In an ongoing series of posts that highlight great sources of information on Southeast Asia, we covered some of the movies you should watch and books you should read before your big trip. Now it’s time to really dive deep – which websites and blogs should you check out?
Unlike books or movies, anyone can create a website – and millions do. It’s just a sheer fact of mathematics that not all of them will be useful. In fact, many are outdated, uninspiring, or downright misleading. But if you know where to look, you can find a nearly unlimited trove of information online that will help you do everything from research local festivals to rent a bicycle in Vientiane to find the spiciest bowl of noodles in your neighborhood.
Here are some of our favorites (click on titles to be taken to their sites, author’s names to see their twitter feeds):
Eating Thai Food
Noted eater and all around hungry man Mark Wiens has put a lot of work (and, uh, research) into his site, and it shows! Thai food has a well-deserved reputation for awesomeness, but Mark goes the extra mile to seek out the unique, the rare, the hard-to-find Thai dishes, from Bangkok’s maze-like alleys to Chiang Rai’s greenest peaks. If you have any interest in getting away from the standard traveler fare and really treating your taste buds, Mark’s site is a great place to start. Don’t miss his Thai food e-book guides, either – available on the site.
If you’re looking for independent travel advice on Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, or Vietnam, Travelfish is where you should start. Stuart, Sam and their small crew of freelancers have put thousands of hours and millions of travel miles into researching, reviewing, and writing up beaches, hotels, restaurants, attractions, and activities across Southeast Asia. The best part about Travelfish is that there’s no hidden agenda, no corporate ownership, no paid-for reviews – just honest first-hand guidelines on where to go, what to do, and (most importantly) what to avoid. Those in the know opt for site membership for $35 a year, which provides access to hundreds of PDF guides and other travel goodies.
Despite his young age, Matt Kepnes is the granddaddy of nomadic travelers. He may not have been the first one to spin his travels into a career, but he’s arguably one of the most successful. With an insatiable need to be anywhere but home (wherever that is), he obsesses over saving money on flights, accommodation, and food, and squeezing every last bit of experience out of everywhere he goes. Following him on Instagram or Twitter can be at turns both exhausting and inspiring; from conferences in Asia to hikes in Europe to parties in New York, Matt never tires of sharing it all with his loyal audience.
Another excellent site to inspire independent travel, this one is focused on Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. With advice on everything from how to find the best street food, to rants on dangerous sidewalks, to profiles of the people who live and work in the most interesting areas of the cities Rusty Compass travels in, you can find a lot of info packed away on this site.
Bangkok-based writer, podcaster, and urban explorer Greg Jorgensen set up his site in 2008 after one-too many clichéd questions about Bangkok’s red light districts. Wanting to show that it’s possible to live a regular, normal – even boring – life in Asia’s sin city, the blog is full of stories, rants, and observations on what it’s like to live in Bangkok without any of the seedy stuff. Topics range from buying shoes, to eating strange food, to thoughts on inter-cultural relationships. There are also links to Greg’s GPS-guided Bangkok walking tours, and a weekly podcast on life in Bangkok, which he co-hosts.
Austin Bush Photography
Linguist, photographer, and writer Austin Bush has been the coordinating author for the Lonely Planet Thailand guides since the legendary Joe Cummings moved on to different projects. Since then he’s crisscrossed the country (among others) taking mouth-watering photos of the food he eats and the people he meets – but mostly the food. The blog isn’t updated too frequently, but his Instagram feed rarely goes a day without a mouth-watering update – although photos of landscapes and the odd selfie sometimes pop up as well.
From Juarez to Montreal to Ho Chi Minh, Jodi Ettenberg’s travel tales are filled with the type of verve and depth that all great travel writing embodies. The site’s tagline sounds like a giggle, but it’s totally true: she’s a former lawyer who now eats soup for a living. With her travels based largely around which area has the best food, it’s no wonder that she’s spent plenty of time in Southeast Asia, but has also traipsed across Europe, North and Central America, and the Middle East. Her blog is notable for two features – her constantly growing list of resources for celiac diets, and her Thrillable Hours series, which chronicles lawyers who gave up the suit and tie for a life on the road.
Australian James Clark was in Ireland in 2003 when his work visa ran out, so he decided to travel and write about it – and he’s never looked back. Thus was born Nomadic Notes. Based in Ho Chi Minh City but moving around a lot, James has written about everything from Singapore’s big metal trees to the foreboding deserts of Namibia to forgotten sois in Bangkok and the best eats in Butterworth. He’s also a train nerd at heart – one his recent passion projects was an exhaustively researched post about what Southeast Asia would look like if all of the proposed rail lines came to fruition.
The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project
This one’s a bit more esoteric, and not really a travel blog per se, but it is a fascinating look into a cultural legacy of Southeast Asia that has very nearly faded completely away – the love affair with movie theaters. Philip Jablon has spent years in big cities, small towns, and forgotten corners of the most remote provinces of Southeast Asia photographing the once-great movie theaters of the region. From Yangon to Yasothon to Xieng Khuang, Philip lovingly photographs the dusty, broken down, but often still operating cinema halls that are slowly but surely being torn down for new developments and roads. This one’s a very unique look into a part of Asia that would otherwise go completely unknown.
And of course, there’s our very own blog. Smiling Albino’s Trunk Lines endeavors to inform potential travelers to Southeast Asia on a wide variety of topics, from helpful travel tips to strange and wonderful sights, cultural peculiarities to innovative trends. With over 15 years of adventures in Southeast Asia, we have some great stories to share.