An Interview : Travel Planner – Kae

written by Carolyn Chon February 6, 2015

I think I’ve only met Kae in person maybe once or twice in my life. He was a good friend of an ex-colleague and I remember him cos he too is a free-spirited guy, who likes the same kind of music and has the same kind of outlook on traveling. I’ve always only been kept updated on what he does via facebook, then one day I realised…Gee, this guy is now having an amazing job where he gets paid to be a travel planner!

Since the last interview with Ying, The Tiny Wanderer I figured you guys deserve to know more travelers, travelers who will inspire you to see this amazing and beautiful place called Earth. Enjoy!!

 

THE INTERVIEW

1. Can you share with our readers about how you’ve gotten this wonderful job where you travel and get paid to do it!

K : Three years ago, I quit my day job as a photographer. I had, had enough of back to back shooting events and weddings. Sometimes, I could be shooting more than ten weddings or events in a month. After I quit my job, I had more control on my precious time again to do  things I really want. One day, a friend of mine from Levart called, and offered me an opportunity  to lead a group of young travelers to Tibet. I took the wonderful offer to travel and get paid at the same time.

Even though I have experience backpacking in Tibet but my first time being a tour leader wasn’t easy at all because it was during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The city seemed to be on high alert status. There were police and military checkpoint every hundred meters. There were also rules and regulations for security purposes that prohibits the people from doing things as usual. For example, tourists needed to  unload outside of fuel stations before refueling for a vehicle. Since then, I lead more groups to different countries and places, and I love it so much.

A young monk playing with a smartphone before classes start in Tashilunpo Monastery. This is the biggest Buddhism teaching centre nowadays. It now has around 800 monks, while it used to be 2000 monks.

A young monk plays with a smartphone before classes start in Tashilunpo Monastery. This is the biggest Buddhism teaching centre nowadays. It now has around 800 monks, while it used to be 2000 monks.

 

2. As a travel planner, what are the biggest challenges you face when on a trip itself?

K : The biggest challenge would be sharing with travel mates what is travel really all about? It is very important to be a responsible traveler. I would usually act as a role model rather than telling them what to do. For example, when someone in the group  litters, I would pick up the rubbish and throw it into a trash bin, or keep the rubbish until I see a trash bin. By doing so, less travel mates will be littering and more of them would also keep their rubbish until they see a trash bin. My actions may not be able to make all travelers not litter, but I am happy to see some others pick up the good habit in the end. Besides litter, it is also stressful to lead a group of people traveling to places that need to obtain permits prior to arriving to the destination, like Tibet. If you travel to Tibet during a tense period, the permit can only be ready before your departure.

 

A pilgrim praying nearby the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.

A pilgrim praying nearby the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.

 

3. You’ve cycled across Taiwan, did the trans-Siberia in winter, you hiked up to Annapurna and that is not all the wonderful adventures you’ve had so far. Tell us what has been your top two trips that you would love to do it all over again and why.

K : The top in the list would be my first route to Tibet. If I were to do it all over again, I will enter Tibet through Yunnan for a different experience by taking a local bus. The journey takes about 7 days 6 nights, it starts at 7am in the morning and is a 12 hours drive. The local bus is usually filled with Tibetan and pilgrims, then I will stay with them overnight in bunk beds at local Tibetan villages. Along the route, we will pass the holy mountain Karwakarpo and the upstream of Mekong River in Tibet. My journey to Tibet is the most beautiful journey I have ever taken. That was my first exposure and experience with Tibetan culture and it made me go so crazy about it!
The second beautiful trip has to be revisiting Angkor Wat. Instead of taking the Tuk Tuk, I will take a bicycle. The scenery would be more beautiful when cycling in the mass museum and temple hopping. With a rented bicycle and a 7-day pass, it is a must to revisit the only resident in West Maebon. I would love to go to Angkor Wat again because it was a short trip and I don’t get to enjoy. I would love to do it all over again.

4. Travelers often say that they love meeting and having conversations with locals, have you ever had any bad experiences with a local while on a trip? What happened?

K : To be honest, I have been travelling for 10 years and I never had a single bad experience with the locals. I have a conclusion to make after going through my memories: Good people are the majority in this tiny world. I always got help from locals during my trip whenever I needed. Some of them even became my friends and we still keep in touch. I realised that I have many brothers and sisters from different places.
Let me share an experience that made me come up with these thoughts. It was few years after 911, I was travelling with a Canadian male to Kashgar in Xinjiang, China. Our train was late and we arrived Kashgar midnight. We found some hostels on the street but they were all forbiddened to accept foreigners (it was a new rule at that time and is still in force after over 10 years). A drunk Uyghur came up to us out of no where and offered us help. He wanted to lead us to his teacher’s guesthouse through the alleys. The Canadian was doubtful to follow him because it was too dark in the alley and so he waited for me on the street. In the end, he drunk Uyghur really helped us to find a place to stay for a night.
What made me trust the drunk Uyghur and followed him to a dark place? Well, things happen for a reason. There are more wonderful people than you think! Follow your heart.
Mount Kailash, It is believed to be the centre of the world by the Jains, Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists. One of the most important pilgrim route of all the above mentioned religions.

Mount Kailash, It is believed to be the centre of the world by the Jains, Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists. One of the most important pilgrim route of all the above mentioned religions.

 

A school in a Tibetan refugee camp in Leh. They have no nationality, their children can’t go to the government school. They can only help themselves by providing school for their own children. The Tibetans in exile believe what Francis Bacon said, Knowledge is power. They desperately want/need a change.

A school in a Tibetan refugee camp in Leh. They have no nationality, their children can’t go to the government school. They can only help themselves by providing school for their own children. The Tibetans in exile believe what Francis Bacon said, Knowledge is power. They desperately want/need a change.

5. Sometimes, we get too excited about our travels that we may sometimes forget about how we behave in another country. How do you think we can avoid disrespecting another person’s culture when in other country?

K : Travel is just part of our lives. It is about one’s principle in our own life. There are not many trash bins on the street of Seoul nor Tokyo, but the cities are clean because no one is littering. From visits to places like these, why don’t we learn the good values and keep them in practice in our daily lives?
Respect is universal. A mutual respect and trust will born when we respect each other. Even when we are from different cultures or backgrounds, communication is always the best way to understand each other. Sometimes, learning “Hello” and “Thank you” from the locals could break the ice and start a conversation.
Travel doesn’t mean a getaway trip to escape from a busy working life, nor is it a ‘been there, done that’ thing. It is about learning more about ourselves to be a better person.
The magic hour of the blue city, Jodhpur in India. Taken from Mehrangah Fort.

The magic hour of the blue city, Jodhpur in India. Taken from Mehrangah Fort.

 

Muslims are the minority in Jodhpur, but you still find Masjids in the streets. Walk passed this Masjid during praying hour.

Muslims are the minority in Jodhpur, but you still find Masjids in the streets. Walk passed this Masjid during praying hour.

6. As a photographer, do you ever struggle with deciding what gear to bring and what to leave home? Has your gear list changed over the years for your travels?

K :  These 3 lenses are always on travel with me no matter where I go.

  • 24mm F1.4, only for landscape, scenery or stargazing.
  • 50mm F1.4, mount on my camera most of the time. It is good for street photography, especially on a APS-C system. stargazing!!!
  • 135mm F2.0, only for sunrise/sunset, shooting candids on the street, temple, church…
  • a handy tripod for stargazing!!!
I used to travel with my 5Dm3 a lot, even my first trekking trip to ABC. But after my I had my hands on a mirrorless camera, I leave my Canon in my dry box most of the time now.
The milky way over a Kyrgyz’s yurt camp in Songkul Lake, Kyrgyzstan.

The milky way over a Kyrgyz’s yurt camp in Songkul Lake, Kyrgyzstan.

 

A star trail taken on the night where Kyrgyz's Muslims believe that  angels will come on earth during Ramadhan. The Muslims will stay awake the entire night t to meet the angels.

A star trail taken on the night where Kyrgyz’s Muslims believe that angels will come on earth during Ramadhan. The Muslims will stay awake the entire night t to meet the angels.

 

Stargazing at Machhapurchere Base Camp in Nepal. You can only reach here by trekking up to see this wonderful sight.

Stargazing at Machhapurchere Base Camp in Nepal. You can only reach here by trekking up to see this wonderful sight.

 

7. Where is the one place you’re dying to go to for your next adventure?

K : I have a project and it has been on going for 8 years now. The goal is to travel and photograph the Tibetan culture across the Himalayan Range. I hope the project can be accomplished in the coming tenth year. I have covered most of the northern part of the Himalayan Range and will continue to work on the southern part. I am dying to get on journey to Sikkim in India, and Upper Mustang in Nepal in 2015. And last but not least, Bhutan.
Aerial view flying into Leh, Ladakh. The Great Himalayan Range above the clouds. My dreams are yet to be complete without her.

Aerial view flying into Leh, Ladakh. The Great Himalayan Range above the clouds. My dreams are yet to be complete without her.

 

From a scenic hot spring at Altyn-arashan in Kyrgyzstan.

From a scenic hot spring at Altyn-arashan in Kyrgyzstan.

 

Camel riding in Thar Desert. Camel riding is fun for the first 10mins, but after that I preferred to walk the desert.

Camel riding in Thar Desert. Camel riding is fun for the first 10mins, but after that I preferred to walk the desert.

 

8. Last but not least, if you woke up and suddenly found yourself butt naked (i know, a bizzare question), where in the world would you want to be waking up naked in?

K : Waking up naked in the middle of nowhere on the grassland of Mongolia. Running naked on the grassland that will never fail to surprise me.

 

 

A jump shot over one of the many scenic mountains in Nepal.

A jump shot over one of the many scenic mountains in Nepal.

 

Cycling across Netherlands, I saw a double rainbow along the way in Drent and achieved my fastest speed on bike.

Cycling across Netherlands, I saw a double rainbow along the way in Drent and achieved my fastest speed on bike.

 

Underground metro in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Built around the  70’s, it also acts as an air raid shelter during the cold war period.

Underground metro in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Built around the 70’s, it also acts as an air raid shelter during the cold war period.

 

Floating market on Dal Lake, Kashmir - India.

Floating market on Dal Lake, Kashmir – India.

Thanks again for making it all the way to the end! Next interviewee is…well, their a family! Until the next interview, I hope you’ve been inspired by Kae’s words if not at least by his beautiful photos. If you’d like find out more about the kind of trips he leads, do check out Levart.

You can check out more of his photography work on Asparagus Pictures!

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