Interview with Chris Backe

What kind of traveller are you?
Call my wife and I ‘slow nomads’ – we met in South Korea, got married in a Seoul park, lived in Bangkok for about 6 months, and have since traveled to several other southeast Asian countries. When traveling we don the backpacks and aim for value on the way to what’s out there.
How did you get started traveling?
It was in late 2007 that I wanted to make a change. I was teaching computer classes and delivering newspapers. One day, I heard about a job teaching English in South Korea. I wondered, 'can I do that?'. I looked at the requirements and thought 'yeah, sure, I can do this!'. I applied, interviewed, got the job, and flew to Seoul in March 2008.

After arriving in Korea, I made it a point to start seeing a new place, event, festival, destination, or something new every week. Since I was teaching This was pretty easy for the first couple of years, but over time I began getting a little bored. Korea's pretty small, and after traveling almost every weekend for a couple of years, I had been all across the country.

I started looking for the weird places as a challenge of sorts - where could I go that hasn't been seen by a lot of other people? That led to a whole different set of adventures, which have all made their way onto the blog.
Why One Weird Globe?
We live on a weird planet, that's for sure. Get past the people, the clothes, and the cultures, and you'll discover some of the unusual, oddball, crazy, or just plain bizarre place folks have created around the world.

My interest (passion?) has been to see what few others see. Tourists come and go, but travelers often seek what others pass by. The Amulet Market in Bangkok is a great example of this, actually. Head to Bangkok, and the Grand Palace is about as mainstream a destination as it gets. But cross the street and head west towards the river... and along the sidewalk, there's an amulet market. For 5 to 10 baht (15 to 30 US cents), you can pick up some awesome souvenirs or symbols of faith for anyone you like. Tourists come for the Grand Palace, but only maybe one in a hundred realize there's much more to the area.
Have you had any bad experiences while traveling?
I’ve been ripped off a few times by cab drivers – the first time was after the subway shut down in Seoul. After midnight (at the time), your only way to get home after the subway closed was a taxi driver – and when demand exceeds supply, good luck getting them to use the meter.

The worst experience was just the most tedious – the bus connecting Vientiane to Luang Prabang in Laos. The best case scenario is a 12-hour trip, up mountains and around endless curves. The bus broke down at a rest stop, which meant a 30-minute lunch break turned into a four-hour stop. Somewhere near Luang Prabang, we came to another stop – a tree fell across the road, and a dozen people were hacking away at it with machetes (where did those come from?, I wondered)… We arrived after midnight, and reluctantly took the tuk-tuk to the guesthouse area. Needless to say, we flew back – a first-world experience that ended up being a bit more expensive but a LOT more comfortable.

For the most part, though, I’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve gotten lost a few times, and taken some long rides out to places that didn’t exist anymore…
Do you have any funny travel stories?
TONS! There was the possibly-brain-damaged taxi driver who managed to go the exact opposite way we told him to go for nearly half an hour… He knew a shortcut, he said, before getting on the highway out of town.

There’s a bunch of times when we’ve found ourselves trying to reach places the locals have never heard of… Every so often I’ve found myself giving directions to locals – no one story comes to mind, but after five years around Seoul I was definitely qualified to give directions…

As my wife and I travel, we come across all sorts of Konglish and Thailish (call it Engrish if you want) – one reason I enjoy highlighting them on the blog.
What's the story behind your itineraries?
Basically, I wanted to make it easier for people to get off the beaten path when they travel. Basically, there are three reasons people stick to mainstream places even when there are more interesting places around:
~ They don't know *where to go* - offbeat places don't get the best placement in mainstream guidebooks.
~ They don't know *how to get there* - giving good directions is something a lot of travel guidebooks struggle with.
~ They don't know *why to go there* - some offbeat places are more worth visiting than others.

A One Weird Globe itinerary is a promise from one traveller to another - you'll know where to go, you'll know how to get there, and you'll know why you want to go. You'll also know how to get from one place to the next, and how to make the most of your traveling time.
What advice do you have for people traveling to Asia?
Start! Go! Understand the cultures are all different, but 'face' and the concept of the group above the person are fairly constant.

Know a little about where you go, and why. Your budget may also determine where you want to go. Korea is on par with the Western world, while Thailand is cheaper. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are cheaper still, but you won't have as many Western options there.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
Ahh, yes, the classic question to ask a travel blogger =)

It’s hard to beat Chiang Mai, Thailand. Clean, cheap, laid back, plenty to see and do around town. It’s sort of a shame most tourists only visit for a few days or a week at most – the place really grows on you over time. I lived there for about six months, and only reluctantly moved on in order to continue research for my next book.

Seoul was great as well - great public transportation, lots of stuff to see and do, and an amazing group of expats.
Describe your desk.
Right now, messy, square, and small! It came with the apartment, so I end up using whatever's already here. I've made it work, though - the Macbook's front and center, the daily calendar's to the left, mouse to the right, and drinks back and to the left.
So you're married...?
Yep. A wonderful lady named Laura from eastern Canada. We met in Korea, got married in a park in Seoul, and moved to Thailand. She's actually traveled to more countries than I have, and we've traveled all over Korea and Thailand together.

She's a professional Korean-to-English translator, in case you were curious, and is a bit on the introverted side. She takes plenty of pictures and does her share of the researching, but I do the blogging.
What are you working on next?
My next big project is a book about the weird and bizarre destinations around Thailand. It'll be along the same lines as 'Weird and Wonderful Korea, and feature over 100 of Thailand's most unusual and offbeat destinations. I'm researching it right now, and the aim is to publish it around the summer of 2015.
Published 2014-05-20.
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