TMBA 258: Living, Working, and Adventuring in South East Asia

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This week I was lucky enough to catch up with Stuart McDonald, the founder of Travelfish, which one of the most respected sites on the web for South East Asia travel information. If you peak over the shoulder of a random backpacker in Bangkok cafes, expect to see a “TravelFish” URL along with Facebook blue.

There aren’t many people that have more travel experience in the region than Stuart. Because of this, I couldn’t help but ask him a lot of travel and expat-centric questions. We talk about everything from raising a family in SEAsia, the lore and adventure many westerners place on SEAsian adventures, the nuts and bolts of expat living, and how Stuart was able to turn Travelfish into a successful online business.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • The origins of Travelfish.
  • Tips for expatriates who are raising a family in South East Asia.
  • Stuart’s ideal four week travel itinerary.
  • What’s the best travel itinerary for a one month South East Asia adventure?
  • Koh San Road vs. Pham Ngu Lao
  • What has changed the most in the fifteen years in the region.
  • Tools and recommended reading for people who are planning to travel in the region.

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.


Dan & Ian

Published on 08.21.14
  • What a fun episode! I could have listened for another hour of nerding out on travel :)

    Dan, the few long interview episodes you have done have always been good and I would love to hear more like that.

  • Dave McVeigh

    Well done lads.

  • I’m usually not into 1-hour long interview episodes, but I really enjoyed this one. The suggested 1 month travel itinerary sounded awesome.

  • I can’t believe Stuart hasn’t been to the Philippines…

  • Nice episode! Makes me want to go to the southern tip of Vietnam lol

  • you should! I didn’t gush on about it on the show but I did a very similar itinerary in 2008 over the course of many weeks (on motorbike) and to this day they are some of the most well-remembered days of my life.

  • it is interesting how it gets excluded almost entirely from the travel narrative of the region, and it’s hardly just travelfish, it’s the numbers, the travelers themselves, and the cultural expectations that people have for a country in this region. that’s part of the coolness of travel there! but in my view it’s for people who have a ton of time in the region primarily

  • thanks David, I know right!?

  • cheers Dave :D

  • was hoping you’d like this one James, can you imagine for a moment what would have happened had the three of us been there? jeeze it would have been four hours (and perhaps we can sometime soon!?) Stuart and I were going for at least an hour before I resolved to turn on the mic. Even then this only represents a part of our conversation. Perhaps an episode on travel itineraries, like we talked about Spain earlier in 2014 is in order next time we meet.

  • Stuart

    Yeah, neither can I – is nothing personal. But then it took me about a decade to make it to Indonesia and fifteen to get to Burma. I think if you start in mainland SEA (as we did, in Thailand) everything is so easy that the inertia can keep you there for quite some time doing loops – the first motorbike trip I did in Thailand was about 4,500 km — we just kept going it was so easy! I’m really bullish on Indonesia at the moment, but next coupla years imagine will make some time to go take a look around.

  • Stuart

    Cheers – it’s a great route, but watch the weather. The islands out from Sihanoukville have a lot going on — some really interesting stuff. Nomads Lands on Koh Totang runs some pretty interesting digi detox stuff I’ve heard.

  • Stuart


  • Stuart

    Cheers James – lucky you weren’t here or we’d still be talking ;-)

  • Stuart

    Great area – and zero other foreign tourists which makes for a nice change. Such a gorgeous part of the country, but flat as a freakin pancake.

  • Stuart

    Thanks Dan for setting aside the time to put this together. Could easily have gasbagged all day as travel around here a topic close to my heart. If any readers are passing through, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Cheers

  • Thanks Stuart!

  • John

    Stuart or Dan: would you recommend a trip to India during a 6 month SEA trip?

  • Stuart

    Hi John,
    Been long time since I was there. Like Indonesia travelling there can be quite time consuming, so I’d be inclined to pick one section – Rajasthan always a crowd pleaser, or say north to Kashmir/Leh – and set aside a month just for that. Don’t try to cover a lot. On my trip I circumnavigated much of it in 3 months by train and lost 25 kilos in the process – was gruelling and exhausting! Culturally the flipside to Southeast Asia so a good counterpoint I guess.
    Short answer, if first time to SEA I’d save it for another trip.

  • absolutely!!! looking forward to our next talk

  • Echoing Stuart but from a different angle, I still feel like I have so much left to explore in this region (which often keeps me from exploring others) and I’ve been here more or less since 2008 !

  • Sammo

    Thanks Dan and Stuart for a great, insightful episode. Quick question Dan – what was the name you mention at the end of the episode…”kho san or ???” Thanks!

  • Thanks for that Sammo! Here’s the link:

    Pham Ngu Lao

  • John

    Curious about your spending philosophy. Saving now vs living now. What is an acceptable % of your net worth to spend on monthly accommodation, a laptop and a good watch (Omega, Rolex) for example? Me, I am low $xxx,xxxUSD and I think spening anything more than $900USD per month on accommodation, $1200 on a laptop and upgrading every 2 years or $400 on a good watch is not smart.Do I have the right idea?

  • Hey guys, thanks for a great podcast!

    Stuart the experience you’re giving your kids is going to have a fantastic impact on them. My family started visiting Bali in the late 80’s for business. My sister and I spent a few months there every winter for almost 14 years and Bali holds a very special place in both our hearts to this day. We’ve both visited as adults and I’ve even expanded my business to incorporate Bali buying trips into my lifestyle. I do miss the old Bali but will continue to search for the hidden gems still there.

    Dan I’m headed to Bali Jan/Feb 2015 and would love to meet up with some TMBA folks. Will you guys be around?


  • LikeAPossum

    Thanks a lot guys. What was the name of the beach in Phuket with perfectly round sand? It’s hard to make out the names for someone who’s ignorant of those languages.

  • Ben Cameron

    Manilla is such an eyesore, I’m sure that’s what puts everyone off the Philippines

  • that was in the “Bukit” in the south of Bali… you can read more here:

  • hey Lucy thanks for reading! so tough to say… but probably not this year :(

  • My rule of thumb if I’ve got acceptable savings socked away (emergency fund etc) is to spend 25% or less of my annual cash flow on lifestyle stuff

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