At the moment, travelling anywhere is pretty restrictive wherever you live due to the pandemic and various rules imposed by most countries. However, you can still dream and plan those trips – and this week I’m chatting to travel expert Mark Bibby Jackson whose knowledge of those far flung places knows no bounds! Hi Mark and welcome!
Hello. I am Mark Bibby Jackson, the editor of the websites Travel Begins at 40 and London Begins at 40, as well as the award-winning author of three thrillers set in Cambodia (one of which is yet to be published). I write about travel for a number of publications around the world.
You have lived in Cambodia for over a decade and travelled extensively around south east Asia – what made you decide to move from the UK to South East Asia?
Initially I came to Hanoi in Vietnam as a VSO Volunteer in 2004 and settled in the region. I discovered that I could re-invent myself as a magazine editor and freelance writer having spent far too many years chained to an office in London. It also gave me the great opportunity to explore the region I had first visited in 1992.
You have written 3 thrillers set in Cambodia. Why did you decide to write books of this genre based in Cambodia?
I have always liked the thriller genre, although I read little of it in my youth. When I had lived in Cambodia for a number of years I realised the wonderful material it provided for a thriller novel. I am a massive fan of the late Andrea Camilleri. I felt that I could create slightly comic thrillers set in the same tone as the Montalbano series, rather than adopting the noir tone of many novels set in South East Asia.
You’re passionate about travelling and South East Asia, especially Cambodia, is close to your heart. What are your top 3 tips for travellers venturing to that part of the world?
My top tip to everyone for all regions is not to rush your travel. This applies to Cambodia as it does to everywhere else. Take your time and try to discover the real Cambodia, you won’t regret it. My second tip is again pretty generic – push your comfort zone. Whether it is eating spiders, sleeping on a mat in a monastery or driving a tuk tuk through Northern Thailand you gain so much more by pushing yourself just that little bit. Finally, although I normally advise people to try to get off the beaten track, if you are in the region you really have to visit Angkor Wat. There truly is nothing comparable with this majestic temple. Halong Bay in Vietnam and Luang Prabang in Laos, are the other unmissable South East Asian destinations.
So, as we are talking travelling, where have been your favourite places you’ve visited or lived in so far?
I normally answer Nepal to this question. The first time I visited was in 1994, and I was immediately blown away by the mountains. I still think this is my favourite travel destination, although for travel experiences the Galapagos Islands tops the lot.
Having been to Thailand myself, food is a big thing and the spice markets are a lovely assault to your senses! Your 1st novel based in Cambodia is “To Cook A Spider” – and spiders/other insects are certainly on the menus! What was the most unusual meal/food you have eaten?
My big confession is, despite my earlier advice, that I have never eaten spiders! I did drink snake blood once on the streets of Vietnam, and often ate strange dishes that turned out to be the intestines of some animal or other. I always try the local food and drink wherever I go, but especially now that I no longer eat meat, I don’t really try anything too exotic. I did eat Cholera in Switzerland, but this turned out to be a very tasty potato, cheese and apple pie that the locals had developed during the time of cholera when food was scarce.
If we were in a cafe/bar/restaurant in Cambodia, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles/meal – What would you recommend we ordered?
Most tourists try the amok which is coconut paste dish normally made with fish. If you really want to try what the locals eat then you should go for the prahok fermented fish. It tastes far better than it smells. However, I would recommend you go to Kep and eat some crab in the local crab shacks overhanging the sea at the crab market. Try one of these cooked in Kampot Pepper. It really is quite magnificent.
When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book?
I mainly read thrillers nowadays. However Dostoevsky, Camus and Hardy are my favourite authors. The Outsider is one of the most amazing books I have read, and I think it changed my life in many respects. The Brothers Karamazovis the best novel I have ever read, although it took me at least three attempts just to get over the names. I haven’t managed to get into the Kindle craze. I just love the feeling of holding a book in my hand and flicking through the pages.
You are also Founder & group editor of websites – Travel Begins At 40 and London Begins At 40. In your opinion, what are the top 5 things that people over the age of 40 consider important when choosing a travel destination? Is there much difference from the desires of younger travellers?
I think it depends very much on the traveller, and there are many 40-year-olds who travel just like they did in their teens. However, I think that the 40+ traveller is more inclined to be interested in the food, culture and history of the people they are visiting. Although younger travellers are very much interested in food and sustainability, when travelling they are more likely to look for bargains in order to make their money last longer, as well as places with a lively nightlife. The older you get as a traveller the more likely you are to look for places away from the crowd rather than trying to find the crowd. Beaches are for leisurely strolling as the sun sets, rather than for partying under the full moon.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy. I have a massive neck so shirt and ties really never worked for me. I am also totally informal, although I do like wearing hats. I have had the same suit that was tailored for me in Cambodia quietly collecting dust in my wardrobe for a decade – it probably no longer fits me. Again my footwear choices are determined by necessity rather than fashion, as I have very wide feet and a high instep. So, its trainers and comfortable walking shoes for me. Although I am partial to Campers.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
I normally buy my clothes at stores like Mountain Warehouse or Blacks. However, I recently got an Azuaya Panama hat. I think this will definitely be my hat for the summer.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Some comfy walking shoes, preferably ones that can cope with the English winter.
Boots or Shoes?
Neither. Trainers work best for me. But I never buy boots as I hate the feel of something rubbing against my ankles. It’s a big foot thing.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Facebook / Instagram: @TravelBeginsat40
Thank you Mark for your fascinating insight into the world of travel – I’m hoping that the world will soon open up again so that the many wonders of this world can be experienced once again.
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Mark Bibby Jackson