The fashion and beauty illustrator Solène Debiès is off to Asia again with her family for another three month trip. This time we’re following her to South East Asia! Here are some of her discoveries and useful tips for travelling off the beaten track. Discover solenedebies.com.
What’s the best time of year for visiting Asia?
As far as the climate is concerned, winter for the south of India, Thailand, South Vietnam and the Philippines. Summer is best for Bali... It really is very pleasant, but it’s the high season, so it’s best to avoid the most popular destinations! In summer, apart from Bali, it’s often the monsoon season, so it rains! That doesn’t bother me too much, there are fewer visitors, so the atmosphere is different! But then, I was born in Brest…
How do you prefer to get around, on foot or by tuk-tuk?
On foot for going through the jungle, to meet the people in the villages. We also like going by tuk-tuk, rickshaw or tricycle. It’s not expensive and the girls love it! But you have to master the art of bargaining, which is also a game in Asia.
What are Asia’s 3 most unique experiences and secrets?
I’ve got 4 actually, in no particular order:
• Nights spent under the stars in the middle of the Thar desert, during camel excursions. One morning, we woke up to find a scorpion at the foot of our camp bed. Our guide was very scared... For his camel! But it’s really magical and very intense. Jaisalmer is a magnificent city.
• There is a network of secret grottos near the holy village of Gokarna, in Karnataka, India. During our first trip, one of the locals showed us a grotto. We first of all had to perform a little ceremony in a temple, then walk in the mountains until we came to a small hole in the rock. There, the guide went into the darkness and informed the saddhus inside that we were coming to pay a visit. They went to hide in the deepest recesses of the grotto... Then it was our turn to enter this dark hole... It was a little scary! Inside, there were offerings and little temples everywhere. The grotto seemed to be very long. According to legend, it extends all the way to the Himalayas! It’s a totally magical place, another world! Ever since, we’ve tried to go back... But it’s been impossible to find the way... The village has become more of a tourist attraction and nobody knows about these grottos anymore. They are now a well-kept secret! It was a unique experience, and above all a real secret experience!
Anyway, the village of Gokarna, with its superb beaches and intense devotional life is an unmissable and totally unique experience!
• On a completely different level, there are the wild Hanoi nights! Get an aperitif at the “Tet Bar”, at Than’s, on the Ta Hien and finish up on the “Taboo” disco-boat, letting yourself get carried away by the kindness of the Vietnamese and their partying spirit! Hanoi is a great city, but be warned, silence is unknown there!
• There’s also a more peaceful experience, but much more recent for me, since I’m in the process of living it now! The island of Palawan, in the Philippines! Although the Bay of Halong is for me, one of the most beautiful places in Asia, the village of Port Barton and the masses of islands around it are almost just as impressive. Here, nature is unspoiled and exuberant, the people are delightful and welcoming, while tourism is still in its infancy. But you have to earn it - there isn’t a proper road to reach it yet and the jeepney that gets you there isn’t exactly in its first youth! But once you’ve arrived, it’s paradise.
What’s your favourite memory?
Well, we’ve just mentioned it: the Bay of Halong! Waking up in a boat... In the morning mist! As you say, WOW! My grandfather, who was a submariner during the Second World War went there and he talked about it with stars in his eyes. There are also graffitis left by French sailors in the grotto, we looked to see if we could find one signed Jean-Marie... We didn’t find it, but what a superb place!
What’s your favourite Asian dish?
Hard to say, I have a favourite dish in each country:
• everywhere in India, a very good thali (I’ve got some great addresses for anyone interested!) or a good Masala dosa
• in Goa, a very fresh King fish tandoori, mmmm!
• in Thailand a Pad Thai (noodles fried with eggs, vegetables and shrimps, delicious!), preferably cooked in the street, of course!
• in Vietnam, freshly caught seafood, particularly rock lobster, it’s a knockout! Or a good meal at Mme N’Guyen’s in Hanoi!
• in the Phillipines, well a good… paëlla! If you like paëlla, forget about Spain and head straight for the Philippines!
In which Asian city would you most like to settle down?
I like Saigon a lot, or Bangkok... But I don’t think I could live in either of them the whole time... I love the little village of Colomb in Goa, but it’s too far away from everything!
In fact, I really enjoy going backwards and forwards between France and Asia...
I’m not ready to settle anywhere permanently at the moment!