisy traffic (everyone constantly uses their horn,) and like Hanoi you have to watch for rip offs particularly with change that has happened 3 times since I’ve been here where they try to short change you by confusing you with smaller denominations of notes; you could live with it but more so than other places I’ve been people aren’t honest.

It sort of reminds me of Brisbane: parts of it are modern, somewhat relaxed vibe, but there’s boring parts as well.

And now back to Chiang Mai until the end of the year to plot further adventures for 2016.

On approaching 40

April 28, 2015

Got asked today whether I’d hooked up with anyone or found a partner yet in Thailand.

Oddly I remember several people (some who I can name but won’t) saying to me that you’ll never know yourself until you can live with yourself being single, something most of my adult life I couldn’t live with, and didn’t.

I think today that I can, but I’d lie if I didn’t admit there were times where I didn’t like being alone.

I reinvented myself at 30. Through risk, occasional misadventure and amazing ups, and sadly some downs (sometimes obviously serious) in between, not many people can say they spent 10 years working for themselves (or via contract from home, same sort of thing,) and in my case, I’ve never had to wear a suit to work in 10 years. Oddly the formal 10 year anniversary is 10 years come early December.

Shit has happened, but I remain grateful today that I have a writing gig that I love, friends, be it most of them far away, and I can wake up in the morning and occasionally inspire others to do better.

But for all that: I still don’t have a plan for the next 10 years, besides being able to legally see my own flesh and blood, Declan Riley, come August 2020.

I really should come up with a plan though, I’d love to be rich in the next 5 years and be able to put my son through University for example, but at this stage, given but once again his mother has cut off all access (legally, sadly) who knows.

I’ve got about 4 and a bit months to work out a plan.

Wish me luck, I need it 🙂

I’m self-aware enough to understand the difference between causality and correlation in the statistical analysis of market economics and marketplaces, and within that I get what I see or percive doesn’t equal an entire marketplace, but I still wonder: is there a real market out there for smart watches?

It’s 2015, my phone tells me the time, like it did in 2005, and 1995 before it.

I’m not anti-watch, and I grew up loving the latest (in 80s terms) “smart” watches out of Japan. I can still remember the arguments my parents had in around 86 or 87, when I desired the latest Casio smart watch out of Japan at Paddy’s Markets in Sydney, my father saying I didn’t need it and my mother pointing out that $40 wasn’t much (mind you the average wage at the time was all of $200 a week.)

I always had the best watches in primary school, and I owned many watches well into my late 20’s, even early 30s. I even owned a fake Rolex at one stage I paid something like $30 in Hong Kong for in 2006 when I was off to Toronto to sign the paperwork that gave b5media $2million Series A, and saw as part of the deal me being sacked and paid out roughly $250k as part of the deal.

I’m pretty sure that’s the last watch I owned, and I only owned that one because it was a classic case of being ostentatious; by that stage I’d long since used my mobile to tell the time.

It’s not hard to be impressed by smart watches, although I’m still surprised by the lack of Dick Tracey references every time they’re written about.

But while the smart watches of the 80’s offered something that otherwise didn’t have an alternative, the smart watches of 2015 have an alternative, and it’s called the smartphone.

Ironically because I don’t own a watch I couldn’t accurately time it but I’d guess it takes me 2-3 seconds to get my phone out of my pocket to check the time, and all of 0.5 seconds extra to unlock it to do further things.

So it might be a second quicker to flick my wrist to see what the time is.

Whoopdy doo.

So let’s just play out the smart watch scenario, because apparently it’s too hard to get your phone out of your pocket given it takes like a second longer: you get a shitty little screen, limited apps, and at least in the case of the Apple Watch, a watch if you use it with any regularity that you’ll need to charge 2-3 times EVERY DAY. Not joking: heavy use on an Apple Watch is 2.5 hours battery life, regular use 3.5 hours, and if you don’t actually use it to do anything other than tell the time you’ll still have to charge it every day anyway.

Better still is the price: the bog standard Apple “sports” model is US$350 (AU$425??) and they haven’t released the prices on the other models; speculation is US$500-600 on the mid-level one, and as much a US$5k on the top level one.

For a shitty little screen which if you use more than once a day for anything other than seeing what time it is you’ll have to charge at least once in the middle of the day, multiple times if you give it a work out.

Causality and correlation? ROFL. It doesn’t matter how much I can’t see the benefits of a smart watch, those stats are beyond surreal.

There was a report today that said that the Apple Smart Watch will sell 15 million units, and don’t get me wrong, I do love me some Apple tech, I’m typing this post on a Macbook Pro, and I was once of the first people in Australia to own an iPhone, but here’s the thing: it’s still 2015, and people don’t need a watch to know what the time is, let alone check their emails.

If anyone can find me a bookmaker to put money on it, I’ll happily bet against Apple selling 15m units, my bet is 3m max, and it will be regarded within 1-2 years as a major flop, because at the end of the day, who needs a watch to do what your phone already does anyway.


They saying that life wasn’t meant to be easy.

But life does test us.

I loved my time in Thailand, but towards the last week it became a challenge. I’m not going to go into all the details, other than to say fuck, and all at the last minute.

But I will share this; after a week of where I had magical highs and lows (I still can’t lift stuff with my right arm, and have possibly inflamed my arm injury again, falling on the steps of the BKK Sky Train..) so I, after a 12 hour layover in KUL, which was horrible, not because I couldn’t find a place to sleep on a bench, but because of the very rude people who make up 50% of those who do that (I’m not mentioning where they are from on the subcontinent and their unbelievable rudeness,) I got on the KUL-PER flight. Got to say Malaysia Airways was amazing in terms of quality and flight.

Would fly them again tomorrow: and in perspective, their cost was half of that than Air Asia/ Air AsiaX…which were supposed to be their cheap alt.

Except:…well, it’s probably not their fault vs the airports, but they lost my bag.

Nearly every single piece of clothing I own is in that bag. I did the purge couple of years back.

It turned up this morning (2 days later) via Courier: I can’t put in words how much it made me feel amazing again. Anyhow..

I will sleep tonight…and know I have my bag back in the morning.

Also touch wood worked 🙂


Australia Network was supposed to close down 18 September 2014. SMH back in June.

I started seeing ads on Australia Network saying they’re going to cover every part of the AFL finals series.

But wait, the Grand Final is 27 September 2014.

Turns out magically that the Australia Network will now close September 29.

In late August this turned up on Mumbrella:

Mumbrella understands that the Australia Network will continue its broadcast into Asia until around mid September. It will also fulfil its commitment to the AFL to offer a transitional schedule that will see it broadcast the Grand Final in Asia and the Pacific on September 29.

This despite a lack of funding following the withdrawal of the money from DFAT.

Now for those who have never seen Australia Network, it shows both the AFL Channel 7 coverage AND the Fox Sports coverage. Usually 6 games a week…for free, across the Asia-Pacific.

I don’t for one minute seriously believe that Australia Network was paying for the right to show AFL. It doesn’t show NRL, although there is a weekly Asia soccer show they show which is shown back in Australia anyway on the ABC.

My theory: the AFL was paying Australia Network to show the games as part of their expansion plans, and the extension of the channel for roughly an extra 2 weeks was due to the AFL making a payment to keep the channel on air.

There’s no other logical explanation. Given the funding had well and truly stopped it’s a miracle Australia Network is still on air…let alone towards the end of September.

I’ll also make another tip: in the new “Australia Plus” deal the ABC is pumping out to Asia/ Pacific networks (allegedly 6 hours a day…and they’ve got a pile of broadcasters on board) the Friday to Sunday coverage will be primarily AFL…because the AFL wants the coverage across their key expansion area.

Food for thought.


September 4, 2014



“The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.”

Sage advice I should have followed in years gone by.

Marcus Tullius Cicero.


This comment today on this post at Mumbrella (not yet approved, I hope it is), comment following:

I’m really waiting for an explanation as to why Australia Network needed its own “Canberra bureau” (from reading Tweets today AN’s Canberra bureau was cut) unless of course it was another example of Mark Scott using the Australia Network funding to subsidise things that weren’t remotely related to the Australia Network proper.

As anyone who has ever watched the Australia Network itself, I can tell you that all their day time bulletins (from 3am TST) are from ABC 24 News with the exception of the 2:30 (Thai time) Australia Network News Bulletin which comes out of a Melbourne studio.

I’m gutted that Australia Network has been cut, but there needs to be a serious parliamentary, or bigger enquiry as to how the $20m odd a year from DFAT was used to subsidise correspondents and bureaus which actually weren’t all that related to the service at all, except for maybe the odd rare report.

Mark Scott scammed the funding to cross subsidise ABC’s general foreign coverage, and now the cost has been paid.

You can well argue that in the end Australia Network was an ideological cut, but using what 30-50% maybe even more of that money to subsidise services not related where it could have…lets see, not spent that money that way and shown Government that our voice in Australia could be far more affordable should be on the gravestone of Mark Scott.

Which reminds me as a parting comment on something Malcolm Turnbull once said on Mark Scott: he claimed that Scott says that ABC New 24 can’t go into Asia due to “rights issues” which is dubious at best. Given how many ABC News 24 programs appear on the network now. At a rough guess 8-10 hours worth a day, maybe more when you include the showing of the chat programs, and there then repeats (Lateline, The Business, The World etc etc…) And then maybe every 2 in 3 programs in between times is ABC content anyway.

“Rights issues” was always a bs argument.

I’m probably being polite there.

The count of “good” (and by that I mean reasonable fair and decent) foreign correspondents sacked by the ABC today is beyond a fucking joke.

The thing is, most of those folks were rarely if at all exclusive to Australia Network vs the ABC (and it’s various programs and channels) exclusively.

They SHOULD NEVER have been employed exclusively by the DFAT funded Australia Network contract.


Sure, Australia Network could have justified a correspondent to cover say remote Pacific Islands, Kirabit, Nauru, Tavalu and places like that. But it never has.

Instead the ABC used the money to cover main ABC network correspondents across SE Asia, India and places like that.

When I’m next back to Australia, I’m going to write to all and sundry and demand an enquiry.

As per what I wrote on Mumbrella above, you could have funded Australia Network for 50%, maybe 75% even less. $5m-$10m a year may have even been sellable.

Instead the ABC, headed by Mark Scott took that money and pumped it into people who were not primarily based around the network.

It’s not just a national disgrace, it’s a scam. No other two ways about it.